WaKeeney, Kansas, did not start out as the “Christmas City of the High Plains.” Its founders, Albert Warren and James Keeney, called it the “Queen City of the Great Plains.” It was located conveniently along the Kansas Pacific railway, nearly halfway between Kansas City and Denver, and (if Warren and Keeney are to be believed) boasted “the most fertile agricultural land in the world.”
The settlers who arrived in 1879, one year after the town was surveyed, might have felt otherwise. Severe drought prevented WaKeeney from thriving until the Volga Germans began to arrive near the close of the century.
Today WaKeeney is best known for its stunning annual display of Christmas festivity. Since 1950, residents have gathered on the first Saturday after Thanksgiving at Main Street (5th Street on the map below) and Russell Avenue to light the tree. And it’s quite a tree, too. It’s 35 feet tall and made of fresh greenery decorated with red and green lights. Four shining stars top the display.
The tree is not the only Christmas attraction in town, though. All of WaKeeney joins in the splurge of lights and greenery, but the four blocks surrounding the Christmas tree are particularly spectacular. Bells, wreaths, bows—you name it, WaKeeney has it. The result is the largest display of Christmas lights between Kansas City and Denver.
Even when it’s not Christmas, WaKeeney obviously retains the spirit of the season, with signs proclaiming its “Christmas City” status and a festively decorated nook on Main Street known as the North Pole. It may seem unusual to some to think of Santas and snowmen on a blistering July day, but a year-round North Pole is part of the charm of WaKeeney.