O'Brien is at the junction of State Highway 6 and Farm Road 2229, on the Santa Fe Railroad in northwest Haskell County. It was established in 1906 with the construction of the Kansas City, Mexico and Orient Railway and was named for railroad superintendent Nick O'Brien. An earlier community near the site had been called Carney, after founder Tom Carney. The population of O'Brien was 350 in 1915 and 800 in 1940, when the town had eight businesses. In 1953 a tornado caused major loss of life and property damage. Rebuilding followed, and the town was incorporated in 1958. By the mid-1960s cotton, seed, grain, and oil provided prosperity enough for construction of a new city hall, a fire station, a sewer system, and a school, although the population of 287 in 1960 was a sharp drop from the 1940 peak. The decline can be attributed to proximity to Rochester and Knox City, with their greater commercial and cultural offerings. The population of O'Brien was 258 in 1970 and 212 in 1980. In 1990 it was 152. The population was 132 in 2000.
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