Manhattan is located in Pottawatomie and Riley counties at the junction of the Big Blue and Kansas rivers. The city is the county seat of Riley County with a population of 51,707, making it the eighth-largest city in Kansas.
Nicknamed The Little Apple in 1977 as a play on New York City's "Big Apple," it is best known as home of Kansas State University and has a distinct college town feel. In 2007, CNN and Money magazine rated Manhattan as one of the ten best places in America to retire young, but the city's beginnings were a little rough. The Kansas-Nebraska Act opened the territory to settlement in 1854. That fall, George S. Park founded the first Euro-American settlement within the borders of the current Manhattan, and named it Polistra.
Later that same year, Samuel D. Houston and four other pioneers founded a neighboring community near the mouth of the Big Blue River that they named Canton. Neither Canton nor Polistra ever grew to include anyone beyond their original founders.
In March 1855, a group of New England Free-Staters traveled to Kansas Territory under the auspices of the New England Emigrant Aid Company to found a Free-State town. Led by Isaac Goodnow, the first members of the group selected the location of the Polistra and Canton claims for the Aid Company's new settlement. Soon after the New Englanders arrived at the site, in April 1855, they agreed to join together with Canton and Polistra to make one settlement named Boston.
In June 1855, the steamboat Hartford, carrying 75 settlers from Ohio, ran aground in the Kansas River near the settlement. The Ohio settlers, who were members of the Cincinnati-Manhattan Company, had been headed to what today is Junction City. After realizing they were stranded, the Hartford passengers accepted an invitation to join the new town, but insisted that it be renamed Manhattan, which was done on June 29, 1855.
The young city received an early boost when gold was discovered in the Rocky Mountains in 1859 and Fifty-Niners began to stream through Manhattan on their way to prospect in the mountains. Manhattan was one of the last significant settlements on the route west, and the village's merchants did a brisk business selling supplies to miners.
At the same time, Manhattan was fast becoming a center of education. In 1858, the Territorial Legislature chartered the private Methodist Bluemont Central College in Manhattan. In 1861, when the State of Kansas entered the Union, Isaac Goodnow, who had been a teacher in Rhode Island, began lobbying the legislature to establish a university in Manhattan. On February 16, 1863, the Kansas legislature established Kansas State Agricultural College, now Kansas State University, in Manhattan.
Manhattan is located just north of the Konza Prairie, a tallgrass prairie preserve jointly owned by The Nature Conservancy and Kansas State University.
Tuttle Creek Reservoir, located 5 miles north of Manhattan, was formed when the Big Blue River was dammed for flood control in the 1960s. It is now a state park that offers many recreational opportunities.