El Dorado, Kansas

A Brief History

In 1871, settlers in south-central Kansas came to a verdant bend in the Walnut River and decided they had found their "El Dorado" and proclaimed a new town with that name. In retrospect, it is kind of silly. There were no streets, let alone gold ones. While there was oil - black gold - deep under the future metropolis, it would not be discovered until 1915. Apparently, there was a small war fought with the residents of Augusta back in the 1870s over which town would be the county seat of Butler County. While accounts are sketchy, the fact that El Dorado remains the county seat today suggests they prevailed in that battle. Butler is the largest county in area among the 105 counties of Kansas. As such, I suppose that made it somewhat prestigious in the 1870s to be the county seat. In all honesty, the fact that El Dorado is dead center in the middle of the county probably adds more to their fitness to be the county seat. It is also the largest town in the county. When I was born in 1957, the population was roughly 12,000 people. By then there were two oil refineries adding to the local commerce and industry. One sits south of town. It is the larger of the two refineries and was built by the Skelly Oil Company. The one north of town was built by the El Dorado Refining Company which was known as Elreco. Given El Dorado's pervasive petroleum stench, the name "El Reeko" is amazingly apt for either of the refineries. However, Elreco was eventually bought out by American Petrofina which was the Fina Oil Company. By the seventies, the refinery had changed hands again to the Pester Oil Company of Des Moines, Iowa. Today, the northern refinery is gone. Few traces remain of the plant that was there. The refinery to the south is owned by HollyFrontier oil.

The town saw some decline in the 1970s and by 1980, the population was down to around 10,000 but it has bounced back to more than 13,000 in 2010.

El Dorado has seen some exposure in the media in the past Century. The movie "The Gypsy Moths" was filmed there when I was young. Some of my friends and relatives managed to be extras in some of the scenes shot at a local airstrip as the movie was about a band of entertaining sky-divers. President Barack Obama's maternal grandparents are residents of El Dorado. The former El Dorado Theater where I used to attend movies with my friends is now the Hot Rod Cafe and was featured in an episode of American Pickers.

One of the key historical events of the town is the 1958 tornado that destroyed much of the town, but that is a page in and of itself.

So that's El Dorado - you can say all you need to say about it in a very short page.