information from William G. Cutler's History of the State of Kansas
Seneca, the county seat of Nemaha County, is favorably situated on high rolling prairie land, surrounded on all sides by well cultivated farms and pleasant groves, those on its east being divided from it by the current of the Nemaha, whose banks are fringed with a goodly growth of natural timber, and whose waters serve to render yet more picturesque its beauty and that of its surroundings. It is on the St. Joseph & Denver Railroad, seventy-seven miles west of St. Joseph, and one hundred and fifty miles southeast of Hastings, Neb., while it is easily accessible from all points by connecting lines. The city is well built. There are, in Seneca. very many handsome residences, the grounds surrounding, which are highly ornamented with shade trees and shrubbery, giving a home like and finished appearance to the town, that is rare in new states, while the business portion of the place is rapidly approaching the appearance of that which belongs to a city.
The town site of Seneca was regarded as a favorable point for a town, by J. B. Ingersoll, who staked off a claim to which he gave the name of Rock Castle. This was early in 1857. A town company was soon afterward organized comprising Samuel Lappin, Charles G. Scrafford, Royal U. Torrey and Finley Lappin, the name of the town, which was immediately surveyed and platted, being changed to Seneca.
The first house built in Seneca was erected in the fall of 1857; it was a double log house, with a wide hall through the centre, or rather, two houses connected with a wall of logs at the rear. It was built by John S. Doyle for Finley Lappin, who immediately occupied one end of it for a hotel, while Downing & Stewart opened a grocery store in the other end. The hotel portion of the building also served as the office of register of deeds, Samuel Lappin holding that position. One end of the structure was afterward used as a dwelling; the other end as a shoe shop and carpenter shop successively. It passed from Samuel Lappin to Albert Clark, finally returning to its former owner, who demolished it to make room for what is now known as the city drug store.
During the same year a blacksmiths shop was put up, consisting merely of four poles covered with brush, with a few boards over the forge. Its owner was Levi Hensel, who was able to utilize his powers either as a son of Vulcan, or as correspondent of the New York Tribune, for which paper he made one of the most valuable contributions descriptive of this immediate section of the county.
The next house properly belonging to Seneca, was Smith's Hotel, John E. Smith came from Derry, N. H., in March, 1858, accompanied by his wife, two sons, W. H. and F. E. Smith, his bother Stephen, and his sister, Addie Smith, and by Charles, George W. and Eliza Williams. He brought with him the machinery of a mill, purchased in Massachusetts, brought to St. Louis by rail, to Atchison by river, and to Seneca by means of ox-power. The mill was erected about half a mile west of the town site, and a log cabin, 10x12 erected, in the immediate propinquity. The hotel referred to was built in the summer of 1858, being the kitchen, and rooms above it, of the present Wilson House. In this building the first school was taught, by Miss Addie Smith, in the fall of 1858.
The next house erected in Seneca was a concrete stone building, put up by Downing & Stewart; the latter soon after selling to A. M. Smith. Downing & Smith sold to L. J. McGowan, who finally pulled down the building and erected the substantial stone structure in which Hazard & Sons now do business.
The building next erected, with the exception of unpretentious dwellings, was the one on Main Street now occupied by Stein's furniture store. It was built by the Town Company, and first occupied by James P. Brace, formerly of Elwood. His stock of goods was afterward bought by C. G. Scrafford, who, subsequently taking Samuel Lappin as a partner, in connection with him built the Central Store on Main Street in 1861.
Prior to this change, however, a second blacksmith shop had been built by John Sufficool, one end of it being used as a grocery store. This was subsequently sold to John W. Furrow, was added to and used as a boarding house by H. H. Lanham and others, and was finally demolished by Finley Lappin.
Succeeding this, in order of time, and omitting residences, came the Court House, built in 1860, and burned during the same year.
The first birth in Seneca was Esther Hensel, daughter of Levi Hensel, born in 1859. She only lived about three years; upon her birth a town lot was conveyed to her by the town company in honor of the event.
The first school in the new city was one taught by Miss Addie Smith, sister of John E. Smith, in the fall of 1858. It occupied what is now the pantry of the Wilson House, and what was then the 'living room' of Smith's Hotel. In the fall of 1859, the overland stages commenced stopping here, continuing to do so for eight years. The immigration to the far West was at that time very great, their frequently being as many as twenty-five passengers at the hotel table, all of whom were charged one dollar a piece. In connection with this becoming a station on the overland road, in place of Richmond, it is related that certain prominent citizens of Seneca, in order to divert travel from the old road, sowed oats, under the most favorable conditions for a long distance along that road, which grew so rapidly and well, as to practically block the comparatively little used thoroughfare.
Seneca was also, and for many years, a station of the Pony express from St. Joseph to San Francisco.
For the first seven years of its existence, notwithstanding the civil war which occupied the most of that period, the city grew rapidly. In 1858, she had one house and a blacksmith shop, as unsubstantial as an Indian wigwam. The actual population upon the town site was about six. In 1865, she had three general stores, one hardware store, one jewelry store, a grist and saw mill, two hotels, a newspaper, and various other establishments, the entire number of building, business houses, dwellings, schoolhouse and public buildings, being fifty-six. At that time she had a population of three hundred and one. In 1870 came the railroad, and with it the telegraph, connecting it with the great East and the no less great West. From that time to the present immigration has flowed in, unrestricted by the inconveniences and privations of stage coaching, and the other primitive methods of travel, which retarded to an extent the growth of the great West.
The city in 1879 had a population of 1,000; in 1880, of 1,203; in 1881, of 1274, and in 1882 the number of its inhabitants had increased to 1,519.
Above information from William G. Cutler's History of the State of Kansas
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