Gove County was created by the legislature in 1868 but was governed by Trego County until 1886 when it was organized and elected its own officials.
Gove County was named in honor of Grenville Lewellyn Gove, a Captain in the Eleventh Kansas Cavalry. The son of Moses Johnson Gove, at one time the Mayor of Manhattan, he was born in 1840 at Readfield, Maine.
Gove City is the county seat of Gove County and is the smallest county seat in the State of Kansas with a population of 99.
Gove County is thirty miles north and south and thirty-six miles east and west for a total of 1080 square miles. The creation of the county brought about the survey of the land. The government began the survey of Gove County in August 1868. It was first laid out in townships six miles square but for some reason, perhaps Indian troubles, the subdivision into sections and parts of sections was not made until 1869.
The survey noted the location of any marked trails, especially the Smoky Hill Trail and also the railroad that was built just prior to the survey being done. The survey was not entirely accurate, especially in marking the location of the watercourses; also, some section lines were not straight and cornerstones were often several rods out of line.
The first settler of record in Gove County was George Von Dehsen, who came to the county from Colorado with a party of buffalo hunters in 1871 and stayed on at Grinnell. He was a pumper on the railroad for a time but evidently had a claim and lived on the Hackberry Creek south of Grinnell. He was killed by a stroke of lightening in 1913. The second settler was Charles Johnson in Grainfield Township, who came to the county as a section hand for the railroad in 1874.
The original courthouse, a 32 ft by 36 ft stone structure still in use, was erected in 1885 for a hotel called the Benson House. The owners declared they would give the building to the county if Gove City was named the county seat. However, they reneged slightly on this offer as the county had to pay $1,000.00 for the building. The courthouse has been added onto twice, and in 1974 the entire exterior was brick veneered. This building now houses the court system, and the other offices were moved to a school building that was constructed in 1960.
Gove County is primarily agricultural with five small towns. Quinter, Park, Grainfield, Grinnell, and Gove City. The total population of the county is 3,162.
Interesting natural sights in the county include Castle Rock in the southeast part of the county and Hell’s Bar and Pyramids in the southwest part.
Charles A. Sternberg, a noted fossil hunter, made his first trip to the county as a very young man in 1876. Gove County was one of his regular hunting grounds. He was the father of George Sternberg, a more recent fossil hunter. Charles said in his book The Life of a Fossil Hunter:
What vivid memories I have of that first expedition – memories of countless hardships and splendid results. I explored all the exposures of chalk from the mouth of Hackberry Creek in the eastern part of Gove County to Fort Wallace on the south fork of the Smoky Hill, a distance of a hundred miles, as well as the region along the north and south forks of the Solomon River […] We made our own wagon trails, two of which were afterwards used by the settlers until the section lines were constructed.
~Cristy Tuttle, Gove County Register of Deeds
To find out more about homesteading in Gove County, click on this link from Fort Hays State.