For many millennia, the Great Plains of North America was inhabited by nomadic Native Americans. From the 16th century to 18th century, the Kingdom of France claimed ownership of large parts of North America. In 1762, after the French and Indian War, France secretly ceded New France to Spain, per the Treaty of Fontainebleau.
In 1802, Spain returned most of the land to France, but keeping title to about 7,500 square miles. In 1803, most of the land for modern day Kansas was acquired by the United States from France as part of the 828,000 square mile Louisiana Purchase for 2.83 cents per acre.
In 1854, the Kansas Territory was organized, then in 1861 Kansas became the 34th U.S. state. In 1857, Clay County was established.
When the first counties were created by the Kansas legislature in 1855, the territory within the present limits of the county was attached to Riley County for all revenue and judicial purposes. Subsequently, Clay was attached to Geary County. In 1857, Clay was created and named in honor of the famous American statesman Henry Clay, a member of the United States Senate from Kentucky and United States Secretary of State in the 19th century.
In 1887, the Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe Railway built a branch line from Neva (3 miles west of Strong City) to Superior, Nebraska. This branch line connected Strong City, Neva, Rockland, Diamond Springs, Burdick, Lost Springs, Jacobs, Hope, Navarre, Enterprise, Abilene, Talmage, Manchester, Longford, Oak Hill, Miltonvale, Aurora, Huscher, Concordia, Kackley, Courtland, Webber, Superior. At some point, the line from Neva to Lost Springs was pulled but the right of way has not been abandoned. This branch line was originally called "Strong City and Superior line" but later the name was shortened to the "Strong City line". In 1996, the Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe Railway merged with Burlington Northern Railroad and renamed to the current BNSF Railway. Most locals still refer to this railroad as the "Santa Fe".
In 2010, the Keystone-Cushing Pipeline (Phase II) was constructed north to south through Clay County, with much controversy over tax exemption and environmental concerns (if a leak ever occurs). A pumping station named Riley was built along the pipeline.
According to the U.S. Census Bureau, the county has a total area of 656 square miles (1,700 km2), of which 645 square miles (1,670 km2) is land and 10 square miles (26 km2) (1.6%) is water.Washington County (north)
Riley County (east)
Geary County (southeast)
Dickinson County (south)
Ottawa County (southwest)
Cloud County (west)
Sources: National Atlas, U.S. Census BureauU.S. Route 24
Kansas Highway 15
Kansas Highway 82
As of the U.S. Census in 2000, there were 8,822 people, 3,617 households, and 2,517 families residing in the county. The population density was 14 people per square mile (5/km²). There were 4,084 housing units at an average density of 6 per square mile (2/km²). The racial makeup of the county was 97.72% White, 0.57% Black or African American, 0.41% Native American, 0.15% Asian, 0.26% from other races, and 0.90% from two or more races. Hispanic or Latino of any race were 0.83% of the population.
There were 3,617 households out of which 30.50% had children under the age of 18 living with them, 59.90% were married couples living together, 6.10% had a female householder with no husband present, and 30.40% were non-families. 27.70% of all households were made up of individuals and 15.40% had someone living alone who was 65 years of age or older. The average household size was 2.39 and the average family size was 2.91.
In the county, the population was spread out with 24.90% under the age of 18, 6.70% from 18 to 24, 23.90% from 25 to 44, 23.70% from 45 to 64, and 20.80% who were 65 years of age or older. The median age was 41 years. For every 100 females there were 99.10 males. For every 100 females age 18 and over, there were 95.60 males.
The median income for a household in the county was $33,965, and the median income for a family was $41,103. Males had a median income of $28,817 versus $17,760 for females. The per capita income for the county was $17,939. About 6.80% of families and 10.10% of the population were below the poverty line, including 14.60% of those under age 18 and 8.60% of those age 65 or over.
Although the Kansas Constitution was amended in 1986 to allow the sale of alcoholic liquor by the individual drink with the approval of voters, Clay County has remained a prohibition, or "dry", county.Clay County USD 379, located in Clay Center
Clay County is divided into eighteen townships. The city of Clay Center is considered governmentally independent and is excluded from the census figures for the townships. In the following table, the population center is the largest city (or cities) included in that township's population total, if it is of a significant size.See List of people from Clay County, Kansas
Two former Kansas Governors resided in Clay County. George Docking was the 35th Governor, serving from January 14, 1957 until January 9, 1961. William H. Avery was the 37th Governor, from January 11, 1965 until January 9, 1967.