“A distinctive community working for harmony, beauty, and diversity.” North Newton was founded in 1938.
HISTORY OF NORTH NEWTON
During the 1870’s and 1880’s, opportunities in the new frontier attracted many settlers from Europe seeking a better life. Among the settlers were large numbers of Mennonites from Prussia (now Poland) and Russia, and others from Pennsylvania, Illinois, Germany and Switzerland.3
The Great Plains of the United States were mapped by federal surveyors to provide a legal basis for property ownership. Twelve meridian lines were established north and south across the U.S. intersecting the east-west latitudes. The Sixth Principal Meridian cut through central Kansas and provided the point of departure for plotting railroads, homesteads, and townships. The Sixth Principal Meridian was used to plot lands settled by Mennonite immigrants.3
In the late 1880’s a group of Mennonites felt there was a need for a church affiliated college. In 1887 Rev. David Goerz, a Mennonite immigrant and Newton businessman, surveyed the open prairie in what is now North Newton in preparation for Bethel College’s first structure, the Admin-istration Building (cover photo).3 With its natural limestone exterior, the Administration Building is now a National Historic Landmark at the center of a growing campus and cultural center.1
North Newton grew up around Bethel College. After Bethel College was chartered in 1887, a primarily Mennonite community began building around the campus. The community’s residents were mostly people associated with the college. As the college grew, so did the community, which continued to be closely associated with the college and the General Conference Mennonite Church.
Although the college was founded in 1887 and a public water system installed in 1912, it wasn’t until September 20, 1938, that North Newton actually incorporated as a city.
John F. Schmidt, a former mayor of North Newton, said sewer problems spurred community leaders to incorporate the city. There was no sanitary system of sewage disposal on campus. Federal funds were available, but only to incorporated municipalities.
“Newton didn’t want to take on any more area in those days, in the Depression years,” Schmidt recalled. “There was no provision for jump annexing,” he said, explaining that, at the time, land north of 12th Street in Newton was mostly undeveloped and rural.
Thus, residents incorporated North Newton in order to take advantage of one of President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s New Deal grants and establish sewer lines between Newton and North Newton. Residents had originally wanted to call the new city “Bethel” after Bethel College, but couldn’t because another Kansas town already carried the college’s namesake.
Although there was no visible division between Newton and North Newton, each city grew up with its own post office, separate postal zip code, its own city government and law enforcement agencies.2 North Newton’s original post office was located on the lower level of Bethel College’s Administration Building. The first mayor was J. E. Regier, police judge was J. H. Doell, and councilmen were Paul Baumgartner, S. J. Goering, E. L. Harshberger, and J. F. Moyer. Appointive officers included Dr. Leonard C. Kreider as clerk, Dr. A. J. Regier, treasurer, Albert C. Bartel, marshal, and Fred Ice, city attorney.
According to a 1981 interview with former city clerk, Leonard C. Kreider, many of the new city’s officials were full professors at the college or businessmen. “We probably had the best educated and sharpest council of any city of the third class in Kansas,” he said.4
NORTH NEWTON’S CONNECTION TO THE CHISHOLM TRAIL
From 1867 to 1872 more than a million longhorn cattle were driven 900 miles north from Cuero, Texas to railheads at Abilene, then Newton in 1871, and to Wichita by 1872. The Texas cattlemen followed a route laid out by Jesse Chisholm, an Indian trader. The cattle drives covered seven to ten miles on an average day. The trail narrowed at river crossings and widened to three or four miles in the open prairie.5 The completion of the Santa Fe Railroad promoted settlement along its right-of-way, including the town of Newton, which was founded in 1871. That year cattlemen drove their cattle to Newton rather than Abilene, ending 30 to 40 days on the trail.2 Once the railhead was established in Newton, the area where North Newton now lies was eliminated as part of the cattle trail. Traces of the rut marks can still be seen, however, in North Newton’s Chisholm Trail Park located between Kauffman Museum and 30th Street.
OUR COMMUNITY NOW
- Sand Creek Trail — This is a maintained recreational trail that begins on the Bethel College campus in North Newton. Area residents, students, and visitors are encouraged to enjoy the trail and its variety of plant, animal and bird life. Memorial Grove, on the east side of campus, was established at the main trailhead of Sand Creek Trail in 2003. Here small groups can gather around a fire or hold other events. Near Memorial Grove is the 11-foot tall sculpture The Plainsman, carved out of a Siberian elm by North Newton sculptor John Gaeddert. 6
- Chisholm Trail Park — Completed in 1988, the park is situated north of Kauffman Museum. It features an open grassy area for picnics and gatherings and a tranquil path along Kidron Creek.
- Trail of Two Cities – Completed in 2006, this wide biking and walking path connects North Newton to Newton’s Centennial Park and Sand Creek trail. It follows Kansas Avenue, 24th Street and runs through a portion of the Bethel College
- Bethel College — A four year, coeducational, primarily residential liberal arts college. It is the oldest Mennonite college in North America.
- Kauffman Museum — Affiliated with Bethel College, it includes a tallgrass prairie reconstruction; the award-winning permanent exhibit Of Land and People which tells the story of the coming of the Mennonites from Europe to the central plains in the 1870’s; an historic farmstead; changing or traveling exhibits; and education programming for the whole family.
- Kidron Bethel Village — A retirement village located on an attractive 42-acre campus in a quiet neighborhood. Kidron Bethel offers a continuum of care for over 300 seniors. Kidron Bethel Village was born out of the Mennonite tradition of service and a legacy of quality care that began with Bethel Home for Aged nearly 85 years ago.
- Annual Watermelon Social — An event for the whole community held on an August evening in the Bethel College Memorial Grove.
- Bethel College Fall Festival — A fun-filled weekend of activities every October that includes sporting events, concerts, plays, outdoor entertainment, children’s activities, and lots of great food.
- Kidron Bethel Village Celebration Day – Held annually on a July evening and open to the public, it includes a community meal, silent auction, musical entertainment, children’s games and a fantastic fireworks display. Bring your lawnchairs and enjoy!
- Kauffman Museum’s Celebrate Kansas Day! – Held annually at the end of January, it features demonstrators, hands-on activities, entertainment, a bake sale, and much more.
- North Newton’s biggest asset is its wonderful citizens!
1 “Of Land and People – Mennonites of the Central Plains”, Kauffman Museum.
2 “A Tale of Two Towns”, by Connie White. Newton Kansan, Nov. 22, 23, & 24, 1993.
3 “Immigrant People”, Kauffman Museum.
4 Interview exerpts with Leonard C. Kreider, former chemistry professor at Bethel College; interviewed by James C. Juhnke, history professor at Bethel, May 3, 1981 (922.87A #55-56 at Mennonite Library and Archives, Bethel College).
5 “South Central Kansas”. A Map/Guide to Mennonite Communities. Writer/editor, Robert Kreider. Copyright 1995 by Kauffman Museum.
6 “Sand Creek Trail”. A brochure developed by the Sand Creek Trail Committee.
- Cover photo courtesy of Bethel College.
- John D. Thiesen, Archivist and Co-director of Libraries, Mennonite Library & Archives, Bethel College
- Rachel Pannabecker, Director of Kauffman Museum