Olathe Timeline: Through the Decades


History & Founding of Olathe

James B. (Beatty) and Lucinda Mahaffie

History of Olathe

Olathe, pronounced O-Lay’-tha, is the old Shawnee Indian word for “Beautiful.” The township of Olathe was established in 1857, and later became a stop along the Santa Fe Trail.

Olathe was born at a turbulent time in American history when Dr. John Barton, a Virginia physician, settled here in 1857. At issue was whether Kansas would be free like the Nebraska territory to the north, or a slave state like Missouri to the east.

Early History to the 1860s

In the Beginning

Early History to the 1860s

‚ÄčIn prehistoric times the Kansas, Pawnee and Osage Native American tribes roamed the land drained by the Kansas, Missouri and Osage Rivers. Later, hunters and trappers ventured into the area, and after the Louisiana Purchase of 1803, the explorations of Lewis and Clark encouraged frontiersmen to move into the Trans-Mississippi West.

Overland trade with Mexico along the Santa Fe Trail brought enterprising merchants, the military and the first settlements to the western borders of the United States. Government treaties forced many woodland Native American tribes to move into what is now eastern Kansas. The Rev. Thomas Johnson immigrated with the Shawnee tribe to the new reserve in 1829, and established a mission.

1870 – 1890

Prosperity & Growth

Pickering House

1870 – 1890

Peace and prosperity enabled the city to develop a more distinct social and cultural character. “Art has added much to nature,” said one observer, who went on to comment on the growth of trees, hedges and shrubbery, the building of houses and fences, and the embellishment of grounds.

The town became a second class city in 1870, having 2,045 inhabitants. The 1870s saw growth in the physical plant at the school for the deaf. Churches, which organized after the Civil War, began to erect centers of worship. A subscription library began in 1874. The first history of the city was written that year.

1890 – 1910

Turn of the Century & New Technology

Luther Taylor

1890 – 1910

The decades surrounding the turn of the century saw rapid technological change in Olathe. The decorative Washburn courthouse, complete with steam heat and electric lights, was dedicated in 1892. The event set a corresponding trend in stately home building. Public utilities such as natural gas, telephones, sewers and water treatment came into common use. The automobile could be seen sharing space on Cherry Street with farm wagons and teams of horses.

1910 – 1930

Civic Engagement & Expansion

Ensor Farm

1910 – 1930

In 1910, Olathe had a commission form of government, a population of 3,272 (with its suburbs 4,000), and a water-works plant with a basin of 20 acres. A city hall was built in 1911 at the southwest corner of Kansas Avenue and Santa Fe. In 1912, George Hodges, partner in the Hodges Brothers Lumber Company, was elected Kansas governor on a Democratic ticket. Women’s suffrage passed in Kansas that year and the Carnegie Public Library opened. A domestic science and manual training building was completed for the school system in 1913. The Kansas School for the Deaf enrolled 250 pupils that year.

1930 – 1950

Maturity & the War Years

Ensor Farm

1930 – 1950

The 1930 census certified 3,656 Olathe residents and 27,179 in the county. The balance of the population in Johnson County, stable since the 1880s, began to shift toward the northeast.

Olathe was described as “a prosperous market town of pleasing residences and stately elms. So popular is the courthouse with couples eloping from Missouri and eastern Kansas that the town has become a local Gretna Green. Judge Bert Rogers, father of Charles ‘Buddy’ Rogers, orchestra leader and motion picture actor, presides in its ‘Cupids Parlor’ which is decorated with more sentiment than restraint.”

1950 – 1960

Population Boom & Centennial Celebration

Olathe Swimming Pool 1949

1950 -1960

Spiraling population as a result of the “baby boom” necessitated the construction of Westview Elementary in 1954 and Ridgeview Elementary in 1956.

Olathe celebrated its centennial in 1957 with a true festival of history. The fourth printed history of the city was produced for the event. Two long-time weekly newspapers, “The Olathe Mirror” and “The Johnson County Democrat,” were purchased by Harris Newspapers in 1959 and became “The Olathe News.” The newspaper survives today.

1960 – 1970

Big Changes at Home & in the World

1960 – 1970

Olathe climbed to 10,978 citizens in 1960 with 143,792 in the county. Overland Park, incorporated that year, became the sixth largest city in Kansas. The Shawnee Mission Post office was established. King Radio, with 60 employees, moved to Olathe. The city began to examine ways to convert the Naval Air Station to the industrial park. Construction began on the Federal Aviation Administration center east of I-35. A beginning woman teacher in the Olathe schools earned $3,800. The salary for a man was $4,100.

1970 – 1980

New Housing & Urban Renewal

King Radio 1980

1970 – 1980

Olathe’s population was 17,917 in 1970. Johnson County recorded 220,073. McDonald’s came to Olathe and the hamburger became the meal of choice. A new Patron’s Bank was built at Santa Fe and Cherry. Olathe became a city of the first class. The Chamber of Commerce celebrated its 50th anniversary.

1971 saw Kansas 18-year olds receive voting rights. Santa Fe was widened to four lanes. Urban renewal continued to ravage older neighborhoods.

1980 – 1990

New Schools & Landmarks Shape Olathe

1980 – 1990

Prairie Center and Tomahawk Elementary Schools were being planned and Olathe South High School was under construction in 1980. Milgram’s opened a grocery store in Town Square Shopping Center. The Juvenile Detention Center was dedicated. Crossroads Shopping Center opened in the spring. Frontier Park and Oregon Trail Park came into being. A controversial commercial sign law was drafted. Heritage Park, southeast of Olathe, was planned. Jack Nicklaus announced plans for a 3,100-acre golf course and residential development northwest of Olathe.

1990 – 2000

Commercial Growth

1990 – 2000

In the 1990’s Olathe saw the completion of the overpass at I-35 and 151st Street and the opening of the 119th Street Overpass.

Broadcasting City Council meetings on OGTN was initiated.

Garmin International, industry leader in navigation and communications electronics, relocated to Olathe in 1996.

The Great Mall of the Great Plains, located on 151st Street, just west of I-35, opened in 1997.

2000 – 2010

A New Vision & A New Century


2000 – 2010

Olathe reached a population of 100,000 in 2001.

In January, 2004, Money Magazine listed Olathe as the third “hottest” town in the central United States, and in July, 2006, Money ranked the City of Olathe 13th on its Best Small Cities list, reaffirming the outstanding quality of life Olatheans enjoy.

With input from residents, Olathe’s first Strategic Plan was adopted in 2001, establishing Olathe’s 20-year vision in the strategic areas of transportation, public safety, active lifestyles, public services, downtown, economic sustainability, and diversity. The Strategic Plan was updated again in 2004 to ensure that it adequately reflected the priorities and direction supported by the Olathe community.

2010 – 2020

Community & Family Amenities

Olathe Community Center

2010 – Present

The Olathe Community Center opened in July of 2014. Located on the southwest corner of Stagecoach Park at Kansas City Road and Ridgeview Road the Community Center is adjacent to Stagecoach Park.

  • Landscape and history of the trees presented a strong appeal for this location
  • The Olathe Community Center was designed to protect as many trees as possible.
  • Construction cost for the Community Center and Stagecoach Park Development was $28.5 Million.
  • The project was funded through Park Sales Tax GO Bonds and cash.
  • Operations are designed to be financially independent, supported by user fees.
  • The Community Center building facility hosts 71,168 square feet.