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Oberlin City

Decatur County, Kansas

Oberlin City Hall is located at 1 Morgan Drive, Oberlin, KS 67749.
Phone: 785‑475‑2217.

Beginnings [1]

Oberlin was platted in 1878 and experienced limited settlement until the 1880s. In 1879 the community consisted of the Oberlin House Hotel, a livery stable, and two mercantile stores. Andreas quotes Oberlin as having a population of three hundred in 1883, five years later the population had swelled to two thousand.

The U. S. Land Office established an office in Oberlin in 1881, which stimulated a boom to the local economy that prevailed for thirteen years. The land office served as the Northern Land District office for Decatur, Rawlins, Cheyenne, Sherman, Thomas, Sheridan, Graham, and Norton counties. As an example of activity, the land office processed six thousand homestead claims between June and September, 1885. In addition to the U. S. Land Office, twenty-four private land offices had established operations in Oberlin by 1886.

In a special promotional issue published in 1887, the Oberlin Opinion called Oberlin the "Queen City of Northwest Kansas," and described the city's growth as follows:

"During the last year Oberlin made a splendid growth, and at the beginning of this year presented a city with over one hundred and thirty business houses, and three hundred residences. There was built in 1887, sixty-five new residences, many of which would be a credit to any city a thousand miles east with ten times the population that Oberlin has ... The city is the money center of all Northwestern Kansas."

The Chicago, Rock Island and Pacific Railroad completed a spur line from Oronoque to Oberlin in 1886, but for all the hoping, no other lines built to Oberlin. The St. Joseph backers of the Bank of Oberlin were particularly interested in seeing the railroads come to Oberlin. "We notice by St. Joseph dailies, that Col. Schuster, president of the Bank of Oberlin, has subscribed $5000, and Francis Browne, the cashier of same bank, has subscribed $1000 towards the extension of the Rock Island railroad from St. Joseph westward through southern Nebraska and northwestern Kansas, as well as southwestern Kansas."

In 1888 Oberlin boasted three weekly newspapers, five banks, twenty-five general merchandise stores, five hotels, five restaurants; two bakeries, two lumberyards, two furniture stores, two brickyards, two laundries, five insurance companies, four meat markets, one physician, one dentist, six churches, fifteen attorneys, and fifteen real estate agents, in addition to a $25,000 water works. When the U. S. Land Office closed in 1894 and moved to Colby, Oberlin's economy faltered, and the business casualties included the Bank of Oberlin.

The Bank of Oberlin was established in 1880 by Robert Alexander Marks (1851-1929). Marks, a Canadian, moved to Oberlin in the Fall of 1878 from Beloit. He established a mercantile business initially, later engaging in lumber, agricultural implements, and banking. Marks later served as Oberlin's postmaster and as Decatur County register of deeds.

  1. Martha Hagedorn-Krass, Architectural Historian and Michele Risdal, Kansas State Historical Society, First National Bank of Oberlin, Decatur County, Kansas, nomination document, 1994, National Park Service, National Register of Historic Places, Washington, D.C.