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Norton County, Kansas

Norton County, Kansas was organized fraudulently and experienced a county seat “war” for years, before Norton was made the permanent county seat. The automobile industry was important to the city of Norton, with the establishment of the Pike’s Peak Ocean to Ocean Highway, also known as U.S. Highway 36.

Norton County, Kansas, established in 1867, is named after Orloff Norton, who died in while serving in the Civil War. John C. Fremont traveled through what would become Norton County on one of his expeditions in the 1840s. He was the one to name the county’s Prairie Dog Creek.

Norton County was organized on August 22, 1872.The county’s organization was premature and initiated by N.H. Billings, county attorney, superintendent of schools, and state representative, who exaggerated the population statistics. The legislature briefly changed the county name to Billings, either as a joke or to satisfy their colleague. On February 16, 1874, the legislature returned the county name to Norton; Billings eventually left the county. The town of Norton became the county seat in 1878.

Many Indian tribes encountered Norton County, most notably Pawnee, Sioux, and the Omaha tribes. While settlers encountered them, the tribes were much more interested in fighting other tribes than the settlers.

In the latter part of the 1870’s and into the 1880’s the county saw immigration, and the entrance of railroads. By 1888, the county seat of Norton had two railroads going through the town. Norton would soon become a prosperous city with numerous organizations, such as a post of the Grand Army of the Republic, businesses, and social activities for residents to enjoy. In the 1890’s the Panic of 1893 caused struggles for the nation and the town’s development has been described as “limited.” As the 1890’s turned in the 20th Century, the city’s population increased quite nicely from around 1900-1930. In 1898, phone service came to Norton. 

The automobile industry was becoming important by the 1910’s and soon the Pike’s Peak Ocean to Ocean Highway, also known as U.S. Highway 36, ran not only through the county but through the city of Norton. Later, in the 1950’s, to promote tourism and improvements The Highway 36 Association started the Miss Perfect 36. The winner of the title would travel the duration of the highway and make important appearances. The first winner was Pat McKinley of Norton, Kansas.

During the Great Depression of the 1930’s many projects and other improvements were done in the county by the programs such as Kansas Emergency Relief Committee. While progress in the city of Norton was accomplished at a “restricted pace,” after the war progress picked up with not only the remodeling of commercial buildings but the building of new ones. A national Corn Husking Contest was held in 1920, at the F.W. Palmer corn field north of Norton. The contest attracted 30,000 people including NBC radio and Paramount an Fox movie companies for newsreel coverage of the event.

By 1955, many rural residents had the pleasure of electricity, as the Norton Decatur Electric Co-op had brought electricity to around 90% of the farmers.

Norton County possesses properties on the National and State Registers of Historic places, such as the Norton Downtown Historic District.

Interesting figures with connections to the county include Noah Billings who in addiction to bring the fraudulent organizer, was county superintendent of schools, county attorney and state representative. Ida Walker was a state representative and served in the 1920’s. Keith Sebelius served as a Congressman from the county. He was the father-in-law of previous Governor Kathleen Sebelius, and his son served as First Gentleman of Kansas.

Quick Facts

Date Established: February 26, 1867
Date Organized: August 22, 1872
County Seat: Norton
Kansas Region: Northwest
Physiographic Region: High Plains and Smoky Hills
Courthouse: April 30, 1929


1840 - John C. Fremont travels through the future Norton County on one of his expeditions
1867 - Norton County is established.
1872 - Norton County is organized.
1873 - 1874 - Name of the county changes to Billings for one year, before being restored to the name of Norton.
1878 - County seat wars, which have been going on since the organization of the county are settled with Norton becoming the county seat.
1870 -1880 - Towards the latter part of the 1870’s and into the early 1880’s, immigration picks up, and two railroads enter the county seat of Norton by the end of the decade
1910 - Automobile industry becomes important. The establishment of the Pike’s Peak Ocean to Ocean Highway (U.S. 36), is established and runs through Norton.
1955 - Around 90 percent of farms have electricity in the county. 

More on Norton County


Entry: Norton County, Kansas

Author: Kansas Historical Society

Author information: The Kansas Historical Society is a state agency charged with actively safeguarding and sharing the state's history.

Date Created: February 2010

Date Modified: August 2023

The author of this article is solely responsible for its content.