This history of Cunningham begins with a history of Ninnescah. The Ninnescah Post Office opened August 20, 1885. The earliest existing copy of the Ninnescah Herald is dated August 12, 1886, being Volume 1, Number 20. This would place Volume 1, Number 1 at April 1, 1886, assuming that the paper was a weekly as it has been since. The editors and publishers of the Ninnescah Herald were C.L. Severy and J. Geo. Smith. These two names figure prominently in the history of both Ninnescah and Cunningham.
Communities developed for a number of reasons. Some started with one family, joined by friends or relatives. Many grew around a church. A trading post, fort, or a way station gave birth to others. In western Kansas, many towns were started by capitalists hoping to turn a profit. An evening spent with one of Fitzgerald’s Ghost Town’s of Kansas books verifies that fortunes were made and lost in the business of town-building.
In the 1870’s and 1880’s, the arrival of a railroad often determined which towns survived and which faded into history. While more research is needed, the relationship of C.L. Severy and J. Geo. Smith and their involvement in the development of Ninnescah, Kansas can be gleaned from the early newspapers and books available. C.L. Severy was the son of Luther Severy, an Emporia cattleman with vast holdings in land who was also a director of the Atchison, Topeka, and Santa Fe railroad. He invested in several town companies, including one named for him in Greenwood County. C.L. Severy was the secretary of the Ninnescah Town Company, a real estate agent and loan agent, and owner of the first hotel in Ninnescah. J. Geo.Smith was Severy’s partner in the Ninnescah Herald. He was also involved in real estate and loans. It appears that the two were partners in several ventures centering on promoting the town of Ninnescah.
On September 2, 1886, the partners sold the Herald to W. M. Bacheller, who published the paper until October 28, 1886, when J. Geo. Smith reappears as editor and publisher. During this time, Mr. Severy returned to Emporia and Mr. Smith became partners with T.N. Price in the “land, loan, and insurance company of Price, Smith & Co.” Mr. Price was also a farmer, implement dealer, and owner of a hardware store in Ninnescah.
Photo by Elmo Huffman. Courtesy of the Cunningham Museum Collection