New Strawn is the newest town in Coffey County, Kansas. First settled in 1961, and incorporated in 1970, the town was built when the construction of John Redmond Dam and Reservoir forced residents of the original city of Strawn to relocate.
The town site for the original community of Strawn was surveyed in 1871, and Strawn became a town in 1872. The first frame house in Strawn was built in 1855, six years before Kansas became the 34th state of the United States of America.
The town was named after Enos Strawn, who was instrumental in getting the Missouri, Kansas and Texas (MK&T) railroad through Strawn. Mr. Strawn came to Coffey County in 1855, left for a short time, and then returned in 1857. He was the first mail carrier from Strawn to Ottumwa, riding on horseback. He was a Coffey County probate judge for one term, and a justice of the peace for 41 years. He was also one of the commissioners appointed to locate the county seat, which was established in LeRoy. (Later it was moved to Burlington.
Some of the first houses in Strawn were moved there from Ottumwa. A tornado destroyed some of the houses in Strawn on April 18, 1880.
The population of Strawn began to boom in 1912, when the A.L. Scott Lumber Company and the S.A. Hutchinson & Sons Elevator were built. Over the years, the population usually ranged from 100 to 200 people.
From 1944 to 1947, the Strawn Tigers men’s basketball team was the pride and joy of Strawn. The teams combined for a 77-4 record and did not lose any games during the regular season. During that span, the Tigers outscored their opponents by 4,834 to 2,323 points. Life magazine was going to send a photographer to photograph the 1945-46 team, if they won the state tournament – but they lost in the first round.
The MK&T railroad depot ceased operation in 1947, and was demolished in 1958. Although originally the town was believed to have been built above flood stage, from 1904 to 1951 the old town site of Strawn was plagued by flooding of the Neosho River. As more buildings were constructed, woodlands cleared, and fields drained, the river carried more water, and the floods steadily worsened.
Residents begged for flood control, believing that a dam should and would be placed directly upstream of Strawn, that everything in the town would remain intact, and that flood waters would be controlled. This, indeed, was the first plan; the project was authorized as the Strawn Dam.
But after geologic tests were made at the proposed dam site, the plans were suddenly changed. The proposed dam would instead be sited downstream of the town, and the waters backing up behind it would submerge the existing town site. The Army Corp of Engineers claimed the original town for flood area. The name of the proposed dam was changed by an act of Congress in 1958, to John Redmond Dam. The dam was named in honor of John Redmond, a Burlington native who worked for the Emporia Gazette under William Allen White. He later became editor and publisher of The Jeffersonian, a Burlington newspaper that eventually became The Daily Republican. He was editor and publisher of The Daily Republican for 55 years, from 1898 to 1953. John Redmond worked for many years to promote flood control on the Neosho and Cottonwood rivers and, in May of 1949, was part of the Neosho River Flood Control delegation that went to Washington D.C. to lobby successfully for the John Redmond Reservoir.
As people realized that construction of the John Redmond Dam in its proposed location meant that everyone in Strawn would have to move, resentment and bewilderment grew. Old Strawn was largely made up of retired residents and farmers who lived there within a few miles of their farms. No one knew which way to turn.
The day Howard Claycamp and M.C. Williamson came up with the idea of moving as a town seemed a great day to many residents. They immediately began their efforts to acquire the land which the town of New Strawn now occupies. The property was purchased from Mr. and Mrs. Ross Raymond, by an agreement dated March 30, 1960.
The old town of Strawn is now mostly under water, and little is left to show that a town ever existed there. The new town site, consisting of 330 building lots on 160 acres, was platted by Burgwin and Martin Engineers of Topeka. By September 1961, streets were laid out in New Strawn. Two months later, Mr. and Mrs. Frankie Ferris had the first home in New Strawn.
The move to the new site in 1962 was a gradual process. The federal government purchased the old homes, while families arranged for building new ones. In 1963, two homes moved from Strawn into what is now knows as New Strawn. Along with them was the Ottumwa-Strawn Christian Church, which didn’t miss a single Sunday service.
All the other homes, stores and buildings were built new, making the town’s name, New Strawn, appropriate in two aspects – new location and new facilities. A few businesses were lost due to the move, but others were gained.
In 1962, area newspapers reported building in New Strawn. Construction of a $150,000 school was expected to start in 1963. Classes were held in the school building for several years, before being consolidated with the Burlington schools.
By June 1963, more than 20 structures had been completed, or were under construction, in New Strawn. Braymen and Minking were awarded a sewer contract. By the end of August, Strawn State Bank and the post office were open for business. Strawn State Bank was the first bank in the county to offer drive-through banking services.
In November 1962, Rural Water District No. 1 was organized in Coffey County. Lines were being staked out in May 1964.
New Strawn was incorporated on May 18, 1970. New Strawn residents elected their first governing body on June 23rd – Mayor M.C. Williamson and council members Roy Tompkins, E.M. Boyce, Robert Rathke, Jim D. Brown and Frankie Ferris were elected.
By September 29, 1970, the population of New Strawn had grown to 117.
Arrowhead Hills, a 160-acre subdivision, was organized in January 1971, adjoining New Strawn to the north. The subdivision was platted with a 9-hole golf course.
A March 24, 1972, clipping of The Daily Republican listed 51 houses finished and occupied: one duplex, one fourplex, 10 mobile homes, 16 businesses, one of which was the Arrowhead Complex where New Strawn City Hall is presently located. Sixteen buildings housed 24 businesses: Lakeview Motel and Café-Service Station, Edgar Williamson’s Garage, Strawn State Bank, grade school building, red barn, boat storage, Chrisman Plumbing, Wilkerson’s Bait Shop, Rathke Lumber Yard, Custo Glass, Strahm Boats plant, one new business building, Boyce Insurance, post office, museum, gift shop, snack bar, ceramics shop, barber shop, S&S Gas, laundry, Arrowhead Hills, Inc., Tompkins Construction, Jacob’s Creek West, Bahr’s Concrete, and one empty Tastee Freeze building. Six houses were under construction, with three more ready to be built.
The park area of New Strawn was remodeled in 1985 with the cooperation of the Jones Foundation and the USD 244 Recreation Commission. The pond was cleaned and piers were added to make a 3.5-acre city lake.
As a result of an effort by Coffey County Fire District No. 1, a fire station was built, and opened with 21 volunteer firemen in October 1990. The property for the station was purchased with money donated by local citizens, and from fund raisers held during the City’s first annual Strawnfest celebration.
The New Strawn Community Center’s 50×100 foot structure was erected in 1996. Funds for the building came from a $25,000 youth center grant from the Coffey County Commission, and from money raised by New Strawn Community Improvement Organization (NSCIO) fundraisers. The City paid for the heating/ventilation/air condition system, and a number of individuals and businesses donated labor. The first use of the building was for Strawnfest ’96. Originally owned and managed by NSCIO, ownership of the community center was transferred to the City on January 1, 2016.
Originally, New Strawn’s water supply came from city wells located on Corps of Engineers property, and the City had its own water treatment plant. In 1997, planning began to improve the water system. By 2002 New Strawn had completed a $1.25 million dollar improvement project, which included the construction of a new 15,000-gallon water tower, as well as installation of new water lines in New Strawn, and west of town to the Hillview Subdivision 4.
New Strawn experienced an influx of people during the construction of Wolf Creek Generating Station in the late 1970s and early 1980s. A number of mobile homes, campers and recreational vehicles were located in New Strawn during Wolf Creek’s construction. Once the construction workers began moving out, a number of Wolf Creek’s permanent employees began moving in to make New Strawn their home. Largely due to the influx of Wolf Creek workers, the U.S. Census recorded a high of 457 people living in New Strawn in 1980. That number dropped to 426 in 2000, and although new homes continue to be built, the population had dropped to 394 in 2010. However, the estimated population as of 2014 was 404.