Kansas lost a state treasure in November 2017. No, it did not burn down, it did not collapse, and it was not razed. It was simply unincorporated.
This landmark was the tiny town of Freeport, the smallest incorporated city in Kansas.
Early History of Freeport
Located in Harper County, Freeport began its existence as Midlothian (a Scottish word meaning “midland”), just two or three miles southeast of the town’s present location. The Midlothian post office opened its doors in April 1879 to serve the local farmers with Benjamin H. Freeman as first postmaster. This post office was conveniently located on a stage line running from Wellington to Medicine Lodge, and was also Freeman’s residence and trading post. A small church and school were located nearby.
In 1885, the St. Louis, Fort Scott & Wichita Railroad (later the Missouri Pacific) arrived. The railroad officials laid out a new townsite nearby and named it Freeport. The precise origin of the name Freeport is unclear—some have suggested it was derived from the name of B.H. Freeman. Or perhaps is was a tribute to the concept of liberty. We may never know.
However, the farmers of Midlothian were determined to compete. Their town was moved up to the tracks, less than a quarter of a mile from Freeport. Midlothian received a town charter only a week after the organization of Freeport, and the two main streets were only two blocks away from each other. The farmers convinced Freeman to move the post office to their townsite. In short order, each town also had its own newspaper, Midlothian being served by the Midlothian Sun and Freeport by the Freeport Leader.
Which town would receive the railroad depot was a matter of fierce contention for a time. Given its railroad-derived origin, perhaps there is little surprise that Freeport won the battle. Once the depot was built, businessmen located their hotels and grain elevators in Freeport instead of Midlothian, and the fate of the latter was sealed.
Midlothian was eventually absorbed. The Midlothian post office was renamed Freeport to match the name of the depot in 1885. The Midlothian Sun was moved to the new townsite in 1886 and received the name of Freeport Tribune, but only survived for a few months afterward. By March, Midlothian was simply known as “West Freeport.” The combined towns boasted a population of 500 in 1886.
Freeport was once a bustling community. Two grain elevators were established, as were three lumberyards, two hotels, a bank, five dry goods stores, nine grocery stores, three drug stores, two hardware stores, two meat markets, four blacksmith shops, and more. The Freeport Leader persisted from 1885 to 1891. At the height of its prosperity, Freeport had an estimated population of 700 in 1892.
Struggles of a Small Incorporated City
But that number had been swelled by hundreds of people waiting to participate in the Oklahoma Land Rush. The largest land run of this period was when the Cherokee Outlet was opened on September 16, 1893. A census in 1895 showed the result—Freeport was down to a population of 54.
Keeping the town incorporated became a perpetual challenge as the population slowly dwindled over the next century. In 1980, the town boasted 12 residents. By 2010, census-takers recorded a population of five.
City officials eventually decided that elections cost too much money. For several decades, Freeport held no elections for city offices. Instead, the mayor and members of the city council were elected by residents of the surrounding Silver Creek Township. The council only met every few months, since there was little business to carry out. Only the city clerk received compensation for his or her services.
The Freeport State Bank, chartered in 1902, was for many years the only state bank in Harper County. It closed in 2009, followed by the post office in 2016.
In the November 2017 election, voters chose to dissolve Freeport by a vote of 4 to 0, giving the honor of being the smallest incorporated city in Kansas to Frederick (Rice County), with a population of 18 in 2010.
History of Freeport
Interesting first-hand accounts.