1854 – Congress passed the Kansas-Nebraska Act, creating the Kansas Territory and opening the area to settlers. However, none of the land that would become Lenexa was available for settlement because it was owned by members of the Shawnee Tribe and through agreement with the U.S. government the land could not be sold without the permission of the president. Each man, woman, and child in the local tribe had been allotted 200 acres in exchange for their land in Ohio.
Post Civil War – Lenexa began to really grow at this time, which was also a period of land speculation and railroad construction that followed the final census of the Shawnee and their land.
It was around this time that the U.S. government began shrinking the reservation lands and selling off the land. This, among other issues, prompted the Shawnee to begin relocating to the Oklahoma Indian Territories.
1867 – By this time, 160 acres of these former Shawnee lands were purchased by Squire Charles A. Bradshaw.
Agents for the Missouri River, Fort Scott and Gulf Railroad (later Frisco Railroad) negotiated with Bradshaw for railroad right-of-way. Bradshaw agreed on the condition that the railroad would maintain a depot on the land. This was significant because with this station the trains wouldn’t just pass through Lenexa but stop here, providing transportation and creating more business.
1869 – Bradshaw sold 41.5 acres near the railroad right-of-way to Octave Chanute, a civil engineer, who used it to plat the town of Lenexa. It is said that the town was originally going to be called Bradshaw, but Bradshaw refused out of modesty. On August 26, 1869, Chanute sold the property to three men from Jackson County, Missouri. Thus, Lenexa was born in 1869 and the post office established at Sherman in 1865 was moved to a site near the railroad depot and was renamed the Lenexa post office. It was not incorporated, however, until May 8, 1907.
The City’s Name – The story passed down in Lenexa is that the city’s name is derived from the name of Shawnee Chief Thomas Quaskey Blackhoof‘s (also seen as Black Hoof) wife, whose name has had various spellings, but was often recorded on census records and other documents as Na Nex Se or Len Ag See (with or without the spaces). It is said that her name was chosen due to having been the chief’s wife, being a hard worker, and well respected in the community.
The Blackhoof’s – The chief and his wife had been educated in Ohio before they traveled to present-day Johnson County, after Thomas Blackhoof’s father and previous chief, Chief Catecahassa Blackhoof, sold their Ohio land to the U.S. government in exchange for land in Kansas.
Na Nex Se is reported to have been a respected Christian woman who took care of her land and orchard even after the death of her husband. Neither her nor her husband were reported to have learned English and much of the tribe’s correspondences and our understanding of them came from interpreters, especially James Burnett Abbott, agent of the Shawnee by the Shawnee Indian Mission, who lived with the tribe from 1861-1866.
More small bits of insight on the Blackhoof family can be found in the book kept by the Recording Steward for the Indian Mission.
By 1870 Na Nex Se, was no longer listed on any Johnson County census and is presumed to have pass away by that date.
Other Settlers – Many German, Swiss, and Belgian families came to the area from the Eastern U.S. and Europe. They purchased lands from the Shawnee and grew bumper crops in the fertile soil. In the 1930’s, Lenexa became famous for its superior quality spinach due to the soil containing less sand which affected its taste and texture.
Over 150 truck farmers contributed to the train-loads of produce, spinach included, which was shipped to Chicago and other eastern markets. We hold the Lenexa Spinach Festival every year in September to celebrate this brief time when Lenexa was the “Spinach Capital” and the city was even featured in a one panel Popeye© comic.
Old Town – The original town site, or “Old Town,” is still a vital part of the community to this day. The city boasts three large churches which have been witness to more than 100 years of Lenexa history. The city holds several festivals throughout the year, like the one mentioned above, that help maintain a “small town community atmosphere.”