A County and A Governor: James M. Harvey

Roger Wilson served as director at HCHM until his retirement in June 2006.  During that time, he wrote several articles for the Newton Kansan and other publications on topics of interest to Harvey County.  Wilson passed away  April 5, 2007 in Topeka, Ks.

Roger Wilson

Roger Wilson

Originally published in the Newton Kansan, November 29, 2005

No, it wasn’t Paul or Fred. It was Jim. Or more properly James. The man for whom Harvey County was named was James Madison Harvey, fifth governor of Kansas.

The story of how the county came to be named after the Governor is interesting. Opposition to the creation of the new county developed in the Kansas State Senate in 1872. The act organizing the county had passed the House of Representatives without a dissenting vote. But in the Senate, the measure passed by only one vote. Opponents to the bill wanted to reconsider the vote but the Harvey County backers suggested they all go to lunch and take up the reconsideration afterward. The opponents went to lunch. The backers took the just-passed bill and went straight to the governor’s office to get him to sign it. They promised to name the county after him if he did. And he did!

Okay, that’s the interesting part of the story. But, just as interesting is the man.

James Madison Harvey was born in Monroe County Virginia on September 21, 1833, to Thomas and Margaret Harvey. The Harvey family moved to Indiana, then Iowa and then to Illinois. It was in the latter state that James received his education.  It was said that he was a superior student with a nearly photographic memory. He learned the profession of surveying. He married Charlotte Richardson Cutter of Adams County, Illinois in 1854 and the family moved to Riley County, Kansas. He practiced his surveying profession until the outbreak of the Civil War. He enlisted as a soldier in the Union army and ultimately was promoted to captain and commanded the Fourth and Tenth regiments of the Kansas Volunteer infantry. He mustered out of the service in 1864 and returned to Riley County and his farm and family.


Gov. James M. Harvey (1833-1894) Served as Kansas' 5th Governor Jan. 11, 1869 - Jan. 13, 1873

Gov. James M. Harvey (1833-1894) Served as Kansas’ 5th Governor Jan. 11, 1869 – Jan. 13, 1873

Harvey then entered politics, being elected from Riley County to the Kansas House of  Representatives in 1865 and reelected in 1866. He then was elected to the state senate in 1867 and served about half his term before running for governor. He won his first term as governor in 1860 and was reelected to that office in 1870. In those days, gubernatorial terms were two years.
Following his time at the statehouse, Harvey returned to his Riley County farm and his surveying practice. But, in 1874, Alexander Caldwell resigned from the U.S. Senate and the state legislature elected Harvey to fill out his unexpired term. Again in those days, U.S. Senators were elected by state legislatures. He did not seek election to a full term in the U.S. Senate but chose to return again to the farm. He then spent several years surveying for the government in New Mexico, Arizona, Nevada and Utah. In the early 1880s, Harvey developed Bright’s Disease, known today as nephritis, a kidney disease. As a result, the family moved back to Virginia in 1884 seeking a milder climate, but returned to Riley County in 1890. James Madison Harvey died of kidney failure on Sunday, April 15, 1894. He was 61 years old.

During his four years as governor. Kansas saw an increase in road construction, the formation of the state board of agriculture, the creation of the position of the state librarian, formation of several counties and cities, including Sedgwick, Newton, Halstead and Burrton. The Union Pacific Railroad completed its construction across Kansas to Denver and the Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe Railroad was nearing the final miles of is construction across the state. State historians agree; Harvey’s administration was one of great accomplishment.

For more on Gov. James M. Harvey visit:

  • http://www.kshs.org/p/james-madison-harvey-correspondence-speeches-and-papers-1834-1922/14033
  • http://bioguide.congress.gov/scripts/biodisplay.pl?index=H000307