Kanopolis, Kansas was incorporated on January 6, 1887 on the former site of Fort Harker, an important military outpost on the Smoky Hill Trail.
Fort Harker was an active military post from 1866 to 1872. It was shut down in 1872 after the railroad reached Denver and hostile Indian attackes decreased in the area. In 1870 the Department of Interior was tasked with selling the Fort Harker Military Reservation which comprised a total of 10,240 acres of land. A Dr. Hodge purchased the land but then sold it to Colonel Henry Johnson for $4,177.50. Then in 1885 a land syndicate based in Ohio purchased 4,740 acres of the land including the main buildings of Fort Harker for $71,000 from Colonel Johnson.
With grand plans for the new town they were going to establish, the land syndicate formed the Kanopolis Land Company and began plans for what they envisioned would become one of the largest cities in the relatively new state of Kansas. The name Kanopolis comes from combining “Kansas” and “Metropolis”. Envisioned by the developers as becoming a large city and possibly even the future Kansas State Capitol, they laid out the town on a grand scale with plans to accommodate a population of 150,000.
Once it was incorporated in 1887 the founders heavily promoted Kanopolis through the efforts of editor R.V. Morgan and the local weekly paper “The Kanopolis Journal”. Some 50,000 copies of the Kanopolis Journal were printed and sent back east to promote the new town. The town company also took out advertisements in eastern newspapers proclaiming that their new town was “destined to be the railroad, commercial, and manufacturing capital of Kansas”. In July 1887 it was claimed that Kanopolis was the only town in the state with railroads that ran north, south, east and west and that the new town already had seven factories, thirteen stores and a hotel and a population of 600 by the time it was barely a year old.
The Kanopolis Journal continued to promote the virtues of the town and in 1890 boasted that the town had “two large hotels, a hardware store, a roller mill, woolen mills, foundry and iron works, an earthenware works, an elevator, a Union Pacific Depot, three churches and a school. The Journal predicted that Kanopolis would “soon be the furniture hub of the Midwest” and would have 500,000 inhabitants within 40 years because it was already growing faster than Cincinnati and Cleveland did in their early years. While such hyperbole was fairly common in the promoting of new towns in that time frame, the Kanopolis Journal was a newspaper that took such hyperbole to such extremes that they claimed that the area produced “cabbage leaves that could be used for circus tents” and “jack Rabbits that grow as large as horses.”
While Kanopolis did experience some early growth and at one time was home to three salt mines, it never did become the “Queen City of the Midwest” that its founders proclaimed it would be. One of its largest setbacks was when it lost the bid to become the county seat of Ellsworth County by 75 votes to Ellsworth, Kansas. It also received some bad press from the Leavenworth times and the Kanopolis Town Company ended up in a lawsuit with the local editor R.V Morgan. By 1906 the population had fallen to 264 people. Over the years the population did rebound some and in a 2010 census the town had a population of 492.
There are four of the original stone buildings from Fort Harker still standing in Kanopolis today. The two story Guardhouse is home to the Fort Harker Museum which also includes an old relocated railroad depot, the Commanding Officer’s Quarters and a Junior Officer’s Quarters. Another Junior Officer's Quarters building is privately owned and being used as a residence.
There is one active salt mine still operating and even a Drive In Theater. Local festivals include the annual “Fort Harker Days” and the “St. Ignatius Fiesta”. Area attractions also include Kanopolis Lake and State Park, Mushroom Rock State Park and Faris Caves.