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Although some may think of its name as a political statement, Liberal really got its name from a spirit of hospitality and generosity. In the 1880s, water was a rare commodity in southwest Kansas. Travelers and ranchers needed a place to rest their livestock and quench their thirst as they headed west. Available water was often very expensive.
S.S. Rogers homesteaded this area, digging a well for his own use. Visitors were always granted permission to use the well and always offered to pay for the privilege. “Water is always free here,” was Rogers’ reply.
Visitor’s reply of, “that’s mighty Liberal of you,” helped the area become known as “the Liberal well” and travelers were encouraged to stop. Just a few miles off the southern Santa Fe Trail route, Liberal became an important stop in the history of the westward migration. Rogers later added a goods store and some people decided to stay and farm this area. In 1886, he put a post office in his store and in 1888, the small community known as Liberal, KS was incorporated.
Not long after, the railroad headed west and created a depot, bringing permanent commerce to the area. The two Rock Island Depot buildings, both fully restored, can still be enjoyed. The Greer Eating House, which was the restaurant and motel in the past, houses a restaurant and the VA Medical Clinic. The main depot building houses the Liberal Chamber of Commerce and includes an area dedicated to railroad memorabilia.
Another piece of railroad history, 13 miles northeast of Liberal, is the Mighty Samson of the Cimarron, a 1,269 foot railroad bridge built in 1939 and considered an engineering marvel of its day.
During World War II, Liberal was used as a training site for the U.S. Army Corps pilots. Planes would stop and refuel in Liberal in transit between the Pacific and Atlantic campaigns.