Johnson County Government celebrates 166th anniversary of first meeting

Old Johnson County courthouse and cornerstone from courthouse

The old courthouse (left), designed by famed Kansas architect George Washburn, was in operation from 1891-1952. A cornerstone from the courthouse (right) is part of the Johnson County Square.

The first meeting of Johnson County, as an organized local government initially led by an appointed “county tribunal,” is celebrating its 166th anniversary on Thursday, Sept. 7.

Members of the tribunal were John T. Ector, John Evans and William Fisher Jr. They were appointed by Kansas Territorial Gov. Robert J. Walker. Dr. John T. Barton (founder of Olathe) was appointed county treasurer.

The county tribunal first met on Sept. 7, 1857, in Gum Springs (Shawnee), a campsite for travelers. The “little town” that grew up around the historic campsite was commonly known as “Gum Springs.” Although it was never incorporated, Gum Springs was designated the first county seat when Johnson County was created in 1855 by the Kansas Territorial Legislature.

Gum Springs was located near several springs and the intersection of the Fort Leavenworth Military Road and the California Road. The site also was near the start of the cutoff road to the Santa Fe, Oregon and California Trails. The campsite included a Shawnee Indian church and a log meeting house for the county tribunal to gather.

The first elections in Johnson County occurred in March 1858. All three appointed county tribunal members – Ector, Evans and Fisher – were elected along with Barton as county treasurer.

For most of 1858, the tribunal had two meeting sites since a turf war for county seat was taking place between Olathe, incorporated in 1857, and Gum Springs. In the March 1858 elections, Olathe was first chosen as the county capital, but Territorial Governor James Denver declared the election illegal and ordered the county seat returned to Gum Springs on June 6. Olathe was chosen as the county seat at a second election in October and was declared the permanent seat of county government by a territorial legislative act in 1859.

The first official mention of the “Board of County Commissioners” occurred in a meeting on April 2, 1860. The BOCC had three elected, at-large members until Nov. 25, 1871, when the county was divided into commissioner districts by seven townships. The election law was changed again in 1877, allowing two county commissioners to be held over with only one commissioner being elected each year.

The BOCC was expanded to five members in 1983, with two new members assuming their duties, and to seven members under the county’s Home Rule Charter in 2000. The last expansion included a new district commissioner and a publicly elected, at-large chairman. Both began their duties in 2003.

Since the 1858 elections, Johnson County voters have elected 117 county commissioners, including the seven members of the current BOCC.

Board of County Commissioners
County Manager's Office