In 1856, the three Younkens brothers, Moses, William and Jerome, and John P. King were amongst the first permanent settlers of the area, followed shortly by J.B. Quimby and William Payne. Clay County, named for Henry Clay, a Kansas City statesmen and U.S. senator in 1806, as well as a candidate for president opposite Polk, established itself in 1857. The drought of 1860 halted emigration into the area until after the Civil War. Once the war had ended, the area began seeing a gradual growth, boasting of the first store and hotel in 1861, opened by Orville Huntress; the first mail route, established in 1862; the first schoolhouse built of logs in 1864; and the first newspaper, named the Clay County Independent, with the first issue running on August 20, 1871.
Today, Clay County, comprised of over 8,600 residents, takes pride in preserving its rich history through several historical sites. The county’s history is maintained at the Clifton Historical Museum, the Wakefield Museum in downtown Wakefield and the Clay County Historical Museum in Clay Center.