Railroads and a French-born Engineer

The story goes that an Osage Indian Chief named the river that now bounds Chanute on the north and east Neosho (water that has been made muddy) when horses crossing the river stirred up the silt in the water. The fate of the city was nearly as unclear until a French born engineer helped clear the waters.

In the mid-19th century, squatters arrived in the area to farm the land, and the first railroad arrived in 1870 on the back of the federally sponsored Neosho River valley land grant of a half-million acres. Soon, a second railroad arrived, built under the supervision of Octave Chanute. The 160-acre town of New Chicago formed south of the junction of two railroads, and the nearby 80-acre settlement of Tioga was established.

New Chicago and Tioga fought for the right to dominate the area, but a compromise could not be reached. Chanute (the railroad’s Chief Engineer and General Superintendent) was able to mediate a merger, and the towns and two plated subdivisions were consolidated and chartered by the District Court as the City of Chanute in 1873. Chanute was now ready to grow, and Octave Chanute went on to a life as a railroad and bridge engineer, a pioneer in aviation, and served as a mentor to the Wright Brothers in their first flight.

Agriculture was the young city’s only economic base, and it struggled to retain the settlers who passed through heading west. Santa Fe Railroad designated Chanute as its division point in Southeast Kansas, and lines sprouted in five directions from the city – helping to stabilize the population of 4,000.

At the turn of the 20th century, the discovery of natural gas and oil sparked additional growth in the city, and the population grew to 10,000. The city’s fortunes grew as it supplied 50 percent of the state’s oil output. The production of bricks, zinc and cement also became a major economic force. In 1903, the City of Chanute established electric utilities, and its foresight in providing utilities and operating as a full-service city were vital steps in maintaining its economic and residential viability into the 21st century.

Today, walking tours of Chanute’s historic buildings are available, and the historic Santa Fe Depot and Austin Bridge (both on the National Register of Historic Places) provide links to the city’s past.

Next Topic

Previous Topic


Community Profile Network, Inc. &
VillageProfile.com, Inc.

About our Company

Copyright ©2005 Community Profile Network, Inc.
Community Profile Network is a trademark of Community Profile Network, Inc.
Town Square Publications and Builder Profile are trademarks of VillageProfile.com, Inc.

This Site is a Cyberworks Media Group Production