HUMBOLDT — It’s not happenstance that Humboldt was named after Baron von Humboldt, a German explorer and naturalist. The town was founded in 1857 when German migrants from Hartford, Conn., arrived at the townsite on May 10 of that year.
Saturday, members of Humboldt Historical Preservation Alliance will throw a party to celebrate Humboldt’s 160th birthday.
Because Humboldt’s history is steeped in baseball, the day’s main events are two baseball games featuring vintage teams from Topeka and Wichita. Humboldt is the birthplace of Walter Johnson, one of the greatest of all major league baseball pitchers. Johnson was born north of town on a farmstead in the shadow of Humboldt Hill.
While not officially a part of the celebration, the Lions Club’s annual kids fishing contest will run from 8 to 10 a.m. at the large pond on Humboldt’s golf course.
A geocache contest will start at 9 a.m. at the older water tower, northeast corner of the downtown square.
Ceremonies, including a large birthday cake, will unfold at 11 a.m. at the bandstand in the square’s center. Raymond Red Corn, assistant chief of the Osage Nation in Oklahoma, will speak about Native American influence on Humboldt. He will be accompanied by children in full dress costumes and a display of memorabilia.
After the downtown portion concludes, the ball players, in vintage uniforms, will ride to Walter Johnson Field in vintage vehicles.
Games will start at 1 p.m. Free hot-dogs and Cracker Jacks will be available for spectators. A petting zoo will be set near the ball field for youngsters to enjoy. Tickets will be sold for $25 gift certificates for redemption at Stacey Cakes or Opie’s restaurant.
HUMBOLDT also had a significant role in the Civil War.
In 1861, soon after the war started, a gang of border thugs and Osage Indians, led by John Mathews, from Oswego, raided Humboldt. Being of Confederate persuasion, the gang seized several recently freed African-Americans. Retribution came swiftly, with local men and the Kansas 6th Cavalry hunting down the raiders and killing Mathews.
A force of 330 Confederate sympathizers returned to Humboldt in October and burned most of the town. Humboldt avoided further attacks, in large part because a contingent of Union soldiers was stationed there until war’s end.
In 1910, Humboldt’s population was listed at 2,548, and was estimated at 1,856 in 2015. The high point was 2,558 in 1930.
Until the advent of better paying jobs, mobility of the modern automobile and such retail giants as Walmart, Humboldt’s downtown was a busy place, particularly on Saturday nights when farmers streamed to town to shop.
The downtown area hit a low point until a couple of years ago when Joe and Jane Works, through B&W Trailer Hitches and Monarch Cement, at the behest of Walter Wulf Jr., saw fit to upgrade its infrastructure.
More recently the Workses have taken to remodeling and upgrading downtown stores and several businesses will open soon.
Saturday’s celebration will give folks an opportunity to see the “new look” of downtown Humboldt.
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