From the archives
History of Old Settlers’ Day
Old Settlers’ Day is as rich in tradition and as filled with constant change and progress as the years past which it honors. Indeed, it is the careful blending of tradition with innovation that makes Old Settlers’ Day one of the best annual celebrations in Central Kansas.
Always county-oriented, Old Settlers’ Day began Jan. 7, 1881, with a reunion for all people who settled in Marion County in the 1860s. The old settlers gathered for a basket dinner and reminiscing in Marion.
Other “pioneer picnics” and old-fashioned Independence Day celebrations were conducted both before and after this affair, but Jan. 7, 1881, is generally cited as the birthday of Old Settlers’ Day
In 1912, at the suggestion of the Marion Record, Old Settlers’ Day was revived and made an annual affair. The Marion County Old Settlers’ Association was formed to supervise the event. Thomas Potter of Peabody was the association’s first president, and Alex Case of Marion was its original secretary.
Prominent speakers from among early settlers of Marion County gathered Oct. 16, 1912, in Marion’s Central Park and delivered speeches. Incidents and reminiscences of early days were told. Old settlers from all parts of the county, state and nation swarmed to Marion for the gala.
Similar celebrations followed in 1913 and 1914. In 1915, the affair’s date was changed to late September, and several new additions were added. Band concerts, parades, and free sporting events all were included for the first time.
The annual festival continued thereafter, sometimes in early summer and occasionally in late autumn. Late September seemed to be the most desirable time of the year.
For many years, Old Settlers’ Day was on a Thursday or a Friday. In 1965, the celebration’s date was finalized. Because most people could attend Saturday celebrations and weather conditions in late-September were most favorable, Old Settlers’ Day was scheduled for the last Saturday in September each year.
Around that time, the tradition of honoring original settlers, who by then would have been more than 100 years old, was altered, and the event was made to coincide with high school class reunions, which previously had been scheduled at various other times throughout the year.
Marion Record, Sept. 28, 1883
‘Mid a perfect bower of beauty, of towering trees and shapely shrubbery, near meandering streams and ‘midst charming landscapes, nestles the lovely town bearing the beautiful name of Marion. Here twelve hundred prosperous people find happy homes, and to their number are rapidly receiving additions. Twenty-three years ago the first white settlers entered into fierce controversy upon this soil with wild boast and wilder men. That controversy was a practical one, but as in all its subsequent contests, Marion came out ahead. Yet not until the advent of the cars, four years ago, did the town really begin to grow.
Marion is situated near the center of Marion county, at the confluence of Cottonwood river and Muddy creek, the business portion of the town being located in the valley on the west of the last named stream and the larger part of the residences on the high land east of the same.
Marion is the county seat of the county, and though its claim to this distinction was long disputed, yet it was finally settled in favor of this place by 416 majority at a popular election held in 1881, and this decision was immediately followed by a similar vote in favor of completing the court house at a cost of $5,000. This fortunate settlement of a vexed question gave an impetus to the growth of the town, as may well be imagined.
Marion is a live town. The trade center of a large tributary territory. it enjoys a healthy business, and as its vast surrounding county is even yet sparsely settled, comparatively, though yet in advance of the town, its prospects for future growth rest upon no doubtful basis. The town is bound to grow.
We have here a partial supply, at least, of most of the “necessaries” of town life. Excellent schools educate our children; three newspapers give tone and respectability to the place and three regular pastors look after the spiritual needs of their flocks. Five physicians “settle” our stomachs and eight lawyers settle our disputes. Two bakeries furnish us bread and two fine mills (the third will soon be added) furnish the flour. Then we have two grain firms, one photographer, two blacksmith shops, three millinery stores, two meat markets, one jewelry store, four restaurants, two livery stables, one exclusive boot and shoe store, one exclusive dry goods and furnishing store, two harness shops, three banks, three shoemaker shops, one steam sash and door factory, three hotels, one marble yard, three drug stores, two hardware store, two billiard halls, three grocery and provision stores, six general merchandise establishments, two furniture and undertaking houses, two lumber yards, one gasoline stove and oil dealer, one sewing machine agent, one book store, two confectionery stores, two dental rooms, two paint shops, three coal dealers, two dray lines, one flour and feed store, two barber shops, three boarding houses, one hay dealer, three ice dealers, three firms of real estate agents, and contractors and mechanics in great profusion.
We have two of the prettiest natural parks in the State, one right in the heart of the town and the other just outside the limits. We have an excellent system of sidewalks and generally good dry streets.
Marion has the handsomest array of masculine beauty, the prettiest women, and the sweetest girls in the county.
And it has no dudes nor dudesses.
This, in brief, is Marion. Eastern reader, come and see it for yourself, and when you come make headquarters at the Record office.
Last modified Sept. 27, 2017