The Florence Town Company was a group of men who learned of the proposed route of the Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe Railroad who decided on a town site where the railroad would cross the Cottonwood River. The Florence Town Company, consisting of ex-Kansas Governor Samuel Crawford, James Riggs, A. S. Johnson, Enoch Chase and John Martin, was organized in 1870.
The new town site was named Florence in honor of Samuel Crawford's daughter. The Florence town site was filed on December 4, 1870 in the NW 1/4 of the NE 1/4 of Section 7, Township 21, Range 5E and consisted of 42 blocks. It was bound on the east by the Cottonwood River and the south the Doyle Creek. The AT&SF rail line cut across the southeast corner of the town site. The first lots in town were sold to B. Haywood, J. M. Steel, S. J. Crawford, C. W. Adams and L. P. Heritage. Haywood, Steel and Crawford bought as many as 50 lots each for resale to other settlers moving into the new town. The investment of these men was sound reasoning. For quote a while Florence would be the only town in Marion County with a railroad.
In early 1871, the blocks of the new town site were laid out and staked. Early Florence settlers had few comforts. Grocers set up shop in tents. The Bank was making loans and deposits in a shed while many families were still living in the wagons they rode to town in. Hotel accommodations were rugged with travelers staying in a room with two bed, three men to a bed. The only permanent house in the town at the time was a two-story house built by Mahlon Riggs.
When the AT&SF railroad arrived in FLorence on May 11, 1871, the town of Florence began its rapid growth. Houses and businesses began appearing and the town began to take shape. More blocks were laid out and staked, and the addition of the Kimball and Barker areas were added in 1871 and 1872. The town of Florence was incorporated on June 12, 1872. The population continued to grow to its peak size in May 1921 of 2,000-3,000 people.
The first officials of the town of Florence were:
Florence was a leader in utilizing new inventions to improve the quality of life for its citizens. H. R. Snyder installed the first telephone in town between his home and his store. Because Alexander Graham Bell held the patent rights to the telephone, phone service in Florence and all of Marion County was very limited until the installation of a long distance telephone line in 1897.
Electricity in Florence was limited in its early stages until Florence built its own generating mill, which was owned and operated by P. D. Schriver, until it burned down in 1919. In 1920, Kansas Power and Light was granted the right to provide electrical service to Florence and continues to do so to this day.
Running water to Florence began in March 1888 with the formation of the Florence Water Supply Company. The water works system, which cost $50,000 to build, was in use throughout Florence. The only drawback to the water supply was its source, the Cottonwood River. It was not an adequate source of water for the growing population of Florence. In 1920 the city leased Crystal Spring from Ralph Robison on a 99 year lease for $10,000 and an additional $500 each year thereafter. The white concrete pump house at the head of the springs still stands and is in use to supply cool, good tasting water to the town of Florence. The pump at the head of the spring can supply 370 gallons a minute to the water tower in town.
Because fires in all towns were a frequent hazard, the Florence Fire Department was organized and responded to its first fire on June 23, 1888. Until 1919, fires were fought with horse drawn carts with no pumps. They depended solely on the water pressure from the city water system. In 1919, the city bought its first fire truck. Volunteer fireman Clyde Louis was honored in July 1971 for his 50 years of service as a volunteer firefighter.
The frontier town of Florence had its arts and literary backers as well. In 1873, a petition circulated for the establishment of a free public library. However, it wasn't until 1922 when FLorence actually got its library. Women in the community worked together to establish the library which was located in a room in the First National Bank building that was rented. The library now occupies the ground floor of what was the First National Bank building.
In March 1871, Florence received its first post office with J. K. McLean as Postmaster. Mail was carried by stage coach between Florence and Marion, and Florence and El Dorado. The first robbery of the Florence mail occurred in September 1874; however, the two armed robbers only found private letters.
The railroad line established by the AT&SF Railroad, which was the reason for Florence being established where it is, was the lifeblood of the town for many years.
Florence was the first town in Marion County to get railroad service and quickly became the rail center of Marion County. In 1886, there were 5 miles of side tracks within the city limits. The railroad established machine shops, a large depot, and a roundhouse. During the 1890's as many as 8 passenger trains per day came through Florence.
The Oil Boom
Discovery of oil in the Florence area in the 1880's led to the first Florence's economic and population booms. A second oil boom in 1918 occurred when drillers found oil on the Hampson land about 5 miles south of town.
The largest of the wells drilled around town gave up 4,500 barrels per day. With this boom came the inevitable oil field workers and their families. A new school was build, and seeing that the current water supply was inadequate, the Crystal Springs city water system was built.
Because of its location where the Cottonwood River and Doyle Creek come together and its lowland valley, floods in Florence were an ever present danger. The first recorded flood occurred in 1877. The first serious flood happened in 1903 with water in the east end of town standing 3-5 feet deep. In 1906, floods reached one to three feet in the downtown area nd up to six feet in the east end of town. Both railroad bridges were washed out and railroad tracks were washed away despite having heavy rail cars loaded with coal standing on them.
The most disastrous flood occurred in 1951. The third flood of the year, the July 1951 flood put 90% of Florence under water anywhere from three inches to over eight and a half foot deep. The Cottonwood River finally crested at 37 feet. Governor Edward Arn declared the are a natural disaster and sent in the National Guard. Fortunately, no lives were lost during the flood but two homes and two businesses were completely washed away.
The Florence Library was hard hit by the flood. It lost nearly its entire inventory of books and periodicals. News of this loss spread throughout the United States. Donated books and magazines began pouring in from all over the country. By Christmas 1951, the Florence Library had received almost 7,000 books.
Since the levee was built on the east and south sides of town in 1964, there have been no floods.
The worst hailstorm to ever occur in Marion County hit the hardest about two miles northwest of Florence in March 1892. Crops were knocked down and cattle were killed by falling hail. Drifts of hail stones were reported five to six feet deep.
Usually associated with the cities of the west coast, the citizens of Florence were startled awake in October of 1895 by a small earthquake which was felt through the county. No damage was done by the small tremor.