History of Paola


The first inhabitants of Paola were the Indians who established communities throughout the area. They were followed by the Spanish explorer, Francisco Vasquez de Coronado in 1541. The French Jesuit missionary explorers, Marquette and Joliet came in 1673. Next was the western expansion of the United States with settlers following the Santa Fe, the Oregon or the Mormon Trails.

Forced resettlement of the Confederate Indian Tribes: The Kaskaskia, Peoria, Wea and Piankishaw people came to the area between 1827 and 1832.

The displaced Indian tribes who settled in the Paola area called their home "Peoria Village." The Piankishaw and Wea Tribes were granted 250 sections of land within the boundaries of Miami County. The tribes formed the Confederated Allied Tribes led by Baptiste Peoria. Baptiste Peoria, of French and Indian ethnicity spoke six or seven Indian languages as well as English and French. Baptiste Peoria along with the Paola Town Company are recognized as being very influential in the founding and development of Paola.
Baptiste Peoria Memorial

Park Square

Paola is the county seat for Miami County. At first the county was named Lykins County after Dr. David Lykins, the first white settler and a member of the Territorial Council. Lykins came from Vigo County, Indiana in 1844. Lykins, a Baptist missionary, started an Indian school one mile east of Paola in 1848. He continued the school until the onset of the Civil War. Before Lykins, other missionaries worked in the area. They were Fr. De la Crox and Fr. Hoecken followed by Fr. Paul M. Ponziglione. Father Paul M. Ponziglione, an Italian Priest, move to the area in 1851, and he is given credit for naming Paola.

A consensus developed that he named Paola after a town on the western coast of Italy. The Peoria Indians who greatly respected the priest, continued to call the area Paola.

There was a large influx of settlers starting in 1854. The town plat for Paola was laid out early in 1855. On the 23rd day of August, 1855, the First Territorial Legislature passed an act incorporating the Paola Town company. Members of the Paola Town Company were Baptiste Peoria, Isaac Jacobs, A. M. Coffey, and Reverend David Lykin, teacher and founder of the Wea Baptist Mission in Paola.

The Paola Park Square was given to the Town Company by Baptiste Peoria as he went into forced exile with his tribe to Oklahoma. The Town Company gave the Square to the City with the provision that no building be built upon it.

Kansas was admitted to the Union in 1861. With admission the county was renamed Miami County. Part of the Civil War was played out here. William Quantrill was a guest of the local jail, charged with grand larceny in April 1861. After his infamous raid on Lawrence, Kansas, he came back by way of Paola to settle up for that earlier indignity. He bypassed the town when he heard of a force of Union soldiers waiting for him.

The first school was started in 1857 by Mrs. Cyrus Shaw. Also, a Kansas Normal School, a training school for teachers, was established in Paola. The Ursuline Sisters came next. They arrived from Louisville, Kentucky in 1895 to set up a boarding school for Indians. In 1924, the nuns added a junior college that was closed in 1958. 

The first oil well west of the Mississippi River was discovered north of the Lykins Mission site in 1888. A small refinery was built to handle the oil in the early 1890's. The railroads changed Paola's way of life. The Kansas City-Fort Scott and Gulf Railroad began in 1870. It ran north and south connecting Hillsdale, Paola and Fontana with Kansas City, Fort Scott and points beyond.

Today, Paola is a vibrant, growing community of nearly 5,500 residents. Our town is filled with the charm and character of our storied past and it offers all of the conveniences of today’s world. Here in Paola, we have a proven past and a promising future.

Thank you to the Paola Chamber of Commerce for providing this article.