History of Gardner

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Known as where the Trails Divide, Gardner has a significant place in the history of the westward expansion of the United States. 

Gardner is named in honor of Governor Gardner of Massachusetts.  Nearly all of the early settlers were Free State men and one of the first Free State conventions in the country was held in Gardner in 1858. Gardner was the first town in the State of Kansas to be raided by border ruffians from Missouri, called Bushwhackers.On October 22, 1861, Bushwhackers raided Gardner because of its support of freedom for slaves. Gardner was raided two other times between 1861 and 1863. On June 7, 1886, a petition with fifty signers was filed with the district court providing that Gardner should become an incorporated town of the third class.  On September 26, 2002, Gardner officially became a City of the Second Class.  
 
Gardner's 150 Years Old!
In 2007, the City of Gardner celebrated it's 150th Birthday - Gardner's Sesquicentennial! This year long celebration culminated with the Festival on the Trails event held on September 14 and 15, 2007. It was a huge success and took many, many wonderful volunteers working together to make it happen.
 
Some of the items that were presented to the City in recognition of this momentous occasion: 
The Gardner Athena Club presented the City with a lovely crystal vase celebrating 150 years. The Gardner Grange created a wonderful plaque, congratulating the City on this milestone in history. Embarq presented a magnificent replica of the Ad Astra statue. This is a replica of Richard Bergen's 22 foot tall bronze sculpture that was placed atop of the Kansas Capitol dome in the fall of 2002. It is a sculpture of a Kaw Indian pointing his drawn bow at the North Star. Embarq also presented a framed certificate and notification that there will be a commemorative brick honoring Gardner's 150 year milestone placed in the Capitol Plaza area of the Kansas State Capitol in Topeka. Governor Kathleen Sebelius and Senator Karin Brownlee presented the City with Proclamations. Congressman Dennis Moore presented the City with a certificate and a Flag that had flown at the Capitol in recognition of Gardner's Sesquicentennial.
 
Gardner Historical Museum
The Gardner Historical Museum and its web site provide residents and visitors to Gardner the ability to learn more Gardner throughout the year through its season displays and exhibits. 
 
The Gardner Historical Museum was founded in 2002. One of the first actions of the organization was to purchase this historic Gardner residence that now houses the museum and research room. The museum also houses the Family Registry; a repository for area family histories, photographs and genealogical materials.
 
The Museum is located at 204 W. Main Street, just west of the Downtown area.
 
 
About the Importance of the Trails
Craig Crease, President, of the Kansas City Area Historic Trails Association wrote the following regarding the significance of Gardner Junction:??The singularly unique and historic junction of America’s three great western frontier trails... the Santa Fe Trail... the Oregon Trail... and the California Trail... is located two miles southwest of present day Gardner, Kansas.  It stands unique as the eye of the needle through which hundreds of thousands of people, from 1827 to the twilight of the Civil War in 1865, came to and through this particular “fork in the road” on their way to pursuing their destinies in the West.  The junction offered two auspicious routes: to the left lay the Santa Fe Trail, meandering on southwest through the plains... the right was the Oregon Trail, bearing due west for a few miles before it turned north toward the Kansas River valley. 
 
The Santa Fe Trail first saw regular annual use in 1821, when William Becknell and a small band of men from Missouri used the general route and returned to their homes from Santa Fe with tales of riches to be had and silver pieces in their pockets to prove it.  By 1825, the United States government was surveying this road to Santa Fe and,by 1827, wagon trains loaded with goods and commodities, were traversing between the Missouri frontier and Mexico’s far-flung colonial outpost, Santa Fe.  In that same year of 1827, Fort Leavenworth was established some 30 miles north on the Missouri River; its mandate for a large part was to protect the Santa Fe trade… and Independence was founded as the seat of the newly established Jackson County, Missouri, some 40 miles to the northeast and also near the Missouri River. 
 
There was one event in 1827, however, that compelled the location of this historic junction, and foreshadowed the great Oregon and California Trails in this area; mountain men William Sublette and Moses “Black” Harris, returning east from the northern Rocky Mountains on a 1500 mile journey that almost killed them from starvation and perilous cold, came down the Kansas River valley and likely struck the Santa Fe trail near here in present day southwest Johnson County, then followed it back east to the settlements and safety…and ultimately to the crucial rendezvous with William Ashley in St. Louis that had precipitated their cross country sojourn.  Thus was “Sublettes Trace” first created in this area in 1827; it was the genesis of this great western trail junction, a full fourteen years before “Sublettes Trace” would fully develop as the main line of progress for the great emigrations to Oregon and California, and gain the name of the Oregon Trail. 
 
By the 1840s this junction of the trails was well established, and many travelers took note of it...  “About noon today we left the Santa Fe trace these are two of the longest road that are perhaps in the world” - James Clyman??

“..We took the Oregon road, instead of that to Santa Fe and went twelve miles before we discovered our error.  In returning two of our wagons broke down, by which we were detained two days... July 4th.  We at last got fairly on the Santa Fe route.” - Lucian Eastin – 1846
 
“It was raining this morning and we did not start to 9 and in 8 miles came to where the Santa Fe road leaves the old Oregon trail.  It still continued to rain and the roads became somewhat heavy.” - James Pritchard - 1849
 
“We are now camped on Bull creek a short distance from the forks of the road one to Santa Fe and other to Salt Lake via Forts to California and Oregon”  Edmund Hinde -1850
 
By 1854, with the passing of the Kansas-Nebraska Act, federal surveyors were in field in present day eastern Kansas, mapping out lines to establish ranges, townships and sections in anticipation of statehood.  It is from these original land surveys of the mid 1850s that the location of the trail junction has been established... as it existed at that time.  However, there are primary sources from the 1840s that seem to place the location several miles to the west.  It is indeed likely that the junction evolved eastward over a decade, considering the relatively flat and unimpeded topography and the natural human tendency to “take a shortcut”. 
 
It should be remembered that this historical junction of Santa Fe, Oregon, and California Trails is unduplicated anywhere else in America, as defined both by its unique geographic location and by the sheer numbers… the hundreds of thousands who came this way and sought their destiny down one of these old roads to the West.  ?-written February 27, 2004
 
 
Project to Preserve Gardner's Place in Westward Expansion
The Historic Santa Fe, Oregon and California Trails are of national significance. The Gardner Junction Park site, located just west of present day Gardner, along U.S. 56 Highway, will become a premier site on the historic trails in Kansas.  It is the first, the prototype, for the rest of the Santa Fe Trail in Kansas, and Gardner is proud to be the site of this “first” historic venture.  This wayside park has been the subject of projects in 1924 and 1956 that never completely came to fulfillment.  Today this project has brought together major players in the preservation of trail history from across the United States.  The committee of preservations and historians is comprised of the National Park Service, Santa Fe Trails Association, Oregon-California Trail Association, Kansas City Area Historic Trials Association, Gardner Historical Museum, Kansas State Historical Society, Kansas Department of Transportation, Johnson County Museum-Lanesfield School and Historical Site, and the City of Gardner.  The project is scheduled to open in late 2006. 

 
Downtown Historical Plaque Project 
Gardner history is also found in its historical Downtown.  In 2004, Elias Kenning of Gardner completed an Eagle Scout project to help preserve the history of Downtown Gardner. He placed plaques in downtown telling the historical significance of many of the downtown buildings.  Take some time to learn a little bit of the history of Gardner for yourself.  Here is a sample of what you will learn while enjoying Downtown Gardner... At 136 E. Main Street, a variety of businesses have been located, including a grocery store, bakery, cafe, and the Dodge Sisters’ Millinery Shop.  Next door at 140 E. Main Street, you can find a plaque indicating the building as the site of Gardner’s first bank, Farmer’s Bank. 
 
At 202 E. Main Street, history dates back to 1889 where the Bigelow-Foster Mercantile once stood.  Just a couple stores down at 214 E. Main Street is the site of Gardner’s first auto repair garage that opened in 1915. Across the street at 103 S. Elm Street, is the site of Gardner’s first General Store, built by W. J. Ott for J.W. Sponable in 1857.  108 S. Elm Street was the home to Gardner’s first newspaper founded in 1889 and at 139 E. Main Street is the site of Gardner’s first furniture store. 
 


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