Russell is the seat of justice of the county, and has been since 1874. The town is located on the east half of Section 27, Township 13, south of Range 14, west of the Sixth Principal Meridian. The town was founded by the Northwestern Colony Association, whose headquarters were, formerly, at Ripon, Wis. The Association consisted chiefly, if not entirely, of Wisconsin people, and hence, it has been frequently designated the Wisconsin Colony. This colony arrived at what is now Russell, but what at that time was known as Fossil Station, on the 19th day of April 1871. The business of the Colony or Association, was conducted by a board consisting of five trustees, of which B. Pratt was chairman and also president of the Association.
Before locating the town site of Russell, the trustees went about five miles east to look up a location, their object being to establish themselves as near the geographical center of the county as possible, having in view the future location of the county-seat.
After some time had been spent in useless attempts to discover water by digging and boring, they returned to the colony and reported, and it was then decided to locate at Fossil Station. Among the powers given to the trustees by their articles of association was that of purchasing, holding and receiving by gift, real property, the same to be conveyed as directed by the colony. Under these conferred powers, the trustees received as a gift from the Kansas Pacific Railroad Company, the northeast quarter of Section 27, Township 13, south of Range 14, west of the Sixth Principal Meridian.
When this fact was reported to the colony, another difficulty presented itself by the articles governing the association, which prescribed that not less than 320 acres should be procured for a town site. To obviate this, Benjamin Pratt, chairman of the trustees and president of the association, purchased of the railroad company, the quarter section lying immediately south of the one to which the colony had acquired title by gift, and thereupon the survey of the town site was commenced.
The site was surveyed and laid off into streets, blocks and lots, in April and May, 1871, and was given the name of Russell. At that time, the entire county was one vast stretch of uninhabited prairie, the only thing in shape of a building being the section house at Fossil Station. The first thing in shape of a house erected on the town site, was a shanty, 16×16 feet, put up by H. W. Tustin and Stillman Mann, which, when completed, was occupied by both their families. They also used it as a boarding house, where table board was furnished to many of the colonists, who found sleeping accommodation in the cars. The first frame building put up in the town was by L. Bicknell, in the summer of 1871, at the corner of Ninth Street and Kansas Avenue. Several of the colonists had brought with them houses already made and fitted, so that all they had to do when a location was determined upon was to raise them and put them together. Asa Kinney and H. C. Waterman brought these kind of houses with them, and a third one was brought for a company office. Besides these, several were brought for sale. The latter were soon disposed of, and it was not long before Russell assumed the appearance of being quite a village. H. W. Tustin came with the colony, and brought a stock of goods with him for the purpose of going into business. Upon arrival, he found that a man had a small shanty near the railroad track, in which he had a few goods with him for the purpose of supplying railroad employees. Mr. Tustin immediately purchased the shanty with the stock of goods the man had, to which he added those he had brought with him, and established himself in business, and this was the first store started in Russell.
The colonists put up houses as fast as they possibly could, and these, with others, built by parties who came to try what fortune the new town would bring them, soon gave Russell the appearance of being a thrifty prosperous town. A frame schoolhouse was erected in July 1871, and during the summer one or two small stores were put up and opened. In December 1871, the first hotel in town was opened, by Stillman Mann, in a small frame building, which he had erected on the corner of Main and Ninth streets.
At the close of 1871, or eight months after the town site was surveyed and platted, Russell had a population of about 200 souls. The year 1872 was quite a prosperous one for the town, and a good many buildings went up, but mostly of an inferior character. No settlements had yet been made in the county within miles of Russell, although a few settlers had come in and located on some of the creeks in the northern portion of the county.
A lumberyard was opened in town by W. C. Hobbs in the fall of 1871, and in the spring of 1872, he erected the first regular store building that was put up in the town. It was a two-story frame building, located at the corner of Main and Seventh streets, the bottom story being fitted up for a store, and the upper one for a dwelling. As soon as the building was completed, it was taken possession of and occupied by H. W. Tustin. That same year, G. A. Hart, with his family, located in town, and in the fall he put up a fine two-story stone business house on Main Street, in which he commenced the business of general merchandising.
The year following was one of but little improvement, although in that year H. C. Waterman put up quite a large frame building on the southeast corner of Main and Seventh streets. The ground floor was fitted up for offices and the upper floor was used for a hall.
Up to that time Bunker Hill had been the county-seat, but the following year it was changed to Russell, and there being no building suitable for county purposes, the one erected by Mr. Waterman was purchased by the County Commissioners, and fitted up into county offices, the hall above being used for a court-room. The building is still used for the purposes for which it was purchased, no attempt ever having been made towards the erection of a more substantial building.
Having been made the county seat, Russell, in 1874, made considerable advancement. Quite an impetus was given to the town by the fact of it having been made the shire town, and the place grew very rapidly, so much so, that the first school-building erected became altogether inadequate for the number of school children. To overcome this difficulty, bonds were voted to the amount of $5,000 for the purpose of erecting a new schoolhouse, and in 1874, a very fine stone edifice was put up, with two rooms above and two below.
In 1874 the old depot was burned. The following year a fine stone depot was built, followed soon after by a handsome two-story stone block on the corner of Eighth and Main streets. This block was named Union Block, from the fact that the three buildings embraced in it, though belonging to different parties, were erected simultaneously. The first of these buildings, or the one on the corner, was put up by Ackerman & Copeland, the next one by H. Wentworth, and the third one by C. M. Lewis.
The year 1875 may be set down as the commencement of the era of substantial improvements, because, although the town had improved rapidly, the character of the improvements were of rather an inferior order. In 1876, another very fine stone, two-story building was erected on the northwest corner of Eighth and Main streets, by W. D. Hart, now occupied by E. Humphrey as a general store. In that year also, a very fine frame hotel was built by J. J. Helm, and several people put up very comfortable residences. A good-sized elevator was also erected that year by Knight & Bradshaw, and altogether the Centennial year was one of considerable progress.
About the only substantial improvements made the year following, was a large two-story stone building on the northeast corner of Main and Eighth streets. It is a large well-finished building, the lower story being fitted up for a store, and the upper story for a hall, which is now used for lodge purposes by the Masonic, Odd Fellows and A. O. U. W, fraternities. The other substantial improvement of 1877 was that made by Stillman Mann in the erection of the new Russell House.
The year 1878 eclipsed any that preceded it in the line of improvement. Up to that time, although there had been several church organizations in town, and services had been held regularly every Sabbath in the schoolhouse, yet the town was without a church building. In that year, however, the Congregationalists put up a building.
The year 1878 was remarkable for the unprecedented progress made in building, and the superior order of the improvements made. That was the year in which the Opera Block was built by Fargo, Hendershott & Guernon. It is located on Eighth Street, the ground floor being used as a billiard hall and livery-stable, and the upper portion being fitted up as an entertainment hall, with stage, scenery, etc. Up to that year, the town had been without a bank, although Ackerman & Copeland, in connection with their store business, had carried on brokerage on a very limited scale. In 1878, they sold their stock of goods, and devoted themselves to banking exclusively. They erected a handsome two-story stone building on Main Street, between Eighth and Ninth, the lower story of which they fitted up as a bank and the upper story into offices. Immediately north of the bank building and simultaneously with its erection, W. M. Pennell put up a similar building, which is now used as a furniture store and post-office.
While these improvements were being made in the business portion of the town, the residence portion was being greatly improved by the erection of a magnificent dwelling in the south part of town put up by Mr. Copeland. It is a large stone residence, handsomely constructed and of a beautiful style of architecture. An elevator, put up by E. Latshaw, was also among the improvements of 1878. Substantial improvements in town, virtually ended with 1878, although quite a number of buildings of less note have been erected since that time.
Source: Russell County, History of the State of Kansas, 1883.