The Story of Waverly

Waverly is a small community located in the northeast corner of Coffey County, Kansas. The town is situated between Ottawa and Emporia, Kansas on Interstate 35. Like most other small towns, Waverly was a result of a railroad. In 1877, the Ottawa and Burlington Railroad was started by W.H. Schofield and was completed by 1878. 

Approximately 600 people currently make up this farming community along with several hundred individuals who live outside the community and call Waverly their home. 

Waverly is not considered an old town for the state of Kansas. Some of the town’s first houses were built in 1878, while the town itself was recorded as being chartered in 1880. Among one of the first homes to be built is the house located at 117 Pierson Street by H.P. Donnell. 

Waverly was finally decided upon as the name of the new town. After many suggestions such as Pierce City and Jamestown, Mr. Isaac Pierson, original owner of the land and one of the first settlers in the area, recommended the name of his old home town, Waverly, Indiana. The name Waverly was soon accepted and adopted by both the postal department and railroad. 


Many Firsts

The town of Waverly had its first fire in January of 1882 destroying half of the houses and businesses. The fire started in the hardware store of Campbell & McShery after a dog supposedly overturned a lamp in the store. J.J. Campbell lived above the store. He and his baby escaped just before the powder in the store exploded. 

Waverly’s first newspaper, The Waverly News, was started by L.E. Smith on March 29, 1883. Then, Dan Swearingen from Burlington, Kansas took over community paper and began the Gazette in the late 1880’s due to the lack of patronage for The Waverly News. 

Waverly was incorporated on July 5, 1886, and the first city election was held on July 16, 1886. J. L. Senior was elected as the first mayor of Waverly. 

Waverly’s only bank robbery occurred on January 27, 1892. Approximately $600.00 was taken by Lewis and VanOrman. Before the robbers were caught near Lebo, Kansas, they shot A.R. Ingleman in the first alley west of Pierson Street. Lewis was taken to the penitentiary while VanOrman escaped from jail. 


Schools & more

Waverly High School graduated its first class in 1892. By 1936, a new high school was built behind the old one. This gives us reason for the high school’s large grassy front yard. 

Then in 1957, a new grade school was built two blocks west of the high school to accommodate students from the country schools. 

Waverly unified as a district with Lebo in 1966. USD #243 Lebo-Waverly district’s office is located on Waverly’s Pierson Street. 

Originally a Sunday school class and through the encouragement of their teacher M.L. Hays, the “Day Star Daughters” established the first free public library in Waverly in 1895. 

Waverly’s first water tower was built in 1903. After the tower was found providing inadequate services for the town’s water supply, citizens voted to replace it in 1963. 

In 1965, the old water tower fell on the Santa Fe Depot crushing it. The water tower that is standing today was built in 1965. 

A tornado did some damage to the Waverly area in 1905. The Waverly Volunteer Fire Department was also organized in 1905 by three sections that included a hose company, a ladder company and chemical company. J.F. Grennan was elected as the first fire chief in Waverly. 

Ron Senior closed the Waverly skating rink in 1909. On November 14, 1913, the new Gem Theatre opened in Waverly. About 15 years later, the first talking motion picture was shown at Waverly’s Bailey Theatre on March 3, 1930. 


Ohio Days

One of town’s annual traditions that everyone in Waverly and the surrounding area looks forward is the Ohio Days celebration. 

Ohio Days started in 1896 when the citizens of Waverly decided to host a reunion for the Ohio settlers that had made Waverly their home. It was a picnic held at James Grove, 1½ miles east of Waverly. This event was soon referred to as either “Ohio Day” or “Ohio Picnic.” 

Ohio Days was originally held on the third Thursday in August, but was soon extended to more days. Waverly added the Sunday program to the Monday and Tuesday celebration in 1986. Some of the many annual events that make the Waverly Ohio Days special include the parade, baby show and carnival entertainment. 

So as you can see, Waverly is a small friendly community nestled in the heart of eastern Kansas that is full of history. This history makes Waverly what it is today, a place where you can call home. 

Written by Stacy L. Williams. Data Sources: Cutler’s History of Kansas (1883) and The Waverly History Book (1981). Reprinted with permission from the Coffey County Library System. 


The Waverly History Book is Now Available in the Library!

Everything you want to know about Waverly’s history, from the stories of families to a year-by-year detail of the city’s progress, is in The Waverly History Book. Get yours from the library today!


City of Waverly • 210 Pearson Ave • PO Box 308
Waverly. KS 66871

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