Downtown Olathe History

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In the Beginning


Santa Fe Depot, 1900

Olathe was founded in 1857, before Kansas became a state in 1868.

One of the oldest communities in Johnson County and in the state of Kansas, Olathe 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 traveling through Olathe on the way to gold fields and farming settlements in the far west.

The 1800s

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


Downtown Olathe, 1910

Looking east down Park St.

The 1900s

The Strang Trolley Line opened to connect Olathe to downtown Kansas City in 1907.
This was the first gas-electric trolley car and one of the most profitable of the inter-urban railroads in the country. 
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.
In 1967, Olathe saw the advent of urban renewal.

  • Although urban renewal had good intentions, it was not leveraged to maximize private development, and emphasized 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 parts of some older neighborhoods.

In 1973, plans for the construction of a new city hall and demolition of the existing building were completed.

In 1978, plans were approved for the new library and post office.


In 1996, the Original Town Enhancement Plan was completed.  The plan directed the revitalization of the Original Town area and laid the foundation for neighborhood planning in the Olathe.

The Westview Neighborhood Action Plan and Central Core Neighborhood Plan were the first neighborhood plans developed in the older areas.

In 1998, Planning efforts turned to downtown when the City hired a consulting firm to complete a Central Business District Parking Study.

The Envision Olathe Downtown Plan was completed in 2002 to provide strategies for the revitalization of downtown Olathe.

Additional Resources