After selecting and platting the townsite Kansas City or Ianthe, Dr. G. W. Cooper returned to Wyandotte where he met George A. Dunn, a government surveyor, who had recently been over the territory included in Anderson County. Dr.Cooper, still desirous of founding and colonizing a town, made known his plans to Dunn, who proposed to go with him to the Pottawatomie, in Anderson County, and to select a townsite near the center of the county.
Upon arriving in Anderson County they examined the geographical center of the county but were not satisfied with the land as a location for a town. Being familiar with the country, Mr. Dunn suggested a site some six miles to the north and east, on section 30, township 20. range 20, where there was a fine spring of water. They examined the proposed site and laid out a town in this section. Dr. Cooper soon returned to his home at Louisville where he organized a town company, some of the prominent members of which were W. A. Garnett, R. B. Hall, G. W. Cooper, G. A. Dunn and Theodore Harris.
The company decided to name the new town Garnett, in honor of the president, W. A. Garnett, a man of wealth and prominence in Louisville who purchased a flouring and saw-mill for the new town and financed the colony the members of which were to become the first citizens of Garnett, Kansas. However, it was found inadvisable to send the colony and machinery to the new country that year and the next spring, in 1857, Dr. Cooper came to Anderson County and had the townsite again surveyed, staked out and platted. Upon his return to Louisville he had a lithographed plat of the town made and so ambitious was he for the town that he had founded that, it is said, the lithograph showed steamships upon the waters of the Pottawatomie.
During his visit to the new townsite in the spring of 1857, D. Cooper employed men to build a double log cabin on Fourth Street, just east of Main Street, in which when it was finished in the summer of that year Dr. Preston Bowen opened a store, the first store in Garnett. Notable among the settlers who migrated to the new townsite in the spring and summer of 1857, before the arrival of the Louisville colony, were Thomas Owen, Dr.Thomas Lindsay, John G. Lindsay, William Smith,and W. S. Smith. The portion of the Louisville colony to come first to Kansas arrived in Anderson County about the twenty-fifth of July. In August the remainder of the colony with the flouring and sawmill arrived on the townsite. The colony was composed of Charles Hidden, F. G. Bruns, W. C. Hall, R. B. Hall, Theodore Harris, G. W. Cooper, Mrs. Adeline Duren, John Lambdin, M. T. Williams and their families.
On August 1st members of the town company filed a plat of the town of Garnett with the probate judge of the county. About this time a store building was erected and occupied by a merchant and with these improvements the company claimed the right to preempt the land as a townsite. Consequently, on September 8th the site was pre-empted by George Wilson probate judge, in trust for the occupants of the town of Garnett. In the meantime the town company of Troy, claiming the north half of section 30, township 20,range 20, had pre-empted that land for a townsite. Since the boundaries of the two sites coincided, the town companies of Garnett and Troy consolidated under the name of Town Company of Garnett.
The Territorial Legislature passed an act incorporating this company on February 9, 1859. However, as soon as the papers were forwarded to the land office at Washington, the commissioner discovered that a whole section had been pre-empted for town purposes and cancelled the entry of Garnett and Troy as in violation with the act of Congress of 1844. With this cancellation the occupants of the townsites were residing on government land with town improvements. Soon W.A. Johnson settled on the north half of the old townsite of Troy and claimed it under the pre-emption law of 1841. and Dr. John B. Chapman claimed the south half of the old townsite of Garnett under the same law.
Thus, the persons residing between these claims, or on land that would be the south half of the old Troy townsite and the north half of the original Garnett townsite, formed a new town company and filed a certificate of incorporation with the secretary of the territory. This certificate, duly filed in the secretary's office on May 14, 1860, bore the names of the following prominent organizers: D. W. Houston, B. D. Benedict, J. G. Smith, C. P. Alvey, G. W. Iler, W. A. Johnson, M. J. Alkire. and B. F. Ridgeway. The Town Company of Garnett, thus organized with a capital stock of $8,000, opened books for the subscription of stock. Also the townsite was again surveyed and laid off in streets, alleys, blocks and lots.
Although it looked as if the obstacles checking the establishment of the struggling, would-be town of Garnett had been at last surmounted, it was soon evident that another stumbling block had been placed in the way. The town boosters were plunged into a controversy which lasted many months and roused much animosity. According to W. A. Johnson who treats the matter fully in his history, Judge J. Y. Campbell, being the agent and attorney of the old Louisville Town Company as well as the probate judge of the county at that time, refused to pre-empt the townsite of Garnett upon the application of the town company. He also refused to grant an order declaring the company a municipal corporation upon the petition of more than two-thirds of the legal electors of the town. Then the citizens applied to the Territorial Legislature and at its session early in 1861 it passed a bill granting Garnett a charter of incorporation. However, the measure was defeated by the Council, due to the efforts of Judge Campbell.
Matters continued in a lamentable state for the Legislature closed with the residents of the townsite still uncertain of the title of their lands. Finally, a committee of investigation, consistingof D. W. Houston and W. A. Johnson, appointed by the citizens, found upon examining the county records, that Judge Campbell had not qualified fully according to the law for the office of probate judge. Governor Robinson, upon application, agreed that a vacancy existed in that office and commissioned Charles Hidden as probate judge. On October 7, 1861, Charles Hidden, as probate judge of Anderson County, declared the town a municipal corporation and appointed as trustees of the town, G. W. Der, Thomas Lindsay, G. A. Cook, B. F. Ridgeway and William Laughlin. On the seventeenth of October the chairman of the trustees pre-empted the townsite "in trust for the several uses and benefits of the occupants thereof." Soon thereafter the controversy over the judgeship, as well as titles to the lands, was quieted.
Early in the spring of 1859 a postoffice was established in Garnett, and Dr. Thomas Lindsay became this town's first postmaster. During the summer of the same year, after the cherished hopes of several smaller, near-by communities had been blasted, Garnett became the county seat by a majority vote, climaxing another controversy in the history of the turbulent life of this city. Although the long-drawn controversy over the townsite had caused consternation and unrest among the residents, many improvements were made in Garnett.
In 1858 the old town company had built a schoolhouse, donated it to school district No. 2, on the northwest corner of Seventh Avenue and Oak Street. This was the first public building in Garnett and was used for public meetings and court purposes, as well as school, for three or four years. In 1874, a brick schoolhouse, considered one of the best in this part of the state,was built on the southwest corner of Third Avenue and Pine Street. Since that time, as the need arose for them, new and modern school buildings have been erected.
In 1869, an act was passed by the Legislature for the incorporation of cities of the third class and on February 26, 1870, a special election was held in Garnett for the purpose of changing the municipal government. The vote was favorable and Garnett at that time became a city of the third class. Then, on January 18, 1895, having met the several requirements under the law, Garnett became a city of the second class. Until 1913 this city was governed by a council of nine members. In February of that year a special election was held at which the commission form of government for Garnett was voted upon favorably, and the following April this mode of city government was adopted.
Although an election was held in 1920 to determine whether or not the people wished to change to the city manager plan, this proposal was defeated. Garnett now boasts a population of some 2,600 people. During the three-quarters of a century of its existence it has grown and prospered.