Johnson County celebrates 168th birthday on Aug. 25

Happy Birthday, JoCo!

On Friday, Aug. 25, Johnson County is celebrating its 168th birthday as one of the original 33 counties founded by the Legislative Act of 1855 in the Territory of Kansas.

The first counties spanned the eastern portion of Kansas from just west of Council Grove and were formed six years before statehood was granted to Kansas. That occurred on Jan. 29, 1861, when President James Buchanan signed a bill allowing Kansas to enter the Union as the nation’s 34th state.

Twenty of the first original counties still exist with their founding names. They are Allen, Anderson, Atchison, Bourbon, Brown, Butler, Doniphan, Douglas (initially spelled Douglass on early Kansas maps), Franklin, Greenwood, Jefferson, Johnson, Leavenworth, Linn, Marshall, Nemaha, Riley, Shawnee, Wilson and Woodson.

Three other counties were also created in 1855 in the Territory of Kansas but were established five days after Johnson County. They were called Arapahoe, Marion and Washington counties, and were created on Aug. 30. Marion County is the only one that still exists.

Kansas now has 105 counties.

Johnson County was named in honor of the Rev. Thomas Johnson, a Methodist minister who established a mission in Fairway among the Shawnee Indians and other tribes.

Naming Johnson County in his honor was a second choice. The original choice was Shawnee.

According to the Kansas Historical Society, General H.J. Stricker of Tecumseh and Rev. Johnson were both members of the Kansas Territorial Council. Both wanted Shawnee for the name of their counties. However, Stricker had an advantage over Johnson since he also was a member of the council’s Joint Committee on Counties.

The committee yielded to Stricker; thus, Shawnee County was formed with Topeka as its county seat. The committee, then without solicitation, complimented Rev. Johnson by conferring his name upon the county he represented at the territorial council. The minister did not live long afterwards to enjoy his notoriety. He was shot and killed on Jan. 2, 1865, at his home near Westport, Mo.

The State of Kansas acquired the approximately 12-acre Shawnee Indian Mission property in 1927. The site was declared a National Historic Landmark in 1968.

View photos throughout Johnson County's history below:

  1. Workers at Henry Legler's Farm, 99th and Quivira, 1900
  2. Strang Line Railroad, circa 1905
  3. Old Johnson County Courthouse, 1952
  4. Voting display in Temporary Library Headquarters in Merriam, 1956
  5. Old Town Lenexa, 1971
  6. Board of County Commissioners office, 1991
Board of County Commissioners
County Manager's Office