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Known as the town between two rivers, Osawatomie has 
a rich and vibrant history from its pre-Civil War Border 
War legacy and railroad heritage to a nationally-renowned 
state mental hospital that blazed a trail for developing 
new therapeutic treatments for the mentally ill.

Throughout its history, Osawatomie experienced its share of celebrations and struggles. But through it all, the community has never given up, choosing instead to push forward to make the city a better place for its residents.

The community was founded on Oct. 22, 1854, by a dozen or so families sponsored by the Massachusetts Emigrant Aid Society, later named the New England Emigrant Aid Society. The group arrived in Kansas Territory with the purpose of keeping the area, and eventually the state, free from slavery. A land agent from New York, Orville C. Brown, convinced the families to settle on the site, which was bordered by the Marais des Cygnes – then known as the Osage River - to the north and west and by Pottawatomie Creek to the south. The town was named for both bodies of water, taking "Osa" from the Osage and "watomie" from the Pottawatomie. It was surveyed and platted a year later.

The same year, the sons of famed abolitionist John Brown followed their uncle and aunt, the Rev. Samuel L. and Florella Brown Adair, to Kansas Territory and settled at Brown's Station, about 10 miles west of Osawatomie. Finding themselves in the middle of the Border War clash, John Brown, Jr. wrote to his father, asking him to bring weapons.

Brown arrived in Osawatomie Oct. 6, 1855, accompanied by his youngest son, a son-in-law and a wagon full of weapons. Alternating between staying at Brown’s Station and the Adair Cabin, now the John Brown State Historic Site, Brown started taking an active role in territorial affairs.

In May 1856, Brown and his company marched north toward the town of Lawrence after
hearing of a hostile siege. But, they arrived too late, finding Lawrence had already been sacked. Brown responded by taking six men and a wagon driver to a location eight miles above the mouth of Pottawatomie Creek in Franklin County. At midnight, they murdered five pro-slavery men in what has been called the Pottawatomie Massacre.

The fighting continued through August, and served as a fearful time for those in Osawatomie. Since the community served as Brown's headquarters and because of its location near the Missouri border, it became a target for pro-slavery sympathizers.

Brown's men won victory at the Battle of Black Jack near present-day Baldwin City on June 2, 1856. But while they were out of town, retaliating pro-slavery Missourians invaded the community on June 7. With no one to fight, the town was looted and raided.

At the time of the battle, Osawatomie had been a town of 200 persons. Afterward, because they no longer had homes, many left. Others remained to rebuild the town. John Brown left the territory to go east to solicit funds and support.

In its first three years, the town was looted and raided twice, burned to the ground, and fell victim to Mother Nature’s wrath by tornado and flood. But residents found something special in their community, and worked to build it into a flourishing city.

Osawatomie was incorporated as a city of the third class on Oct. 1, 1883. Up until this time, the town was governed by township officers and then by the directors of the Osawatomie Town Company. But because of the governor’s proclamation, officials learned they now had to formally organize as a municipality.

Henry B. Smith was elected as the city’s first mayor. Smith, who arrived in Osawatomie in 1858, owned and managed a mercantile business, selling dry goods and groceries until 1880. He later became a real-estate, rental and insurance agent, working out of the Land Office. He would go on to serve several more terms as mayor and represent Miami County in the Kansas Legislature. Eventually, the city was later classified as a city of the second class on Dec. 31, 1890. At the time, Abner Meek was serving his first term as mayor.

Years later, the city operates under the Mayor-Council-Manager form of government, which was adopted in 1977. This form of municipal government features a mayor, who is elected at-large, a city council elected by wards, and a city manager, who is hired by the council to manage the city’s daily operations.

The idea of hiring a city manager was first considered and later adopted in 1964, replacing a commission form of government in place for nearly 50 years. At the time, officials realized municipal business could no longer be overseen by three individuals – the mayor and two commissioners - who were working on a part-time basis. To better manage city issues, officials unanimously voted to hire Osawatomie’s first city manager, Gordon Schrader.

Today, Don Cawby currently serves in the city manager role. Cawby, who was hired in August 2011, previously served as deputy director for administration with the Kansas Racing and Gaming Commission as well as the city manager of Parsons and Osage City. He also spent several years as a principal analyst for the Kansas Division of the Budget.

Other city leaders include L. Mark Govea, who serves as mayor of Osawatomie. Mark, the oldest of five children, was raised in Osawatomie and graduated from Osawatomie High School in 1967, Mark continued his education at Fort Scott Community College and Kansas State University, graduating with a degree in landscape architecture.

Govea has a long history of public service, completing four years of service in the U.S. Navy, and retiring after 21 years of service with the City of Kansas City, Mo. Following retirement, Mark and his wife, Cindy, returned to Osawatomie to focus on family and community involvement.

After a career as a public servant, Mark’s interest turned to service in Osawatomie’s city
leadership. In 2011, he was elected to the Osawatomie City Council from Ward 3. He was later elected mayor in April 2013. Govea serves the city along with current council members Lawrence Dickinson, Kenny Diehm, Daniel Macek, Kirk Wright, Karen LaDuex, Jeff Walmann, Tamara Maichel and Nick Hampson.

In recent years, the city has made several improvements to improve the quality of life for its residents, including:

Electric Generation and Distribution System Upgrades:

In 2015, the city council issued $6.1 million in electric utility revenue bonds to finance
the purchase of six, 2-megawatt diesel-engine generators, construction of a substation
as well as a shop building, and repairing and overhauling generators. These
improvements will increase Osawatomie’s generation capabilities, generate surplus
energy and bring in additional revenue.

Main Street Improvements:

Main Street, Osawatomie’s primary thoroughfare received a complete overhaul in 2016
thanks to nearly $500,000 in state community development dollars.

The first phase of the project, from First to Fifth streets, resulted in several
improvements, including wider, smoother streets as well as improved street lighting,
curbs and sidewalks.

The following year, the city received a $400,000 grant from the state to help finance the
second and final phase of the project, improving Seventh through 12th streets. Upgrades
were similar to the first phase, including new pavement, on-street parking on the north
side of the street, new sidewalks on both sides of the street, and new storm sewers to
improve drainage along Main. Other improvements included reconstruction of the
Seventh and Main intersection, including the addition of a left-turn lane for eastbound
traffic waiting for railroad traffic. The project was funded by an estimated $500,000 in
proceeds from a special Miami County road and bridge sales tax, bonds and CDBG
funding from the state.

Broadband Implementation:

In January, the city was awarded a $45,000 Rural Business Enterprise Grant
to develop a broadband implementation plan.

The city began laying the groundwork for implementing a broadband plan in December
2015 when city officials approved a franchise agreement with Kansas Fiber Network,
granting use of the city’s right-of-way for its network.

The city is currently in the process of working out a plan to build a portion of the
backbone through a cooperative agreement with KwiKom. The existence of that plan
has enabled the city to significantly reduce construction costs. Based on the plan under
consideration, the city may only pay a quarter of the cost. Additionally, the city currently
has a franchise agreement with KwiKom and has leased the company tower space for a
new wireless network.

Updates at Karl E. Cole Sports Complex:

In recent years, the city received approximately $275,000 in state funds to build new
basketball and tennis courts, construct walkways, and provide new bleachers at the
sports complex. Just prior to the improvements, the city spent about $200,000 for a new concession stand and bathrooms as well as a new central canopy and bleacher pads.

Software/Equipment Upgrades:

Earlier this year, Osawatomie City Council members approved lease-purchase
financing for a used 2006 E-One 75- foot ladder truck and new municipal software for
financial management, human resources, project management, utility billing, police,
municipal court and related purposes.

City Hall Remodel:

This spring, Osawatomie City Hall underwent a significant remodeling project to upgrade portions of city hall and the former Osawatomie Police Department building. The former police department building now houses various offices, including utilities, and the Osawatomie Chamber of Commerce.

Special of the Month:

To get a first-hand look at the newly remodeled city hall, the City of Osawatomie will be hosting a coffee at Tuesday, July 24th at 10:00 a.m. Please show your support by attending the coffee and taking a tour. It’s a great opportunity to get to know local city officials and network with other businesses!