History of Downtown Olathe

Olathe was founded in 1857 (before Kansas in 1868).  It is one of the oldest communities in Johnson County and one of the oldest cities in the state of Kansas.  It is located on the historic Santa Fe Trail, and on the Oregon and California Trail, the geographical center of Johnson County.  Olathe became a major stop along the Santa Fe Trail, with as many as 600 wagons a week traveled through Olathe on the way toward the gold fields and farming settlements in the far west.

In 1863, The Mahaffie's contracted to run a stagecoach stop on their 570-acre farm.  The stage stop business became obsolete in 1870 with the arrival of the railroad.  The Kansas School for the Deaf moved to Olathe in 1866.  By 1868, fifty to sixty buildings were erected in the city, and by 1873, three railroads were serving the town.  The Santa Fe Depot was built in 1881.  By 1885, Olathe had a population just over 3,000.

In 1907, the Strang Trolley Line opened to connect Olathe to downtown Kansas City.  This was the first gas-electric trolley car and one of the most profitable of the inter-urban railroads in the country.  The emphasis was on suburban growth. 

Downtown Olathe c. 1910 looking east down Park St.

Santa Fe Depot, Olathe c. 1900

In 1957, Interstate Highway 35 was constructed, and the population boom began.  By 1960, the population had increased to 10,011; by 1980 37,258.  Today Olathe is home to over 115,000 residents, with residential growth continuing to rise.

In 1967, Olathe saw the advent of urban renewal.  Although urban renewal had good intentions, it was not leveraged to maximize private development, with emphasis on suburban growth rather than downtown.  Among others, the old Hyer Boot building, the Ernie Miller building, the Avenue Hotel and Hotel Olathe were razed. 

In 1971, Santa Fe was widened to four lanes and urban renewal continued to demolish older neighborhoods.  In 1973, plans for the construction of a new city hall and the demolition of the existing building were completed.  In 1978, plans were approved for the new library and post office.

Downtown Olathe, c. 1960

Recent History

The City has also undertaken a number of projects aimed at strengthening the future of its developed areas.  The Original Town Enhancement Plan  was completed in 1996, which directed the revitalization of the Original Town area and laid the foundation for neighborhood planning in the city.  Both the Westview Neighborhood Action Plan and Central Core Neighborhood Plan were the first neighborhood plans developed in the older areas.

Planning efforts turned to downtown in 1998, when the City hired a consulting firm to complete a Central Business District Parking Study.  In 2003, the Envision Olathe Downtown Plan began.

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