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Local History and Description
West >> Kansas
an unincorporated community of about 50 in eastern Graham County that is the only remaining community west of the Mississippi River established by African-Americans after the Civil War
The Nicodemus Town Company was formed by W.R. Hill, a white land developer from Indiana, and W.H. Smith, a black minister, in 1877. The town was named for a legendary figure who came to America on a slave ship and later purchased his freedom. Hill and Smith, with help from Benjamin "Pap" Singleton, promoted the town to black families in Kentucky and Tennessee, to whom they promised a "land of opportunity." The first settler, Reverend Simon P. Roundtree, arrived on June 18, 1877, and the first black child in Graham County was born to Mr. and Mrs. Henry Williams in October 1877. By 1880, Nicodemus boasted a population of almost 500, a bank, two hotels, three churches, a newspaper, a drug store, and three general stores.
Nicodemus prospered for several years, but then settlers began leaving as the unpredictable Kansas weather took its toll on crops and the lack of a railroad made it extremely difficult to get needed supplies. In March 1887, Nicodemus citizens voted a $16,000 bond issue to attract the Union Pacific Railroad, but the railroad and town were never able to come to terms and the Union Pacific established its newest rail head six miles south instead, at what is now Bogue; many businesses and residents moved to be near the railroad, and by the end of the 1800's the population of Nicodemus had dwindled to less than a hundred. The Great Depression of 1929 and subsequent droughts further reduced the population. The Works Progress Administration constructed a community center in 1938, and that structure now serves as a visitor center. The post office was closed in 1953.
Nicodemus was designated as a National Historic Landmark in 1976 and became a National Historic Site in 1996.
This page was last updated on April 01, 2017.