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Nicodemus, Kansas (1877- )

Nicodemus, Kansas (1877-   )
Nicodemus, 1885
Image Ownership: Public Domain
Nicodemus, Kansas was founded in 1877 at the end of the Reconstruction Period. It soon became one of the most famous mostly black communities in the country formed by freedpeople migrating west.  Nicodemus is located on the plains in the northwest corner of the state along the Solomon River in Kansas.   The six founders,  W. H. Smith, Benjamin Carr, Jerry Allsap, the Reverend Simon Roundtree, Jeff Lenze, and William Edmonds, all from Lexington, Kentucky, named the town Nicodemus after a legendary African slave prince who had purchased his freedom.  They envisioned Nicodemus as a place where its settlers would have both political freedom and economic opportunity.

By 1886 Nicodemus had become a prosperous community surrounded by black-owned farms.  The town had two newspapers, the Nicodemus Enterprise and Nicodemus Western Cyclone. There was also a drugstore, a bank, schoolhouse, three churches, and a general store. The general store was erected by S. G. Wilson in 1879 as the first two story building in the town.  

Nicodemus’s most prominent citizen, Edwin P. McCabe, arrived 1878.  McCabe served the community as an attorney, land agent, and later county clerk.  In 1882 he became the highest-ranking African American elected official outside the South when he was elected the state auditor of Kansas.  

One of the town’s early settlers, Zachary Fletcher, became the first postmaster and first entrepreneur. He created the St. Francis Hotel and livery stable. His wife Jenny Smith Fletcher was the town’s first schoolteacher. The post office, school, and hotel were all in the same building, the most prominent in town.  The building still stands in Nicodemus today.

By the late 1880s Nicodemus fell into decline.  In 1885 winter blizzards destroyed forty percent of the township’s wheat crop. Then two years later town leaders had put sixteen thousand dollars in investment in three different railroads in hopes that one would extend its lines into or near their town; however, all three railroads bypassed Nicodemus. After that the town boosters ceased trying to lure newcomers especially after the most prominent citizen Edwin McCabe left in 1889.  Its population declined although a few hundred people reside there today.

In 1996 Nicodemus was designated a National Historical site.

Sources:
Quintard Taylor, In Search of the Racial Frontier: African Americans in the American West, 1528-1990 (New York: W.W. Norton, 1998); Nicodemus: National Historic Site-Kansas, <http://www.nps.gov/nico/>; Legends of America: Legends of Kansas-Nicodemus-A Black Pioneer Town, <http://www.legendsofamerica.com/OZ-Nicodemus.html>

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University of Washington, Seattle

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