History of Pittsburg
The History of The City of Pittsburg, Kansas
In 1803, the southeast corner of Kansas was a part of the Louisiana Purchase.
At that time, all land belonged to the Cherokee Nation and was the home of the
Osage Indians. Later, the Frisco Railroad (under a different name) and a few
homesteaders (Dosser, Pugh, and Seeley) obtained the land from the Cherokee,
and in 1870 established a settlement known as “Hopefield”. This settlement was
located on the “Old Texas Road”, an important wagon route and cattle trail from
Fort Leavenworth to Fort Gibson in Indian territory. In the late 1860’s, this trail
provided the only transportation route for supplies and herds of Texas cattle,
north of the Missouri railroads.
In 1868, just prior to the establishment of the new community, Franklin Playter,
a lawyer and native of Ontario, Canada, became interested in the railroad boom
in Kansas and moved to the area, locating first in Fort Scott, and later moving to
Girard, the new county seat of Crawford County. In 1876, the new community,
located seven miles east and seven miles south of Girard, was re-designated
Pittsburg, a name chosen by Playter in deference to Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania,
due to the existence of vast coal fields in the area. It was discovered that a
Mitchell County post office already bore the name Pittsburg, so for three years
the new town was known as “New Pittsburg”. The “New” was dropped in 1880
upon incorporation of the City.
In 1876, Mr. Playter was consulted by John B. Sargent and E.R. Moffatt, two of
the leading smelter and zinc mine promoters of Joplin, Missouri, relative to a
railroad being induced to come to the area to haul coal from the Pittsburg area
to the zinc smelters in Joplin. Wagons were unable to keep pace with the supply
required by the increased business of the smelters, thereby demanding a faster
and more direct route. At the urging of Playter, sergeant and Moffatt, the
Memphis Railroad was started under the supervision of Col. E.M. Brown. The
railroad insisted that, if it was to extend an existing line from Kansas City,
through Girard and Baker Township, and on to Joplin, there must be a station in
the center of Baker Township. In accordance with this stipulation, the founding
businessmen acquired some 1,200 to 1,500 acres of land on which the station
was to be located. On May 20, 1876, Playter, Sargent, Moffatt, and Brown filed
a plat in Girard for a new townsite containing 160 acres which was to become
the present City of Pittsburg. A government marker was placed at the center of the land and each of the four developers owned forty acres, cornered at this
intersection which is 4th and Broadway in downtown Pittsburg.
In order to stimulate growth of the new community, Playter, Sargent, Moffatt
and Brown, owners of the four segments respectively, had agreed among
themselves that each was to erect a building on his land. However, Mr. Playter
was the only one of the four to fulfill the agreement, and he built a frame
building on the southwest corner of 4th and Broadway.
Although whatever reasons the other three may have had for not keeping their
agreement have been lost in antiquity, it is interesting to note that the faithful
developer is the only one to be immortalized in present day Pittsburg. Playter’s
Lake, located in Lakeside Park, is an attractive recreational facility, providing
fishing in the warmer months and supervised ice skating in the winter. Tennis
courts and picnic areas are also available in this park.
Pittsburg was incorporated as a third class city on June 21st, 1880, with M. M.
Snow as its first Mayor, and in 1892, by Governor’s Proclamation, was advanced
to a city of the second class. On September 12th, 1905, Pittsburg attained the
rank of first class under the old City Council system of government, and it was
not until the latter part of 1909 that the Commission form was established. Mr.
E. B. Hoyt, elected in 1910, was the first elected Mayor. In 1910, the population
of Pittsburg was over 14,000. Seven thousand persons were employed in the
area coal mines, and many of them were living in Pittsburg.
For many years, coal mining which inaugurated Pittsburg continued as the
economic base of the community. It is not known when coal was first
discovered, but early history relates the use of “burning rocks” by the Indians.
Long before Kansas became a State, settlers were using it as fuel. The first coal
was taken from the banks of Carbon Creek where outcroppings were easily
accessible to pick and shovel. Carbon Cree, now know as East Cow Creek,
passes just east of the City. The point at which the exposed coal was discovered
is the Yale-Litchfield area which is approximately seven miles northeast of
In 1879, two miners from Joplin, Peter and Matt Coyle, sank the first coal mine
shaft within a block of Broadway Street, and thus the first commercial attempts
at mining began. As Kansas developed into one of the greatest railroading states
in the west, increased amounts of coal were necessary to the operation of
locomotives, resulting in the railroads acquiring 16,000 acres of the best coal
fields in the district. Pittsburg continued its mining development for the next
forty years, producing the finest steam coal in the west. With the decline of
railroad age came a decline in deep shaft mining. Strip mining, utilizing large
machinery, was more economical; therefore, the deep mines became
unprofitable and were closed. The decline in metal smelting, the conversion of
diesel powered trains, together with the availability of cheaper fuels originally reduced the small mining operations; however, large companies in the area now
mine more coal than ever before. For many years the City of Pittsburg utilized
coal at the waterworks as the source of power to pump water from the deep
shaft wells. Use of coal for this purpose was discontinued in 1948, but the City
continued to operate a steam plant which used coal to produce steam for
heating most of the buildings in the downtown area up until 1957. “Big Brutus”,
the second largest electric shovel in the world used in strip mining operations, is
still located near West Mineral, Kansas.
In addition to some coal mining, the economic base of the City now rests on
industry. A mean temperature of 60°F, a good labor force, and an abundant
supply of water from the Roubidoux sand beds insures a fine background for
industry. In 1963, an industrial park was established in the City. Of course, our
agricultural surroundings played a part in Pittsburg’s development as well. The
city’s industrial progress resulted in a sharp decrease in the area unemployment,
from 8.8% in 1961 to 5.1% in 1965. In 1965, the City of Pittsburg, with a
population of 20,169, had fewer than 200 persons on the unemployment roll.
In listing industrial assets of the city, it would be improper to omit the
educational complex of Kansas State College of Pittsburg. In 1903, 23 years
after the incorporation of the city, this school was established as the Auxiliary
Manual Training Normal School under the direction of the State Normal Training
School at Emporia, with Russell S. Russ as the first principal. In 1913, this
school became a four-year institution, independent of the Normal School at
Emporia, and in 1923, the name was changed to Kansas State Teachers College.
Through the years as the number of students entering college increased, there
arose a demand for a broader range of subjects for professions other than
teaching. The College became more diversified in its aims and goals, so that it
became a multi-purpose institution. In 1959 the Kansas Legislature recognized
the change in the nature of the institution and changed its name to Kansas State
College of Pittsburg. In 1965, Kansas State College of Pittsburg had an
enrollment of 5,280 students, an increase of 1,669 since 1961. The college has
since been renamed Pittsburg State University.