The area prior to 1879 was nothing but buffalo, antelope, wild horses and bunch grass and was designated as “Indian Country.” The original Post Office, established in 1882, was near the geographical center of Thomas County. There was talk of a need for a town to provide the many newly arriving settlers with their lumber and provisions. The settlers homesteaded the land under very adverse conditions living in sod houses. It was decided that the best place to build the town was on railroad land which had slope enough for drainage and availability of water. This new location was three miles north of the original post office and was finally secured from the railroad in March of 1885.
In April of 1884 J. R. Colby secured a patent to establish the town. He was one of the oldest settlers in the county. By profession, he was a land assessor who later ran a boarding house and was a “sometimes” preacher. He was the father of 10 children. In April of 1885, the Colby Town Company received the Town Charter from the office of the Secretary of State. March 12, of 1885, the Thomas County Cat newspaper was published. Through many owners and publishers, it is today the Colby Free Press. The same year, Mike Donelan was recognized as the first Colby merchant when he established a general merchandise store at what is now 5th and Franklin.
Governor Martin declared the county organized with Colby as the temporary county seat in October of 1885. The census showed 1900 hearty folks. The county was named for Major General Thomas and five of the townships were named for Kansas soldiers killed under his command at Chickaumaugua during the Civil War. Colby was incorporated in 1886 and the first court house was built at 615. N Court where it still stands as a residence. The present courthouse, which is still in use, was built in 1906 and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
The Union Pacific Railroad Railroad came through in 1887 and the Rock Island in 1888. Transportation has played an important role in the development of Colby. The inter-state highway was not supposed to come through Colby, but some political pressures in the Senate changed those plans. I-70 was finished in 1965; today we can thank it for the traffic that supports the economic climate through hotels, restaurants and convenience/gas stores.
Although the hospitality industry is important to the local community, agri-business is king. Chief crops grown are wheat, corn, milo and sunflowers. Livestock production and dairy are also very important.
Throughout it’s history, Colby has been progressive and forward thinking. We can thank our ancestors and today’s community leaders for helping to shape Colby into “the Oasis on the Plains”.
Historical Information from: Colby Free Press; Centennial Edition, September 28, 1985
Thomas County Herald; Centennial Edition, October 9, 1985
Photos from: The archives of the Prairie Museum of Art & History