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Isaac Goodnow

co-founder of Manhattan

Isaac Goodnow

Isaac Goodnow was born in Whitingham, Vermont, on January 17, 1814, the fourth child of William and Sybil (Arms) Goodnow. He attended the local schools and had aspirations of going to college, but was forced to go to work at age 14 when his father died. Although he spent the next four years working as a clerk in mercantile establishments he was able to complete his education by studying at night. In 1832, Goodnow moved to Coleraine, Vermont, where he became involved with the Methodist Episcopal Church. He also enrolled at Wilbraham Academy, near Springfield, Massachusetts. After completing his studies there, he became a professor in its primary and English departments. He married Ellen D. Denison in 1838. The couple had no children of their own, but raised his niece as a daughter. In 1848 he became a professor of natural sciences at Providence Seminary in East Greenwich, Rhode Island.

On March 13, 1855, Goodnow joined a group of New England Immigrant Aid Company settlers bound for Kansas. The party arrived at the site of what is now Manhattan, Kansasm twelve days later, only to find two other claimants already established. In the fall of 1854, George S. Park, of Parkville, Missouri, had located a town site on the Kansas River, on the southwestern part of the present site, and had named it Poliska. Also, on the northeastern part of the town site and upon the Big Blue River, in the same fall, Samuel Dexter Houston, of Illinois, S. W. Johnson, of Ohio, J. M. Russell, of Iowa, H. A. Wilcox, of Rhode Island, and E. M. Thurston, of Maine, had located the Town of Canton. The New Englanders were invited to join the earlier immigrants to help build the town. They accepted the invitation and the name of the town, Manhattan, was agreed upon, this being done to comply with a clause in the constitution of the Cincinnati and Kansas Land Company, which had also arrived.

In addition to being deeply involved in the Free State Movement, Goodnow also worked to build up and improve Manhattan. In 1857, he spent the summer in New England, where he raised $4,000 for the building of the first Methodist Church west of Lawrence, Kansas. He returned to New England in 1858, 1859, and 1860, each time to raise money for the establishment of a college in Manhattan. Bluemont College opened its doors in 1859, and eventually grew into Kansas State University.

Goodnow's service to Manhattan did not end with the opening of Bluemont College. Riley County elected him to the Kansas State Legislature in 1861, and he was elected State Superintendent of Public Instruction in 1862 and 1864. Bluemont College became the Kansas State Agricultural College in July 1863, and in 1867 Goodnow was selected agent for the disposal of 90,000 acres of the college's federal land grants; he held this position until 1873. He also spent seven years serving as land commissioner for the Missouri, Kansas and Texas Railroad.

Goodnow continued to liv in and work to improve Manhattan until his death, which came on March 20, 1894. The home in which he and his wife lived is now Goodnow House State Historic Site.

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This page was last updated on September 22, 2017.