During the spring of 1880 a post office, called Haskell in honor of Dudley C. Haskell, Republican representative to the United States Congress, was established out on the prairie in Lincoln Township on the mail route from Garnett to Mound City. The office was kept in the farm home of M.B. Clark, two and one-half miles east of the present site of Bush City, and Mr. Clark became the first postmaster of the office. Haskell was filed as a townsite in March, 1887, but no improvements or attempts toward establishing a town were made at this site.
The railroad was built, in 1886 across Anderson County from Northwest to Southeast. Bush City was platted in 1887 on land owned by Col. L.L. Bush, of Pennsylvania, who had purchased the property originally from a Mr. Snyder. Col. Bush was a promoter of the Kansas, Nebraska and Dakota Railroad. The town and depot were named Bush City after Col. Bush. Property was sold in Bush City in July, 1887. Lots were offered for $10 to $75 per lot.
The first store building erected in this new town was built by John Mulford, and Mr. Kincaid of Kincaid opened the first store, general merchandise, in this building. Van Sharp conducted this store for Mr. Kincaid and Dale Gear, of baseball fame, was a clerk. Olds and Comine erected the bank building and had a general merchandise store until the bank’s occupancy. Not only was there the general merchandise store they also had a blacksmith shop, livery stable, a church and a school. The last general store in Bush City closed in 1975.
In 1888 the post office at Haskell was moved to Bush City to be on the railroad. Dave Huggins became the new postmaster in town. It retained the name of Haskell until sometime between 1920-1922 when the name was changed to Bush City post office. Mail designated for the Haskell post office at Bush City was often confused with the mail for Haskell, Kansas, the Indian School settlement just outside of Lawrence, Kansas.
The First Baptist Church was organized in June, 1889. It was first located in Minkler School two miles south of Bush City. It was moved to Bush City into a new building completed in 1894. The church closed in April, 1981.
The Lincoln Chapel Methodist Church was located two miles east and two miles north of Bush City. It had been established in 1884. The very first meeting for the church was November 6, 1883, in the home of C.G. Rebstock. In October, 1908 the church was struck by lightening and totally burned down and by May 1, 1909, they had moved into a new building. The old church was torn down in 1945.
When Col. Bush donated the land for Bush City one of his stipulations was the town had to have a school. The school first used was located on the Chris Rebstock farm located one half mile north of town. The Rebstock School House was moved into Bush City to the northwest side of town. About two years later the old school was moved across the street and made into a barn and a new wood frame school built by Will Cook.
The second wood frame building was replaced with a larger two-story brick school in 1913. The new building had two rooms downstairs and upstairs it had an auditorium with a stage. The old wooden frame building was moved downtown and used as a garage by Luther Bennett and John Smith. There were a few years besides the elementary students they also had freshman high school classes.
Following World War II consolidation of schools began and the smaller schools around Bush City were closed, and children came to Bush City. This became District #50. When the brick school was condemned, a new modern building was constructed in 1955. The lower and upper grades were divided between the two rooms in the new school until the 1960’s. District #50 was unified with District #365 and in 1962 seventh and eighth grade students were bussed to Garnett for Junior High. The Bush City School closed in 1964 and sold in 1974. Today it is a private residence.
The old brick school building was torn down by Harold and Kenneth Aldrich. The bricks from the school were used in the construction of Kenneth Aldrich’s new home east of Bush City.
The Bush City bank was organized in April 26, 1916. Alva Henderson and Ruby Henderson, Willis Henderson’s wife, worked in the bank for many years. Goppert Bank chain bought the controlling interest in the bank in 1963. In 1974 Goppert moved the bank to Colony, Kansas.
The oil industry probably began in Anderson County in 1904 when a good gas well was drilled northeast of Garnett. In 1923 “oil fever” hit Lincoln Township. Beneath Lincoln Township lies what is known as “shoe string sands” or long strips of sand lying beneath the earth surface instead of a solid bed of sand. These sands are saturated with oil and gas. Oil strikes from the early 1900’s began to extend down into Lincoln Township and in the 1920’s John C. Keyes and Joe Kleckner opened the Bush City oil field. The first well was on the Ware Lease one mile north and three miles west of Bush City. Land began to be leased to drill wells at one dollar per acre. This oil field extended northeast of Bush City into Linn County.
From 1923-1928 Bush City was a boom town and the population more than doubled with housing being a premium. Oil rigs were being moved through and by Bush City all the time. They were quite cumbersome, and it took 6 to 16 teams to pull them. Allie Watkins and his teamsters were the principal movers of the rigs.
Shooting an oil well was quite a show and people from the town and surrounding areas would gather close to the well site to see the show. Nitroglycerin was used to shoot the wells and was hauled in white trucks with “Explosives” in large black letters on the sides. Depending on the depth of the sand 30 to 90 quarts of liquid nitroglycerin were used. The explosion was deafening throwing gravel and dirt high into the air. Landowners were excited when the “black gold” could be seen flowing out of the hole.
Enough oil was being produced an oil refinery was located on the Ewing Lease north of Bush City. Anyone could stop and buy gasoline for seven cents a gallon. Some very interesting people would stop to buy fuel for their vehicles. Two such people were famous bank robbers Pretty Boy Floyd and John Dillinger. They did not hesitate to let people know who they were and with their names went a warning not to let people know they were by the station. They bought gas there when taking the back roads between Kansas City and Oklahoma.
John Wesley Swank came to Bush City from Montgomery County, Indiana. He was a doctor. He purchased 160 acres of land near Bush City and lived there. His son Mel Swank married Margie Cassel. They lived in the area for a while and then moved to Denver, Colorado. They had no children. Mel died first and when Margie Swank's will was read she donated the original property of John Wesley Swank close to Bush City to Anderson County for a park.
When the tracks of the Kansas, Nebraska and Dakota Railroad were removed in 1934 railroad property was sold. The old Bush City Depot was moved one mile south and one-half mile west to become a private home.
Today very little is left in Bush City. The business buildings are falling down, and the school is an occupied residence. There is no church there anymore. However, there are street signs with street names in the old town site.
Information for this article was taken from the Anderson County Histories by the Anderson County Historical Society and from the Bush City Centennial Book by Judy Peery.
Bush City Main Street with Bush City State Bank.