Biography of John Charles Nicholson

John Charles Nicholson. To name John Charles Nicholson, of Newton, as one of the distinguished lawyers and citizens of Kansas is superfluous information for at least the present generation, since his services and position are too well known to require such introduction. Therefore the following paragraphs are confined to the simple and unvarnished statements regarding his individual career and those important achievements which he had been most influential in bringing about.

He was born on his father’s farm in Parke County, Indiana, January 2, 1862, the oldest of nine children born to David and Mary Catherine (Dickson) Nicholson. The industry and persistence which distinguish his life are doubtless an inheritance from his Scotch ancestors. His grandfather, John Nicholson, who married Catherine Bain, lived in Caithness Shire, Scotland, and there David Nicholson was born in 1835. In 1840 John Nicholson brought his wife and five little children from Scotland to Nova Scotia. Catherine Bain Nicholson died about a year later. The family then removed to Baltimore, Maryland, later to Morgan County, Indiana, and finally settled near Portland Mills, Indiana, which was the family home for thirty-seven years. On the sixth day of March, 1861, David Nicholson married Mary C. Dickson. The ceremony was performed by her father, Rev. James Dickson, who was pastor of the Portland Mills congregation of the Associate Presbyterian Church for more than a quarter of a century. He was famous as a preacher and also as a lecturer for the American Anti-Slavery Society. The mother of Mary C. Dickson was Isabella (Graham) Dickson, a native of Paisley, Scotland.

John Charles Nicholson completed the course of the common schools and then attended the high school at Martinsville, Indiana, and later took the teachers’ course in the Central Normal College at Danville, Indiana. The following two years were spent in teaching school in Parke County, and the next three years in similar work in Harvey County, Kansas.

In April, 1883, Mr. Nicholson located in Newton, Kansas, and this city had since been his home. On the first day of April, 1887, he entered the law office of Hon. Joseph W. Ady, who afterwards became United States district attorney for Kansas. On the 29th day of February, 1888, he was admitted to the Harvey County bar. On the same day he formed a law partnership with Mr. Ady under the firm name of Ady & Nicholson. That continued until July 1, 1890, when Hon. Samuel R. Peters retired from Congress and joined the firm, which for five years was Ady, Peters & Nicholson. The firm continued under the name Peters & Nicholson until March 15, 1905, when Mr. Nicholson was appointed state agent for Kansas at Washington, D. C., by Governor Hoch. That office he still holds.

Before his appointment as state agent for Kansas at Washington Mr. Nicholson was employed by Governor Baily of Kansas to prosecute before Congress and the departments at Washington the claims of the Spanish-American was veterans of Kansas for extra pay, and he recovered for the soldier boys over $26,000.

As state agent for Kansas at Washington Mr. Nicholson secured the passage of certain laws through Congress authorizing the presentation and allowance of certain claims of the State of Kansas by the departments at Washington, and thereupon filed the claims and in support thereof submitted the necessary evidence and vouchers for each and every item, and finally secured the necessary appropriation by Congress in payment therefor. The claims were more than forty years old and the records were so poorly kept, the funds so intermingled and commingled, and the vouchers in many cases lost and destroyed, that the task seemed hopeless and would have thwarted a less persistent and tenacious worker. As a result of his labors as state agent the auditor of the War Department on the 28th of March, 1908, allowed the State of Kansas for interest and discount on $49,052.09 of “war bonds” issued by the State of Kansas the sum of $97,466.02.

Under Act of Congress approved May 30, 1908, entitled “Payment to Kansas,” which was offered by Hon. W. A. Calderhead at the request of Mr. Nicholson, he filed a claim for the sum of $448,960.00, and, in support thereof, filed satisfactory evidence, whereupon, on the 19th day of January, 1909, the claim was allowed by the auditor of the War Department in the sum of $425,065.43. That amount was duly appropriated by Congress, and on the 22d of March, 1909, was received by the state treasurer of Kansas. It was the largest check, draft or warrant ever received by the state treasurer.

Before it was known in Kansas, and before it was known in Washington except to a very few persons, that the state had been allowed nearly a hundred thousand dollars, Mr. Nicholson invited the Kansas delegation in Congress and some personal friends to a dinner at Congress Hall on the very day the claim was allowed. He told them of its allowance and suggested that the best and most appropriate use that could be made of the money so recovered was to build a Memorial Hall at Topeka for the old soldiers and for the use of the State Historical Society. Afterwards, in the press and otherwise, he continued the agitation for a Memorial Hall. When the claim for over $425,000 had been allowed and before it was known except to but a few persons, he came to Topeka, after Memorial Hall bills had been adversely reported by the Ways and Means Committee, and prepared a Memorial Hall Bill, without the assistance of any member of the Legislature, appropriating $200,000 for a Memorial Hall. This bill passed both Houses almost unanimously. His idea and work resulted in the erection of a Memorial Hall at Topeka, Kansas, costing over a half million dollars and undoubtedly the finest building of its kind west of the Mississippi River.

For the State Agricultural College at Manhattan, Kansas, Mr. Nicholson secured the passage of a law, approved May 29, 1908, whereby the college was enriched by nearly 800,000 acres of public lands due it, under the act approved July 2, 1862, but repeatedly disallowed by the Secretary of the Interior.

So much for his larger services to the state. He had not been less loyal or energetic in behalf of his home city. In January, 1895, when Mr. Nicholson was elected president of the Newton Commercial Club, the City of Newton was going backward commercially. He at once organized a committee to secure the removal of the Atchison, Topeka & Santa Fe Railway Division and the terminal facilities from Nickerson to Newton. He took the chairmanship of the committee. Many months of hard work and the expenditure of much time, under many discouragements, finally resulted in the execution of a contract by and between the Atchison, Topeka & Santa Fe Railway Company, by Mr. E. P. Ripley, its president, and John C. Nicholson, president of the Newton Commercial Club, dated May 12, 1897, whereby Newton secured the removal of the shops and terminal facilities it had so long coveted.

In January, 1910, Mr. Nicholson helped to organize the new Santa Fe Trail, which extended from Newton to Pueblo, Colorado, and was the first trail organization in the United States. On the first day of June, 1911, he called together at Salina, Kansas, representative men from eight Kansas counties north and south across the state, and organized and named a new highway, the Meridian Road. He thereafter promoted the organization, as he then outlined it, from Winnipeg, Canada, to the Gulf of Mexico and to the Rio Grande River. He is president of the International Meridian Road Association, and gives much time and thought to the cause of good roads everywhere, but the Meridian Road is his favorite project. It is over 2,400 miles long, and is a high-gear road all the way, the longest, straightest and fastest and easiest road to travel in the world.

In 1893 he helped to organize the Midland National Bank of Newton, Kansas, and had been an officer in the bank ever since. For many years he had been an officer and largely interested in electric light, ice and oil companies, and is also engaged in livestock and intensified farming.

His father voted for John C. Fremont, and for every republican presidential candidate down to and including President Taft, and the son had ever been an active worker for the party and had been chairman and secretary of the Harvey County Republican Central Committee.

In 1913 he visited nine of the principal countries of Europe, and on his return he wrote and published “Some Impressions of Europe,” in which he prophesied, from what he saw and heard in Germany, the present European war. The next year he and his wife went abroad, not expecting hostilities to break out so soon, and were in Edinburgh, Scotland, when war was declared. They remained in Scotland, Ireland and England until October, returning on the Lusitania, having witnessed at close range a great nation at war. The Hesperian, on which they sailed going over, was, like the Lusitania, destroyed by a German torpedo.

Mr. Nicholson is a member of the Bar of the Supreme Court of the United States and of the Supreme Court of the State of Kansas.

He had a wife, one son and two daughters: Mary Morse, a student at the University of Kansas; Edith, who is in her fourteenth year; and John Hart, born April 17, 1917.



Connelley, William E. A Standard History of Kansas and Kansans. Chicago : Lewis, 1918. 5v. Biographies can be accessed from this page: Kansas and Kansans Biographies.

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