The community was founded in the late 1850’s and was originally called Bitlertown. In the mid- 1880’s, August Fluesche and several other families from Germany moved to the area and established a town just north of the existing community. They called their town Olpe after their hometown of Olpe, Germany. When the railroad came, the two communities merged and became Olpe, Kansas. Olpe was incorporated as a third class city in 1905 and is the only city in the United States with this name.
The town was originally called Bitlertown because of Daniel Bitler, a man who built a two-story grocery store and post office in 1886, which they named the town in his honor. The towns merged together because of the Santa Fe had built the Howard Branch railroad through the area.
Olpe had a hardware store that was owned by John Diebolt, but it was eventually sold many times until C.L. Patton made it his doctors office.The Bradfield family had the first Olpe lumber yard in 1906 on therein east and west street. Julius Drews carried on the blacksmith business, opened in 1916, and was surely one of the greatest assets to the vicinity. Olpe also had a hotel, named the Golden Lion Hotel and built by Theodore Brinkman in 1885. Nicholas Crockenberger had a shop that was used for all civic meetings and it eventually became the place of study after the District #45 school burned down. He was a carpenter and built many hoses in Olpe. In 1918 Clyde Osborn and his wife Mabel came to the city of Olpe. Clyde opened a barber shop which he ran until his death in 1941. Mabel took care of the hot-lunch program at the St. Joseph’s Grade and High School until the public High School opened in 1952.
The history of the Catholic religion in Olpe dates back to 1875 when Eagle Creek settlement was listed by Father Perrier who established a mission. Olpe received its first permanent pastor in 1885. The Catholics believed a Catholic Church with Sunday Mass would bring new settlers. In 1885 the first meeting to build a new church was held. The church was built by Nicholas Crockenberger, Theodore Brinkman, and Phillip Hahn on the property of August Flushe with the help of donations from the people present at the meeting. A new church was built across the street from the present day church. The little frame church did not accommodate the ever growing Catholic population. In 1908 a plan to build a brick church was introduced. After two years untiring sacrifices and labor by both pastor and people the new church was ready for dedication on October 15,1911. The Church was 130 feet long by 51 feet wide and it’s capacity was 500 people. This church still stands today as a staple of the City’s community.
The St. Joseph’s Grade and High School opened for classes in the fall of 1922. The first floor accommodated the high grades, two grades in each room and one nun to teach per room. There were no desks in the beginning, instead folding chairs accommodated two students per table with little room for text books. For the first few years, the high school was not accredited by the State and for students that wanted to further their education had to pass a test before they could enter college. In 1927 the High School was accredited and approved by the state. The hot lunch program was started in 1941 by Father Felician. In 1950, with St. Joseph High School becoming overcrowded, and with the cost of maintaining a High School getting greater, a need and desire for a Public High School was expressed.
On December 12, 1950, the city voted to transfer 5 and a half acre tract for the new school in the northwest part of the city of Olpe. For the first school year, 1951-1952, classes were held in the St. Joseph High School. Seventy-one students attended with a faculty of four – Vincent J. Bowman, principal; Thomas McGahey, coach; Gladys Stoops and Rose Johnson. Other employers that year were Mabel Osborne, cook; Louise Redeker, assistant coach; and John Haag, custodian. Mary Burke Norton was hired to teach music. The 1952-1953 school year began in the St. Joseph High School, but by November the new building was completed and the school moved to their new home on November 31, 1952. St. Joseph’s continued teaching grades one through eight but the seventh and eighth grade was later transferred to Olpe Junior High. Unification became a reality July 1, 1966 and buses were used for the first time. District #252 includes Olpe, Hartford and Neosho Rapids. John Haag retired at the close of the 1969-1970 school year after completing 18 years of service to the community, school, students and faculty. His job for the school in his words were this, “to beautify the place from the brush-covered cow pasture to what it is today”. He planted most of the trees and grass on the school grounds and replaced enough windows to make a small glass building.
Olpe State Bank established October 5, 1905, the Olpe State Bank was a frame building. In 1909, a new brick bank building, two story was built. The old telephone exchange building was purchased by the bank, and a new bank has been built on that location. The telephone system was organized in January 1908, with Joe Rossillon and John Diebolt, Sr., as the main instigators.
The first Olpe newspaper was “Our Church Mirror” which was published monthly. The other newspaper was the “Olpe Optimist.” It was a democratic paper which was first published November 22, 1906. In 1908 the paper was sold to Lawerence M. Shearer. It was published weekly. Today the “Emporia Gazette” handles the Olpe news and most families subscribe to it. With the coming of Rural Free Delivery about January 1, 1904, the small community post offices were closed and the carriers worked out of the Olpe Post Office. One of the first carriers was Jeff Stevenson. He was joined by George Roberts in 1905 and their first route extended twenty-eight miles. Barney Grieder joint the staff on May 16, 1921, and the three carried many years together. George retired on July 31, 1932, his route was divided between the other two carriers. Mr. Stevenson retired in 1934. Mr Fitch took his route and finished off his 30 years of service. Now we only have one route out of Olpe.
Olpe, like most small Kansas towns, does not have much to offer in the way of health facilities. However, at one time Olpe did have a doctor and dentist. The family doctor was an important person in the lives of the early settlers of this community. Dr. C.L. Patton is the doctor who stands out in the memory of this community. He was one of the best obstetricians in the country, and he had plenty of practice in Olpe community as most of the people had very large families.
In 1928, Panhandle Eastern Pipeline Company was conceived as the Missouri-Kansas Pipeline Company. The suggestion of W.G. Maguire caused the name to change to Panhandle Eastern Pipeline Community. Construction was started in 1930 and 1931. In April, 1931, the Warehouse was established in Olpe, with Dick Irwin as Superintendent. AS the company grew the Warehouse was moved to several different places but finally settled down in present location in Olpe in February, 1974.
Electricity was started in Olpe in 1916. The ordinance went into effect in 1922 and the first rates were $1.50 per month. Cities Service Gas Company brought gas to the community in 1929. During Joe Arndt’s tenure as mayor, 1936-1938, he built a new city building. This building included a garage for for the fire truck.Rural electricity was installed through the farm area in 1940 and 1941. This was a tremendous labor and time saver around the farm for farmers. In 1959-1960 the sewer system was established in Olpe. As the fire department was organized and enlarged, the city building with its small garage proved to be to small, so in 1963 a new station was built. In 1965 Olpe’s water system was put in. In 1966 a fire district was established and the fire department gradually started to build and add things to the building and trucks. A city lake was built about smile south and west of Olpe. This furnished more than an ample supply of water and also provide recreation for the area-fishing, swimming, boating and picnicking. The installation of sewer and water in town and the rural water caused an increase in the construction of new homes both in town and in the farm area.
The Olpe Lions Club was chartered September 30, 1954. William E. Rigsby was the first president; Richard B. Langley served as the first Sec.-Treasurer. Since organization, the club has been an inspiration and an asset to the community. The Olpe lions have sponsored both boys and girls to Boys and Girls State – an organization which gives them a chance to see how our government functions. The club has provided glasses to needy children of the community, distributed Christmas baskets to the elderly of the community, sponsors little league, and has helped build schools, water systems, hospitals, etc., in remote countries of the world as a district project. The most recent project for the community has been the Youth Park.
The first organized American Legion post in Olpe was formed in late 1919 or early 1920. Dr. Clarence Miller was one of the main organizers of the post. It was named the Frank W. Miller Post in honor of the first World War I veteran to die from this community. The post disbanded around 1932. The fall of 1955, our present post, Brinkman-Price #342, was formed with forty-one charter members. The charter was approved by the National American Legion Headquarters on December 27, 1955. The State Legion Headquarters approved the post on January 6, 1956. This post was named for Frances Alexus Brinkman and Arthur David Price, two Olpe boys who lost their lives in combat during World War II. At the present time, the Olpe Post has fifty-seven members. Most members are still active in the post.
Alexius Council 1589 was chartered October 29, 1911 and the Knights of Columbus was born in Olpe. Since organization, the fraternal home of our local council has been filled with activity. For many decades it was the center of recreation for members and guests. The council is still quite active inn parish and community activities, contributing financial aid and labor. it sponsors teen-age dances, Little League baseball, and other activities in the community. Presently the council has a membership of one hundred eighty-five.
The first lumbar company in Olpe was thought to operated by Charles and Henry, Jr., sons of Henry Schwindt, Sr., until 1906. They later bought land and built the present day lumbar yard across the street of the old one. They sold the to Bradfield and Hathaway in 1906, and it was known as the Bradfield and Hathaway Lumbar Company. Later it was run as The Olpe Lumbar Company by Harvey Bradfield, then taken over by his son, Jim. Jim ended up selling the company to Clarence Schmidt.
The Royal Cafe was one of the first businesses to open up in the town of Olpe. It was owned and operated by Matt Steffes until 1916. John and Bertha Hale leased it from 1916 to 1924, when Jack and Agnes Steffes came back to Olpe to live. They changed the name to Jack’s Cafe and continued the operation in the building until 1957. At this time a new brick building was made. The name was changed to The Town Cafe. Steffes’ continued to manage the cafe for a while, later leasing it to various people. Among them were Wayne and Mary Cole and Carl and Gladys Bird. The building was then sold to Donald and Edna Birtciel and is now Edna’s Beauty Salon
The original Chicken House opened 1934 by Mrs. Noel (Clara) Cooper – now Mrs. Dick Springer. It was in the same location but was known as “Cooper’s Cafe.” It was a small tin building with seating capacity of only 6 or 7 stools. Mrs. Springer operated it with only one employee. Business soon outgrew the six-stool shack, and Harvey Bradfield and Alice Meffert urged Clara to rent their building across the street for $5.00 per month while they built her a new place. The new building held 32 patrons. In 1946, she sold out to Mr. and Mrs. Cecil (Hannah) Taylor and they changed the name to the “C and H” cafe. Later Mr. and Mrs. Taylor were divorced, and Mrs. Taylor changed the the name to the Chicken House. She operated the cafe until 1958 when she sold out to the Cobles – Leonard and Theresa. The Cobles took over the cafe in June, 1959. In October of that year they remodeled and enlarged the seating capacity to 82. Th last remodeling was completed October, 1974, and the restaurant was enlarged to seating capacity of 162. A fire destroyed the cafe so the new “Chicken House” was completed and opened for business June 16, 1975.
Skelly Station was built by W.A. and Marie Steffes in 1931 and was operated by the Steffes family until 1951, when it was sold to Roy Murphy. Roy operated the business until 1972 when it was sold to Roy’s son-in-law and daughter, Ray and Norma Schreiner. The Klumpe blacksmith shop draws customers from a 100 mile radius as the trade has been passed down through the family.
The Locker Plant was built in 1944 by W.A. and Marie Steffes, and opened in 1945. It was known as the Food Bank. The building has been extensively remodeled through the years and is now operated by Gene and Pat Steffes and family. O’Brien built the store building and used its s as a feed store, later as a grocery store. In 1917, Theodore Voeste bought the grocery store, and Leo and Elizabeth Voeste ran it. Later Elizabeth married Fred Hohne. They assumed ownership and it became known as the “Olpe Cash Grocery.” They ran the store in this building until 1950 when they moved into the new grocery store north of the Food Bank built by Bill Steffes. In 1960, Fred and Lizzie retired and sold the store to Eddie and Evelyn Scheve. Eddie died in 1971, but Evelyn and the children continued to run the store until 1977, when they sold to Harold Ford.
The quiet little town of Olpe has also been the setting for exciting times – both good and bad. One of the worst was March 10, 1945, when we though the entire town was going up in flames. Pimples Pool Hall and Sweeneys Grocery were burned out. Some other building were also damaged. Several small fires were started by flying sparks. All surrounding towns sent their fire units and people cam from everywhere to help. This was before the city had water installed, so water was brought in by farmers and other ways too. Some say the only thing that saved the town was the fact there was little wind. One of the best things to ever come to Olpe was in 1977 the Radnitz-Mattel Productions selected Olpe as the setting for part of the “Mary White movie. Townspeople got up atbthe crack of dawn, brought lawn chairs and refreshments and watched the crew at work. St. Joseph school was chosen to represent Emporia High School. Many youths form oLe rode horses and acted as extras in scenes. The school basement was later decorated for the Christmas scene representing Christmas dinner at the County Home. Burial scenes were taken at Pleasant Ridge Cemetery west of Olpe.
The Centennial Celebration for Olpe was a huge deal for the city of Olpe. Lots of time and meetings were held to get this event running. At 10 a.m. on the morning of July 23, 1977 the Centennial Celebration officially began. The parade was the first thing to go and it lasted about mile. The streets were lined with onlookers. The parade disbanded in front of Olpe High School. Children events followed the parade on the high school grounds. Contests included sack races, three-legged race, penny race and a pie eating contest. A large tent was pitched east of the high school to cover the tables on which the cooks of the community sat their favorite dishes. An estimated 1,000 people filled the six serving lines. After the noon meal was finished Park Dedication Ceremonies commenced at 1:30 p.m. The American Legion raised the flag and Mayor Calvin E. Murphy welcomed those in attendance. Rev. Curt Lanzrath delivered the dedication address. Following his address, Fr. Curt presented to Mayor Murphy two mementos form our sister city, Olpe, Germany. The new city flag was presented with the designers, Eric Schreiner and David Redeker. Bruce Sebring presented Donald Redeker with a plaque, a token of appreciation for his efforts in promoting the celebration. Rev. Gene Riley closed the ceremony with a Benediction. The Mayor and Centennial Chairman then cut the cake. In order to get all the events complete before nightfall the home run hitting contest was in progress during the the dedication ceremony. After this the crowd went to the down-town area where contests and exhibitions were being staged. Some of the contest included the following, hay bale toss, skillet throwing and many other small contest were held. As the day’s events drew to a close, the crowd began to thin. Farmers had to head home to chore. Next on the schedule was the Centennial Mass, to be celebrated in St. Joseph’s Church at 7:30. St Joseph was filled to capacity. Fr. Lery Wending was the celebrant and delivered the homily. The grand finale was the street dance, featuring Alvin Crow and his Pleasant Valley Boys, from Austin, Texas. The dance attendance was estimated at 6,300 patrons. Seven lawmen maintained law and order throughout the evening. The band provided entertainment until 2:15 a.m. The crowd dispersed in a very orderly and quiet matter. By 4 a.m. all but the band and a few curious onlookers remained in the streets.