On July 4, 1804, Lewis and Clark, exploring the new Louisiana Purchase, camped near this site. Fifty years later the town was founded by Pro-slavery men and named for Sen. D. R. Atchison. The Squatter Sovereign, Atchison’s first newspaper, was an early advocate of violence against abolition. It was here that Pardee Butler, a Free- State preacher, was set adrift on a river raft and on his return was tarred and feathered. It was also here that Abraham Lincoln in 1859 “auditioned” his famous Cooper Union address ~ unmentioned by local newspapers. During the heyday of river steamboating in the 1850’s Atchison became an outfitting depot for emigrant and freighting trains to Utah and the Pacific Coast, a supply base for the Pike’s Peak gold rush, and in the early 1850’s a starting point for the Pony Express and the Overland Stage lines. In this pioneer center of transportation the Santa Fe railway was organized in 1860, modestly named the Atchison & Topeka.
The Lewis & Clark Pavilion in Riverfront Park was constructed in preparation for the Lewis and Clark bicentennial commemoration on July 3-4, 2004. The pavilion, built by the Kansas Lewis & Clark Bicentennial Commission, has interpretive panels with information on the Lewis & Clark expedition, the Missouri River and the Kanza Nation.