The Birth of a Town: Alma

Alma, Kansas is a thriving small town located in the center of Wabaunsee County and serves as the county’s seat of government. The town’s history dates to the middle 1860s when the town was first settled and almost simultaneously declared the county seat.

In 1856 Gottlieb Zwanziger, a civil engineer, had settled on Mill Creek, building an early water-powered flour mill. Despite the first mill being washed away by flood waters just two years after its construction, Zwanziger constructed a second, larger mill and two dams on Mill Creek.


This stock certificate, dated 1866, gives one share of the Alma Town Association to the bearer, Phil Johnson. A single share was the equivalent of 1/80th interest in the new town. Notice that the certificate is signed by Alma pioneer Henry Schmitz and Town Association founder, Gottlieb Zwanziger.

In 1866 Zwanziger preempted the claim of the failed St. Louis Town Company which had proposed a town near Mill Creek, and Zwanziger sold 40 acres of his claim to the Alma Town Association and platted the streets in his proposed town. That same year the association began selling shares in the new town. The following year, the first three buildings were constructed in the town, including the first Wabaunsee County Courthouse.


This is the earliest known photograph of Alma, Kansas, dated 1869. The two joined buildings in the center of this view are the first Wabaunsee County Courthouse on the right and the Meyer store to the left. These two buildings are located at 225-227 Missouri Street. The tall white building to the left of center is John Winkler’s first hotel. A few other small buildings are visible.

When this photo was taken in 1869, there were but a handful of buildings in the town. Interestingly, the photo bears the stamp of Louis Palenske’s studio, a noted early Alma photographer. However, it is evident that this particular print was created by Palenske in his studio by photographing an existing earlier photo of Alma.  Palenske did not begin his career in photography until late 1880 when he returned from a summer in Rico, Colorado. Palenske would have produced this print by photographing the original sometime after 1880 but before 1888 when he sold his photography studio to Gus Meier.


The reverse of the photo bears the stamp of L. Palenske, Photographer, Bookseller & Stationer, Alma, Kansas.

Click on any image below to view in a gallery format or a full-screen view.

Categories: Blog, Early History

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