The area in South Central Kansas known as Reno County was part of the area purchased by the United States from the French in 1803. Explorers passed through Kansas between 1803 and 1861 when Kansas became a state but settlement didn’t begin until Congress created Kansas territory and decreed that it was no longer Indian territory.
The Kansas Legislature drew the boundaries for Reno County in 1868. The population wasn’t sufficient to necessitate self-government until December 1871. The first election for county officers was held in January of 1872.
Reno County was named for Major-General Jesse Lee Reno who fought in the Civil War and died in the line of duty at the Battle of South Mountain in Maryland in 1862. Hutchinson is the county seat and the largest city in the county. Hutchinson was named after its founder, Clinton Carter Hutchinson. Mr. Hutchinson claimed to be a Baptist preacher and he stipulated that no alcoholic beverages could be sold or consumed on the property or the land would forfeit back to him. This also kept the town quiet. The early settlement of the county by Amish and Mennonites also contributed to the quiet history. The Mennonites and Amish are still strongly represented in the county.
Railroads were instrumental in the development of not only Kansas but Reno County. The railroads played a significant role in the development of some of the smaller towns within the county. The arrival of the Santa Fe Railroad established Hutchinson, Partridge, Abbyville, Plevna and Sylvia. The Rock Island and Frisco Railroads established some of the other small cities in Reno County.
As you can see, the railroads had a profound impact on town development in Reno County and most places in Kansas. Railroads provided transportation for people and goods from the more populous and prosperous eastern United States. Without a railroad, a town was without an efficient lifeline to the news and materials people demanded.
Salt was discovered by Ben Blanchard in South Hutchinson when he was trying to find oil in September of 1887. Mr. Blanchard was disappointed but several others took the knowledge and capitalized on it. Prior to 1923, those who took the salt from the ground used wells by pumping water down pipes forcing the water back up carrying salt with it. In 1923, Emerson Carey, who started the Carey Salt Company, dug the first mine in Reno County. Both methods of extracting salt are still used today. Many salt companies came into business and positively impacted the economy of the county.
Reno County industries include agriculture (wheat, corn, milo and soybeans among other crops), salt mining, hydraulics manufacturing, agricultural implement manufacturing, the manufacture of fire engines, ambulances and limousines, and grocery storage and trucking.
The main geographic features of Reno County include the Arkansas River and Cow Creek. The county is a part of the Arkansas River Valley. Parts of the county have a very sandy soil while other parts are of a heavier soil nature. The county does not have any major high points, however, there are sandhills in some areas covered by native grasses.
Reno County measures 1,256 square miles and is the third largest county in size in the state behind Butler and Finney Counties. There were 64,983 residents in 1990.