Shawnee County, Kansas

This article is about Shawnee County, Kansas. For the city in Johnson County, see Shawnee, Kansas.
Shawnee County, Kansas
Map of Kansas highlighting Shawnee County
Location in the U.S. state of Kansas
Map of the United States highlighting Kansas
Kansas's location in the U.S.
Founded August 25, 1855 [1]
Named for Shawnee people
Seat Topeka
Largest city Topeka
  Total 556 sq mi (1,440 km2)
  Land 544 sq mi (1,409 km2)
  Water 12 sq mi (31 km2), 2.1%
Population (est.)
  (2015) 178,725
  Density 327/sq mi (126/km²)
Congressional district 2nd
Time zone Central: UTC-6/-5

Coordinates: 39°03′N 95°46′W / 39.050°N 95.767°W / 39.050; -95.767

Shawnee County (county code SN) is a county located in northeast Kansas, in the central United States of America. As of the 2010 census, the population was 177,934[2] making it the third-most populous county in Kansas. Its most populous city, Topeka, is the state capital and county seat.[3] The county was one of the original 33 counties created by the first territorial legislature in 1855, and it was named for the Shawnee tribe of Native Americans.


2005 KDOT Map of Shawnee County (map legend)


Early history

For many millennia, the Great Plains of North America was inhabited by nomadic Native Americans. From the 16th century to 18th century, the Kingdom of France claimed ownership of large parts of North America. In 1762, after the French and Indian War, France secretly ceded New France to Spain, per the Treaty of Fontainebleau.

19th century

In 1802, Spain returned most of the land to France, but keeping title to about 7,500 square miles. In 1803, most of the land for modern day Kansas was acquired by the United States from France as part of the 828,000 square mile Louisiana Purchase for 2.83 cents per acre.

In 1854, the Kansas Territory was organized, then in 1861 Kansas became the 34th U.S. state. In 1855, Shawnee County was established.

Before the treaty of 1854, the area now known as Shawnee County was inhabited by Shawnee, Kansas, and Pottowatomie Indian tribes. Westward expansion brought the country its first white settler in 1830 when Frederick Choteau opened a trading post on American Chief (now Mission) Creek. In 1855, Shawnee became one of the first counties established by the Kansas territorial legislature with a population of 250. General H. J. Strickler, of Tecumseh, who was a member of the council in 1855, and also of the joint committee on Counties, claimed Shawnee for the name of his county. At that time, Shawnee County borders were entirely south of the Kansas River and extended south to include Osage City and Carbondale. The legislature later desired to make Topeka the county seat and moved the borders of the county to their present locations to make Topeka centrally located in the county.

1855 also saw the first ever meeting of the Shawnee County Board of Commissioners. Tecumseh was the first county seat, and the first county courthouse was opened there in 1856. The building was 40x50 feet but was never finished. Topeka was made the county seat by popular vote in 1858, and a new courthouse was built at 4th Street and Kansas Avenue in 1867. In 1896, a new larger courthouse was constructed at 5th and Van Buren, with more than 50,000 residents then living in the county. That building remained in use until the current courthouse at 7th and Quincy opened in 1965.

Local etymologies

Concerning the origin of the names in this county, it is generally understood that Shawnee County receives its name from that well known tribe of Indians.[4]

A good place to grow potatoes (Prairie potatoes).[4]
River of big weeds.[4]
The race course.[4]
A fine growth.[4]
Half-Day Creek
Named after a Pottawatomie chief.[4]
Mission Creek
Named after an old Kaw mission on its banks.[4]
Blacksmith Creek
Named after a Kaw blacksmith shop.[4]
Soldier Creek
Its banks were a favorite camping ground for soldiers passing from Fort Leavenworth to Fort Riley.[4]


Shawnee County is located in the northeastern part of Kansas, in the third tier of counties west of the Missouri River and about fifty-four miles south of Nebraska. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, the county has a total area of 556 square miles (1,440 km2), of which 544 square miles (1,410 km2) is land and 12 square miles (31 km2) (2.1%) is water.[5] It is bordered by Jackson County on the north, Jefferson County on the north and east, Douglas County on the east, Osage County on the south, Wabaunsee County on the west, and Pottawatomie County on the west. Its extent in either direction is not more than twenty-four miles. The second standard parallel south passes through the northern half of the county.

When the county was originally formed in 1855, it was bounded by the Kansas River on the north, and the southern boundary was nine miles (14 km) further south. But on February 23, 1860, the legislature changed the boundaries with the southern portion being granted to Osage County, and the northern boundary was moved a few miles north of the river (to the second standard parallel). The present northern line (six miles north of the second standard parallel) was established in 1868.[6]

The Kansas River runs east across the county, just north of the center, being bordered on its north bank by the townships of Rossville, Silver Lake, Menoken, and Soldier, and on its south bank by the townships of Dover, Mission, and Tecumseh. The city of Topeka primarily lies to the south of the river. There is little or no current major river traffic, but it is used extensively for irrigation in the county. Major creeks emptying into the Kansas River include Cross, Soldier, Mission, Indian, and Shunganunga Creeks. The Wakarusa River, which, flowing east and northeast, empties into the Kansas River in the northeastern part of Douglas County. It has its sources in the township of Auburn, and waters the southern sections of Auburn, Williamsport and Monmouth—the tributary creeks flowing into it on either side forming the drainage and water system of the three townships.

The soil is a rich dark loam, varying from fifteen feet in some parts of the bottoms, to a uniform surface covering the upland prairie from one to three feet. The underlying formation is limestone. Beds of clay, are well distributed. Coal is found in detached and non-continuous beds, and is mined in a small way for local purposes in Topeka, Soldier and Menoken.

Along the western border the landscape is hilly with the Flint Hills a few miles further west in Wabaunsee County. Burnett's Mound, the highest point in the county, is situated in the southwest part of Topeka. The land is described in the government and county surveys as "bottom land, 31%; upland, 69%; forest 8%; prairie, 92%." Wooded areas are mainly found along rivers and creeks with no true forests. The growth consists of elm, cottonwood, black walnut, oak, sycamore, box elder, hickory and ash.

Adjacent counties

Township divisions

The county consists of twelve townships: Soldier, Menoken, Silver Lake, Grove, and Rossville north of the Kansas River; Tecumseh, Topeka, Mission, and Dover south of the river; and Monmouth, Williamsport, and Auburn in the southernmost tier of townships occupying the Wakarusa River valley. Being a city of the first class, the city of Topeka is independent of any townships and excluded from the census figures for the townships. It occupies over ten percent of the county's land area and ranks fourth in population among all cities in Kansas. Altogether, the county has five incorporated cities with the other four being cities of the third class: Auburn, Rossville, Silver Lake, and Willard.

Tecumseh Township was one of the two original townships formed in 1855, and it originally extended over all the county south of the Kansas River to the Wakarusa River.[7] Yocum Township, named after county commissioner William Yocum, was the other, and it contained the area south of the Wakarusa River. The formation of the townships of Topeka (1857) and Monmouth (1860) reduced Tecumseh Township to its current greatest extent of about seven miles (11 km) from north to south from the Kansas River and less than seven miles (11 km) from east to west from the county's eastern border. Small portions in the western part have been annexed by the city of Topeka, and its present area is 36 square miles (93 km2). It contains the (unincorporated) towns of Tecumseh, Spencer, and Watson. The town and township were named for the famous Shawnee chief.[8]

Topeka Township was carved out of the western portion of Tecumseh Township in 1857.[9] Following the creation of newer townships and annexations by the city of Topeka, the size of the township has been significantly reduced. It currently occupies an area of 12 square miles (31 km2), and it is in extent about three miles (5 km) from north to south and five miles (8 km) from east to west. It contains the town of Pauline.

Monmouth Township, located in the southeastern corner of the county, has an area of 56 square miles (150 km2). In extent it is eight miles (13 km) north to south and seven miles (11 km) east to west. It contains the town of Berryton. Richland, which was located in the far southeast corner of the township, was purchased by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in the late 1960s as a part of the land acquired for Clinton Lake. By 1974, the town was vacated and the remaining buildings were demolished shortly thereafter.

Williamsport Township, established in 1860, was named after Williamsport, Pennsylvania.[10] With an area of 41 square miles (110 km2), it is in extent six miles (10 km) from north to south to the county's southern border and seven miles (11 km) from east to west between Monmouth and Auburn townships. It contains the towns of Wakarusa and Cullen Village and the greater portion of Forbes Field (airport).

Auburn Township, 56 square miles (150 km2) in area, occupies the southwestern corner of the county. In extent it is six miles (10 km) from north to south and ten miles (16 km) from east to west, and it contains the city of Auburn.

Dover Township was carved from northern portions of Auburn Township in 1867 and named after Dover, New Hampshire.[11] In extent it is twelve miles (19 km) from north to south from the Kansas River and six miles (10 km) from east to west to the county's western border, with an area of 57 square miles (150 km2). It includes the city of Willard and the towns of Dover and Valencia.

Mission Township was formed from portions of Dover and Topeka townships in 1871.[12] Northeastern portions of the township have been annexed by the city of Topeka in years since. It currently occupies an area of 32 square miles (83 km2), and its greatest extent is not more than eight miles (13 km) from north to south and six miles (10 km) from east to west. It contains numerous subdivisions and the Sherwood Lake area.

Soldier Township was organized following the change in the county's borders in 1860, and it contained all of the county north of the Kansas River until the formation of Silver Lake Township in 1868.[13] A southern portion of the township has been annexed by the city of Topeka. With an area of 63 square miles (160 km2), it is in extent less than ten miles (16 km) from north to south from the county's northern border and less than eight miles (13 km) from east to west from the county's eastern border. It contains the town of Elmont.

Silver Lake Township was carved out of the western portion of Soldier Township after the county's northern border was moved in 1868.[13] The formation of the surrounding townships of Rossville (1871) to the west, Menoken (1879) to the east, and Grove (1918) to the north has reduced the size of the township. With an area of 18 square miles (47 km2), its greatest extent is about five miles (8 km) from north to south to the Kansas River and five miles (8 km) from east to west. It contains the city of Silver Lake, and it is named after a crescent-shaped lake located near the city.[14]

Rossville Township, occupying the northwestern corner of the county, was carved out of the western part of Silver Lake Township in 1871.[15] It has an area of 52 square miles (130 km2), and its greatest extent is about nine miles (14 km) from north to south to the Kansas River and seven miles (11 km) from east to west. It includes the city of Rossville. The township and city were both named for William W. Ross, the brother of Senator Edmund G. Ross.[16]

Menoken Township, 45 square miles (120 km2) in area, was carved out of the eastern portions of Silver Lake Township in 1879.[12] Extending from the county's northern border to the Kansas River, it is not more than eleven miles (18 km) in extent from north to south and less than five miles (8 km) from east to west. The township's name is derived from a Native American word meaning "fine growth" or "a place for fine growing".[12]

Grove Township is the youngest of the townships. It was carved out of the northern portion of Silver Lake Township in 1918.[17] Very little remains of its only town, Grove. With an area of 30 square miles (78 km2), the township is six miles (10 km) in extent from north to south from the county's northern border and five miles (8 km) from east to west between Menoken and Rossville townships.


Historical population
Census Pop.
Est. 2015178,725[18]0.4%
U.S. Decennial Census[19]
1790-1960[20] 1900-1990[21]
1990-2000[22] 2010-2015[2]

Shawnee County is included in the Topeka Metropolitan Statistical Area, which had an estimated population of 234,203 in 2013.[23]

As of the 2000 census, there were 169,871 people, 68,920 households, and 44,660 families residing in the county. The population density was 309 people per square mile (119/km2). There were 73,768 housing units at an average density of 134 per square mile (52/km2). The racial makeup of the county was 82.89% White, 9.03% Black or African American, 1.17% Native American, 0.95% Asian, 0.04% Pacific Islander, 3.20% from other races, and 2.72% from two or more races. 7.26% of the population were Hispanic or Latino of any race.

There were 68,920 households out of which 30.70% had children under the age of 18 living with them, 49.60% were married couples living together, 11.60% had a female householder with no husband present, and 35.20% were non-families. 29.80% of all households were made up of individuals and 10.00% had someone living alone who was 65 years of age or older. The average household size was 2.39 and the average family size was 2.98.

In the county the population was spread out with 25.30% under the age of 18, 8.80% from 18 to 24, 28.40% from 25 to 44, 23.70% from 45 to 64, and 13.70% who were 65 years of age or older. The median age was 37 years. For every 100 females there were 93.80 males. For every 100 females age 18 and over, there were 90.00 males.

The median income for a household in the county was $40,988, and the median income for a family was $51,464. Males had a median income of $35,586 versus $26,491 for females. The per capita income for the county was $20,904. About 6.30% of families and 9.60% of the population were below the poverty line, including 12.30% of those under age 18 and 7.10% of those age 65 or over.

Arts and culture

Points of interest

Law and government

Shawnee County was a prohibition, or "dry", county until the Kansas Constitution was amended in 1986 and voters approved the sale of alcoholic liquor by the individual drink with a 30% food sales requirement. The food sales requirement was removed with voter approval in 1994.[24]


Since 1992, Shawnee County has become competitive in presidential elections with a slight Republican tilt. No presidential candidate since George H. W. Bush in 1988 has carried the county with a majority of the vote. Bill Clinton in 1992 remains the last Democratic candidate as of 2016 to win Shawnee County, while Lyndon B. Johnson remains the last Democrat to win a majority of its votes, having done so in 1964.[25]

Every Republican candidate since Kansas native Bob Dole in 1996 has carried the county with a plurality. In 2008, Republican John McCain won Shawnee County over Democrat Barack Obama by a margin of 49.05% to 48.77%, a margin of 241 votes.[26] In 2016, Donald Trump won the county against Hillary Clinton with a margin of 48% to 45.17%, a 2.83% margin, or 2,079 votes.

At the state level, Shawnee County has frequently voted for Democratic candidates. In fact, the county has gone Democratic in 8 of the last 11 gubernatorial races since 1974.[27]


Unified school districts

National protected area

Colleges and universities

Vocational/technical schools

Public libraries


Interstate 70 crosses the county, as does the Kansas Turnpike. U.S. Route 75 crosses the county north to south and U.S. Route 40 and U.S. Route 24 cross the county west to east. K-4 serves part of the county from Dover in the southwest corner through Topeka, across the Kansas River and north into Jefferson County.

Forbes Field Air National Guard base and airport is located south of Topeka near Pauline. The airport was served by Allegiant Air with biweekley service to Las Vegas. Other airports in the county include Philip Billard Municipal Airport in the Oakland neighborhood of Topeka.



Unincorporated communities

Ghost town


As a city of the first class, Topeka is considered governmentally independent and is excluded from the census figures for the townships. In the following table, the population center is the city included in that township's population total.

Township FIPS Population
Population Population
/km2 (/sq mi)
Land area
km2 (sq mi)
Water area
km2 (sq mi)
Water % Geographic coordinates
Auburn 03275 Auburn 2,787 19 (50) 143 (55) 2 (1) 1.28% 38°54′13″N 95°49′54″W / 38.90361°N 95.83167°W / 38.90361; -95.83167
Dover 18475 Willard 1,734 12 (31) 146 (56) 2 (1) 1.11% 39°1′33″N 95°54′1″W / 39.02583°N 95.90028°W / 39.02583; -95.90028
Grove 29075 473 6 (16) 78 (30) 0 (0) 0.17% 39°10′16″N 95°51′47″W / 39.17111°N 95.86306°W / 39.17111; -95.86306
Menoken 45850 1,371 12 (31) 116 (45) 1 (0) 1.00% 39°8′3″N 95°46′17″W / 39.13417°N 95.77139°W / 39.13417; -95.77139
Mission 47275 9,070 111 (287) 82 (32) 2 (1) 2.58% 39°0′22″N 95°47′2″W / 39.00611°N 95.78389°W / 39.00611; -95.78389
Monmouth 47700 Berryton 2,786 19 (49) 148 (57) 0 (0) 0.08% 38°55′41″N 95°35′10″W / 38.92806°N 95.58611°W / 38.92806; -95.58611
Rossville 61425 Rossville 1,681 13 (33) 133 (51) 1 (1) 1.07% 39°8′55″N 95°57′56″W / 39.14861°N 95.96556°W / 39.14861; -95.96556
Silver Lake 65625 Silver Lake 1,949 42 (109) 46 (18) 1 (0) 2.55% 39°6′9″N 95°51′42″W / 39.10250°N 95.86167°W / 39.10250; -95.86167
Soldier 66225 12,867 79 (204) 163 (63) 1 (0) 0.49% 39°8′37″N 95°40′7″W / 39.14361°N 95.66861°W / 39.14361; -95.66861
Tecumseh 70100 Tecumseh 7,822 86 (224) 91 (35) 2 (1) 2.16% 39°1′33″N 95°35′26″W / 39.02583°N 95.59056°W / 39.02583; -95.59056
Topeka 71025 Pauline 931 32 (84) 29 (11) 1 (1) 4.89% 38°59′43″N 95°39′42″W / 38.99528°N 95.66167°W / 38.99528; -95.66167
Williamsport 79350 Wakarusa 4,023 38 (99) 105 (41) 0 (0) 0.29% 38°55′48″N 95°41′19″W / 38.93000°N 95.68861°W / 38.93000; -95.68861
Sources: "Census 2000 U.S. Gazetteer Files". U.S. Census Bureau, Geography Division. 

See also


  1. "Kansas Counties - Shawnee County, Kansas". Kansas State Historical Society. Retrieved 2008-01-10.
  2. 1 2 "State & County QuickFacts". United States Census Bureau. Retrieved July 29, 2014.
  3. "Find a County". National Association of Counties. Retrieved 2011-06-07.
  4. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 History of the State of Kansas - Shawnee County; William G. Cutler; A.T. Andreas Publisher; 1883.
  5. "US Gazetteer files: 2010, 2000, and 1990". United States Census Bureau. 2011-02-12. Retrieved 2011-04-23.
  6. Bird & Wallace 1976, pp. 347–348.
  7. Bird & Wallace 1976, p. 352.
  8. Bird & Wallace 1976, p. 351.
  9. Bird & Wallace 1976, p. 353.
  10. Bird & Wallace 1976, p. 358.
  11. Bird & Wallace 1976, pp. 329–330.
  12. 1 2 3 Bird & Wallace 1976, p. 339.
  13. 1 2 Bird & Wallace 1976, p. 350.
  14. Bird & Wallace 1976, p. 348.
  15. Bird & Wallace 1976, p. 347.
  16. Bird & Wallace 1976, p. 346.
  17. Bird & Wallace 1976, p. 333.
  18. "County Totals Dataset: Population, Population Change and Estimated Components of Population Change: April 1, 2010 to July 1, 2015". Retrieved July 2, 2016.
  19. "U.S. Decennial Census". United States Census Bureau. Retrieved July 29, 2014.
  20. "Historical Census Browser". University of Virginia Library. Retrieved July 29, 2014.
  21. "Population of Counties by Decennial Census: 1900 to 1990". United States Census Bureau. Retrieved July 29, 2014.
  22. "Census 2000 PHC-T-4. Ranking Tables for Counties: 1990 and 2000" (PDF). United States Census Bureau. Retrieved July 29, 2014.
  23. "Annual Estimates of the Population of Metropolitan and Micropolitan Statistical Areas: April 1, 2010 to July 1, 2013". United States Census Bureau. Retrieved 2014-05-31.
  24. "Map of Wet and Dry Counties". Alcoholic Beverage Control, Kansas Department of Revenue. November 2006. Retrieved 2007-12-28.
  26. 2008 Presidential General Election Results - Shawnee County, KS. Dave Leip's Atlas of U.S. Presidential Elections. Retrieved January 14, 2012.
  28. Kaw Valley USD 321
  29. Wabaunsee East USD 330
  30. Jefferson West USD 340
  31. Seaman USD 345
  32. Silver Lake USD 372
  33. Santa Fe Trail USD 434
  34. Auburn-Washburn USD 437
  35. Shawnee Heights USD 450
  36. Topeka Public School USD 501

Further reading

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