Tag: Towns

Top 10 Kansas Towns
The Sunflower State

Top 10 Kansas Towns

Top 10 Kansas Towns

Historic courthouse in Cottonwood Falls

Many Kansas towns have charm. However, a few stand out as delightful places to visit and explore.

Allow us to share 10 towns that we feel are must-sees.


10. McPherson

A larger town with a busy but inviting feel, named for Union General James McPherson of the Civil War. Enjoy the attractive architecture, particularly the stunning, castle-like county courthouse. Keep your eyes open for murals.


9. Lyons

For a quieter neighborhood, try this one. Impressive architecture, such as the courthouse and the middle school, is present here. The highlight, however, is the Davis Walking Trail on the east side of town. The trailhead is across the highway from the Celebration Centre.


8. Yoder

Amish country has a unique charm. When you’ve enjoyed the rural scenery a bit, stop at Carriage Crossing for a cinnamon roll or piece of pie. Or shop for food and gifts at Yoder Meats and Kansas Station near Kansas Highway 96.


7. Madison

Now for another truly small town! The historic Santa Fe Railroad depot on 3rd and Boone is an attractive building, well worth visiting and photographing. The most memorable part of Madison, though? Just spend a little bit of time driving through town, preferably from south to north. The hills are rather impressive.


6. Cottonwood Falls

If you like limestone, this is the town for you.  Start at the historic and beautiful bridge over the Cottonwood River. Then follow Broadway right up to the spectacular Chase County Courthouse. This 1873 structure is one of the 8 Wonders of Kansas Architecture.


5. Atchison

Top 10 Kansas Towns

International Forest of Friendship in Atchison

Atchison is an incredibly interesting town—we’re just scratching the surface in our recommendations. If you enjoy history, start your trip at the visitor center and county historical museum on 200 S. 10th. If you like architecture, you could probably spend a whole day perusing the streets. If you want to get out of the car and walk around, head southwest out of town to enjoy the scenery of the International Forest of Friendship. And, whatever your plans, drive over the Amelia Earhart Memorial Bridge on U.S. 59. The 1938 bridge is unfortunately no longer with us, as it was too narrow for modern traffic demands. Still, the new bridge provides a spectacular view of the Missouri River well worth seeing.


4. Concordia

This town has quite a bit to offer! Brownstone Hall and the Brown Grand Theatre are both worth seeing, as is the elaborate Nazareth Motherhouse. Outside of town is Camp Concordia, where German prisoners of war were kept during World War II. Joler Park at Peck and Crestview offers a chance to get out and walk on a shredded rubber path. On the quirky side, be sure to stop at the courthouse and contemplate the sight of a granite ball weighing just under a ton rotating slowly in a fountain.


3. Peabody

Step back in time with the bright, well-kept downtown of Peabody. The historic buildings enhance the small-town charm. Looking for a specific recommendation? Just drive through town on Walnut Street and enjoy the ride.


2. Scott City

Scott City has an open, spacious feel. Check out the stately county courthouse, then drive around to admire the town. Don’t miss the sculpture titled Cattleman’s Harvest outside Security State Bank.


1. Council Grove

Top 10 Kansas Towns

Madonna of the Trail in Council Grove

History, architecture, food, and scenic walkways—this town has it all! There is too much to pack into this brief paragraph, so keep your eyes open as you drive. Many of the historic landmarks of this Santa Fe Trail town are well marked. Must-sees include the beautiful downtown, the Kaw Mission, the Madonna of the Trail, and the gorgeous walkway along the Neosho River. When you’re done exploring, stop at the Trail Days Cafe and Museum for a fascinating combination of good food and over 150 years of local history. Little wonder that Council Grove is listed as one of the 8 Wonders of Kansas History.


Helpful Resources

Need help finding the murals in McPherson? Find addresses and summaries here.

Madison Atchison, Topeka & Santa Fe Railroad Depot
A substantial amount of information from the National Register of Historic Places registration form.

Welcome to Yoder, Kansas
Good place to start planning your trip.

Council Grove & Morris County
This brochure will guide you to 25 historic sites in and around Council Grove.

Kaw Mission
Find out what you’ll see when you visit this stop in Council Grove.

Trail Days Cafe and Museum
Learn more about the amazing and varied history of this landmark in Council Grove.

8 Utopian Experiments in Kansas
The Sunflower State

8 Utopian Experiments in Kansas

8 Utopian Experiments in KansasThe fresh, unsettled land of Kansas attracted many idealists in the early part of the state’s history.  Agricultural land was readily available, either for free under the Homestead Act or for a low price from railroad companies.

A surprising number of utopian colonies were established throughout Kansas history, representing a wide range of theories.  The following is a list of some of these experiments:

  1. Octagon City: Located near Humboldt.  A colony inhabited solely by vegetarians was promoted by Henry Clubb, founder of numerous utopian settlements based on an incredible variety of beliefs.  At the same time, Octagon City was designed to prove the advantages of octagonal house construction and city design, as well as the effectiveness of water as a cure for all health problems.  Octagon City received greater interest from investors, so the two projects were combined into one.  Members took an oath to live morally, educate their children, and abstain from liquor and tobacco.  Some also pledged to live as vegetarians.  Disease, flooding, poor management, Indian raids, and a water shortage ended the experiment.  Lasted from 1856 to 1857.
  2. Workingmen’s Co-operative Colony: Also called Llewellyn Castle.  Located in Nemaha County.  Based on the political theories of James Bronterre O’Brien, an Irish Chartist who advocated a militant but nonviolent approach to achieving greater democracy in government.  Immigrants from London owned the land and natural resources jointly, leased them for agricultural purposes, and pooled the lease money for education, health care, and public works.  An attack of grasshoppers and the availability of cheap land nearby ended the experiment.  Lasted from 1869 to 1874.
  3. Silkville: Located southwest of Williamsburg in Franklin County.  Founded by French socialist Ernest Valeton de Boissiere.  A cooperative colony intended to achieve self-sufficiency through silk farming.  Fell apart as colonists departed to seek better lives elsewhere.  Lasted from 1869 to 1886.
  4. Danish Socialist Colony: Located near Hays.  Founded by Danish socialist Louis Pio, convicted of treason and later bribed by the police to leave Denmark.  The colonists found the emptiness of western Kansas too oppressive.  Only survived a few months in 1877.
  5. Esperanza: Located near Urbana.  A communist colony founded by settlers from Missouri, poorly documented compared to many Kansas utopian projects.  Collapsed in 1879.
  6. Progressive Colony: Located near Cedar Vale.  A Russian communist colony known for its strange mixture of atheism and liberal Christianity.  Fell apart through the domineering and sometimes cruel manner of its founder, William Frey.  Lasted from 1871 to 1879.
  7. Freedom: Located in Bourbon County.  Founded under the auspices of the Labor Exchange, a system designed to eliminate poverty, particularly through the creation of a “soft” currency that could serve as legal tender.  The colony featured a warehouse where workers could exchange their goods for “labor checks,” redeemable for other items in the warehouse.  Lasted from 1897 to 1905.
  8. Utopia: Located in Greenwood County.  Despite its name, Utopia did not originally start as a utopian experiment, but as a shipping point for cattle.  The utopian phase of Utopia came after World War II, when economist Roger Babson theorized that the town was sheltered by a “Magic Circle,” an area unlikely to face nuclear attack.  Furthermore, Utopia was located in an area that could theoretically sustain itself through agriculture and oil production without outside assistance in the event of World War III.  Babson envisioned an underground college (later constructed above the ground in Eureka) and the relocation of the U.S. capital to Kansas.  Utopia still exists, but is in danger of becoming a ghost town.

Many settlers came to Kansas seeking a better life.  Most thought primarily in terms of the American dream—they would work hard and eventually reap the fruits of their labors.  A few had other ideas.

While utopian experiments were not as common in Kansas as they were farther east, these eight colonies represent an undercurrent of political thought that left its mark on the Great Plains.  Communism and extreme socialism did not become the norm throughout the region, but they influenced a brand of progressiveness that drove Kansas politics throughout the end of the 1800s and colored national politics at the turn of the century.

Historical Atlas of Kansas
The Sunflower State

Historical Atlas of Kansas

Historical Atlas of KansasIf you like maps and you love Kansas history, have we found the book for you! The Historical Atlas of Kansas by Homer E. Socolofsky and Huber Self contains over 70 maps presenting different aspects of life in Kansas, past and present.

Maps include:

  • Landforms.
  • Precipitation.
  • Native flora.
  • Spanish and French claims.
  • Early Indian tribes.
  • Forts and military roads.
  • Territorial locations and capitals.
  • Federal land offices.
  • Battle sites.
  • Railroad development.
  • Major cattle trails and cattle towns.
  • Group colonization.
  • Congressional districts.
  • Minerals.
  • Major highways and airline routes.
  • Irrigation.
  • Employment.
  • World War II installations.
  • National and state historic sites and museums.
  • Much, much more!

Each map is accompanied by interpretive text, which provides useful and interesting background. Some of the information is no longer current; for instance, Kansas has lost a congressional district since the second edition was published, but the state’s agriculture sales have nearly tripled in value. However, there is still much of value in this book.

Great for research and for the serious history buff—or for those who just love maps!

Silkville: A Utopian Experiment
The Sunflower State

Silkville: A Utopian Experiment

Silkville: A Utopian ExperimentMore than one utopian dreamer has chosen Kansas as the place to found his grand experiment. A list of state ghost towns would be full of communities founded on some form of idealism—Victoria, the Vegetarian Colony, Silkville….

Silkville? Yes. One of those little towns started out with silk farming as its principal industry.

This experiment began around 1869 along Old Highway 50, about 3 miles southwest of Williamsburg, Kansas. The founder, Ernest Valeton de Boissiere, was a Frenchman disenchanted with the politics of his native country. His outspokenly socialistic views had earned him the disfavor of French President Louis Napoleon, and he had sought refuge in America after receiving a hint from the government that it might be a good idea to “go abroad for his health.”

De Boissiere took the advice. He came to America sometime around 1852. A school and orphanage for black children in New Orleans was his first visionary project in his new country, but he met with more opposition than he cared for and began looking for someplace else to experiment with reforms. In his travels, he happened to visit Kansas and was favorably impressed by the climate. It reminded him enough of the silkworm-raising regions of France to convince him that this should be the site of his next venture—a utopian community founded on silk farming.

Accordingly, de Boissiere bought 3,500 acres in Franklin County in 1868. He planted about 70 acres with mulberry trees to feed the silkworms, and the rest served as pasture for dairy cattle. De Boissiere also began seeking French settlers for his colonies, people who were tired of the political turmoil in their home country. Over 40 settlers answered his summons and, on paying a deposit, were admitted to the community.

The colonists were to share equally in the labor and the profits of the silk farm. They would all be provided with room and board, provided they paid their rent two months in advance. They were to each seek the interests of the others and to treat one another as they expected to be treated themselves.

It sounded wonderfully simple, but after a while things seemed to go wrong. Although de Boissiere made interesting discoveries about silk production in Kansas (for instance, that silkworms can thrive on Osage orange leaves), he simply could not compete with cheaper silk from Asia. He fell back on his more successful cheese business to support the community, but that did not work either. For one thing, the girls of the community were in the habit of marrying local farmers and moving out, depriving him of valuable workers. Similarly, many of the men seemed to have a deeply rooted instinct to either find jobs with better wages or to take advantage of the Homestead Act to start their own farms. Either way it was difficult to maintain a stable population of dedicated colonists at Silkville.

Silkville: A Utopian Experiment

Map of Franklin County; Silkville was just to the southwest of Williamsburg, toward the bottom left corner.

De Boissiere knew his experiment was a failure, and in 1884 he returned to France. Silkville struggled on without him for a time, but it was no use. The colonists abandoned silk culture in 1886. They continued to raise livestock until 1892, when de Boissiere deeded the property to the Independent Order of Odd Fellows to be used as an orphanage. He died two years later.

Today there isn’t much to see of Silkville. Most of the buildings were destroyed in a fire in 1916. A sign reading “Silkville Ranch” and de Boissiere’s one-room schoolhouse for the children of the colony still stand by Old Highway 50. Also still in existence on the nearby ranch are some mulberry trees, two stone barns, and a house made of the remains of the colony living quarters.

The best-laid plans of mice and men….

Carneiro: The Sheep Town
The Sunflower State

Carneiro: The Sheep Town

Carneiro: The Sheep TownOne of the little dead towns of Kansas, just 12 miles east of Ellsworth, bears the name Carneiro (pronounced, “kahr-NAIR-oh”).  Interestingly, the name is Portuguese, not a very common language for place-names in this state, and it means, “sheep” or “mutton.”

Now if there is one type of livestock Kansas is typically associated with, it is undoubtedly cattle, not sheep.  Nevertheless, Carneiro reminds us of a forgotten piece of state history.

The name of the town came from the name of Edward Winslow Wellington’s 12,000-acre sheep ranch, Monte Carneiro.  It is uncertain why Wellington, who was born in Massachusetts and educated at Harvard to be a lawyer, chose to pursue sheep raising as his career.  But he was evidently enamored with Kansas, anyway.  After his arrival in the West in Denver in 1877, he spent some time wandering through various parts of the state with his sheep before settling on Monte Carneiro in Ellsworth County as his home.  His property soon became one of the largest ranches in central Kansas.

In 1882, Wellington decided to build a town, a shipping point for his sheep.  He and a few other ranchers in the area chose a townsite just a few miles south of Monte Carneiro, on the Union Pacific tracks.  Stockyards, a hotel, a school, and three general stores soon followed, as did a post office—named Carneiro.

Wellington’s animals were probably not the only sheep loaded onto the trains at Carneiro, however.  While much as been said and written about the range cattle industry and the great cattle drives, historians typically overlook similar stories regarding sheep.  Sheep grazed on the ranges of western Kansas (although Wellington’s ranch was one of the largest operations), and they were driven along trails to the railheads, as well.

Where did these sheep come from?  Mostly from states further west.  The first domesticated sheep in the American West arrived with the Spaniards centuries before.  The Spanish missionaries kept flocks of sheep, and it was from these that the Native American tribes of the Desert Southwest obtained their flocks.  More sheep were driven westward during the California Gold Rush to supply mutton for the hungry miners.

Carneiro: The Sheep Town

Early 1900s railroad map showing Carneiro (on the blue line, east of Ellsworth)

However, the sheep multiplied faster than people could eat them, and by the end of the Civil War, a flock of sheep could hardly be sold in the Western states—there were too many of them!  Adventurous entrepreneurs began to send their best shepherds back eastward to try to find a market for their flocks.

Driving sheep was difficult work.  The animals were skittish and hard to manage, and they were at constant risk from predators.  It took a patient, experienced shepherd to drive sheep to market.  Many of the shepherds on the great sheep trails were foreigners who had been handling sheep for generations: Basques, Mexicans, and Portuguese.

Many of the sheep went to establish range flocks in Wyoming, Montana, Texas, and the Dakotas.  Over 15 million went to the feedlots and railheads of Minnesota, Nebraska, and Kansas.  Some of the infamous cowtowns of Kansas were also shipping points for sheep, including Abilene, Wichita, and Dodge City.

And then there was Carneiro.  Of course, Monte Carneiro is long gone, as is the post office.  There are now fewer than a dozen people in the town.  The pastures are mostly stocked with cattle.  But the legend lives on.


Helpful Resource

View South Over Carneiro, Kansas
An aerial photo from the Kansas Geological Survey.

WaKeeney: Christmas City of the High Plains
The Sunflower State

WaKeeney: Christmas City of the High Plains

WaKeeney: Christmas City of the High PlainsWaKeeney, 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.

WaKeeney: Christmas City of the High PlainsThe 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.


Helpful Resource

Scroll down and click on “Christmas in WaKeeney” to see a slideshow of the decorations.  You may also want to read these interesting facts about WaKeeney’s festivities.

George Grant and the Victoria Colony
The Sunflower State

George Grant and the Victoria Colony

George Grant and the Victoria Colony

The majestic Cathedral of the Plains was completed by the later settlers of Victoria in 1911.

At the beginning of the 1870s, Scottish nobleman George Grant’s only idea was to retire to a country estate in England.  Nothing quite suited him, however, so he traveled to America in 1872, still searching.  The vast prairies of Kansas soon fascinated Grant.  Clearly the plains were ideal for livestock, and slowly his plans for retirement were absorbed into a new vision.

Grant bought nearly 70,000 acres from the Union Pacific Railroad and hurried back to England.  The prairies held promise; they were only waiting for someone to extract their potential.  Grant was bound and determined that it would be the young men of England.  They were going to introduce gentility to America.

In May of 1873, Grant was back with 38 colonists, several fine horses, some Southdown sheep, and what are believed to be the first Angus cattle in America.  The new colony was to be named Victoria.  The gentlemen farmers set to work at once building a church, a depot, a general store, a grain elevator, and about 25 houses.  Grant’s high hopes were infectious.

At least, they were at first.  A few of the colonists were married men who brought their wives and children to America undoubtedly with the intention to work and prosper.  Many, however, were well-to-do young gentlemen with absolutely no interest in agriculture.  Suddenly finding themselves with plenty of spending money and no parental supervision, they set to work at once fulfilling their own vision of what Victoria should be.  The next institutions of the colony were a hunt club, a cricket club, a race track, and a dance hall.

George Grant and the Victoria Colony

Grant’s sheep pen

But the most ridiculous enterprise was yet to follow.  The young gentry next dammed Big Creek, put together their allowances, and bought a steamboat.  The boat was floated west on the various rivers until it reached the plains, where it was hauled to Victoria by oxen.  Southdowns and Angus alike were forgotten amid the pleasures of boating on the new lake.

Not surprisingly, Grant’s grand colony didn’t last much longer after this.  Word got back to England of the spendthrifts’ doings, and many of the young men were disallowanced.  Those who might have had a remote interest in farming and ranching were further discouraged by fires, droughts, and winter storms, and by the time Grant died in 1878, most of the colonists were already on their way home.

However, Victoria’s story was not over.  By 1876, Germans were immigrating to the region.  Accustomed to farming and its accompanying hard work, they faced the challenges of the plains with much more success.  Their town of Herzog, located just north of the failing colony, grew and prospered.  Slowly it absorbed the British settlement, and by 1913 the two towns were combined into one—still named Victoria.