Newton, the county seat of Harvey County, Kansas, had a population of 13,603 in 1956, and 17,190 in 2000. It is located southeast of the state's geographical center, about 23 miles (37 km) north of Wichita on the Santa Fe Railroad. The area within an approximate 50-mile (80-km) radius around the city contains the largest Mennonite concentration in the United States west of the Mississippi River, with many churches of the General Conference Mennonite Church, the Mennonite Church (MC) (both now part of Mennonite Church USA), the Church of God in Christ, Mennonites, and the Mennonite Brethren. In Newton are the General Conference Mennonite headquarters (now Mennonite Church USA) and Publication Office, First Mennonite Church of Newton, Bethel Deaconess Hospital and Home for Aged (all General Conference),and the Mennonite Central Committee (MCC) regional office. North Newton, incorporated as a separate municipality about one-half mile (one km) north of the city proper and almost entirely populated by Mennonites, is the seat of Bethel College, Bethel College Mennonite Church, Mennonite Press (all related to the General Conference), and the Mennonite Central Committee Relief Clothing Center. Prairie View Hospital, an MCC mental hospital, is one and one-half miles (2 km) east of Newton. In 1956 a third Mennonite church, the Newton Mennonite Fellowship, was founded.
Founded as the Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe Railroad built its tracks westward to the town site in July 1871, the town was named after Newton, Massachusetts, the home of many Santa Fe stockholders. Completion of the railroad to Newton made it the northern end of the Chisholm Trail, over which Texas cattle ranchers drove great herds of Texas longhorns to Kansas railroads for shipment to eastern markets. Intercepting the bulk of the cattle trade, previously controlled by the Kansas Pacific R.R. (now Union Pacific) at Abilene some 60 miles (100 km) to the north, Newton was the principal eastward shipping point for Texas cattle. The town's turbulent cowboy era, from August 1871 to January 1873, ended as the rails advanced south and west and the cattle trade transferred to other points.
In 1874 and the years immediately following, Mennonites bought large blocks of land from the Santa Fe, settling east, north, and west of Newton, in Harvey and the adjoining counties of Butler, Marion, McPherson, and Reno. Newton thus became the business and trading center of the Mennonites living within a radius of some 25 miles (40 km). Large purchases of tools and machinery were made by Mennonites whose financial resources were sometimes limited to promises.
In 1877 a few Mennonite families from South Russia, coming to Newton via Summerfield, Illinois, settled just east of the town. These were followed by more Mennonite immigrants from West Prussia and Russia who bought land in the same area. First worship services were held in their homes two and one-half miles east of Newton at "Goldschar." In September 1878 they organized themselves as a congregation, later called First Mennonite Church of Newton. The congregation began to worship at the present church site on East First Street after completion of a frame building there in 1881.
Among the pioneer Mennonite businessmen of Newton was Bernhard Warkentin, who built Harvey County's first flour mill at Halstead in 1873 and organized the Newton Milling and Elevator Co. about 1886. His mills were some of the first to be equipped for milling the hard Red Turkey wheat, which he helped introduce to Kansas farmers on a large scale. The extensive milling industry in Newton is largely a monument to his pioneer efforts in that field. Other Mennonite names associated with the milling industry were Rudolph Goerz, son of David Goerz and founder and president of Goerz Flour Mills Company, now American Flours Inc., and Peter M. Claassen, founder and operator of the Claassen Flour Mills.
Mennonites were instrumental in founding and developing some of the city's early financial institutions. Cornelius F. Claassen founded a finance company in 1888 and sold the business to J. G. Regier in 1904 (Regier Loan and Abstract Company). When the Kansas State Bank was incorporated in 1902 with Bernhard Warkentin as president, C. F. Claassen became vice-president, then president in 1908. Herman E. Suderman came to the Midland National Bank (founded 1893) as vice-president in 1902, becoming president in 1919. Mennonite Mutual Fire Insurance Company, now Midland Mutual Fire Insurance Company, was incorporated by Mennonites of central Kansas in 1880, and in 1893 was moved from Halstead to offices in Newton. First directors were David Goerz, Herman Suderman, Peter Harms, John Siemens, and Jacob W. Regier.
Mennonite publication work began in Newton in 1897 with Das Kansas Volksblatt, published by William J. Krehbiel and David Goerz. The Volksblatt was sold to the Kansan Printing Co. in 1899 and subsequently in 1900 to the Western Book and Printing Co., founded that year by H. P. Krehbiel. The name of the paper was changed to Post- und Volksblatt in 1903 and to Der Herold in 1909, this name being retained until publication ended in 1941. The company name also changed to Herold Book and Publishing Co. in 1909, and in 1920 to the present name, Herald Publishing Company. In 1923 the company began publication of Mennonite Weekly Review. Other periodicals published in Newton as of 1956 were The Mennonite and Mennonite Life.
Newton has numerous Mennonite business proprietors and tradespeople who play a large part in community life. The city has a large Mennonite population which has always been on the increase.
Connelley, W. E. A Standard History of Kansas and Kansans. New York, 1918: 2292.
Entz, J. E. "First Mennonite Church – Newton (1878-1953)." Mennonite Life 8 (October 1953): 153-155.
Hege, Christian and Christian Neff. Mennonitisches Lexikon, 4 vols. Frankfurt & Weierhof: Hege; Karlsruhe: Schneider, 1913-1967: v. III, 222 f.
Muse, R. W. P. "History of Harvey County – 1871-1881." Atlas of Harvey County, Kansas – 1882. Philadelphia, 1882.
The Newton Kansan, Fiftieth Anniversary Number, 51 (22 August 1922).
Waters, L. L. Steel Rails to Santa Fe. Lawrence, Kansas, 1950: 146.
Cite This Article
Krahn, Cornelius. "Newton (Kansas, USA)." Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. 1957. Web. 27 Aug 2014. http://gameo.org/index.php?title=Newton_(Kansas,_USA)&oldid=119369.
Krahn, Cornelius. (1957). Newton (Kansas, USA). Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. Retrieved 27 August 2014, from http://gameo.org/index.php?title=Newton_(Kansas,_USA)&oldid=119369.
Herald Press website.
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