Tag Archives: Kansas

Nicodemus National Historic Site

Overview

In northwestern Kansas, a small farming community joined the prestigious ranks of National Park Service (NPS) sites in 1996.  Historically-significant Nicodemus, Kansas was founded in 1877 by former slaves from Kentucky freed during the Civil War.  Between 1860 and 1880, the population of African-Americans in Kansas jumped from 627 to 43,107, so the town is representative of a historic period of diaspora, settlement, and reconstruction. 

Highlights

Township Hall, St. Francis Hotel, Old First Baptist Church

Must-Do Activity

Start your tour at the NPS visitor center in Township Hall built by the Works Progress Administration in 1939 (it is not open every day so check online first).  Please respect private property as you drive past two churches, a circa-1880 hotel, and an old schoolhouse (which are all closed to the public) that have interpretive signs along the street out front.  Every summer around the last weekend in July, the small town grows as descendants of its founders return for the Emancipation Celebration.  This event is open to the public and would be a great time to visit.

Best Trail

None

Instagram-worthy Photo

The First Baptist Church was completed in 1907, constructed around a smaller church (sort of like a turducken).  When it was completed, the original structure was removed in small pieces through the front door.

Peak Season

Summer

Hours

https://www.nps.gov/nico/planyourvisit/hours.htm

Fees

None

Road Conditions

All roads paved

Camping

Weber State Park is located 10 miles east of Nicodemus, Kansas.

Related Sites

Homestead National Monument of America (Nebraska)

Fort Larned National Historic Site (Kansas)

Brown v. Board of Education National Historic Site (Kansas)

Explore More – For whom was the town of Nicodemus named?

Fort Scott National Historic Site

Overview

Near the border of Kansas and Missouri sits Fort Scott, which like Fort Smith (to the south) was an important frontier military post during the Mexican-American War and skirmishes with Plains Indians.  Several buildings were sold off in 1853, two becoming hotels that catered to pro-slavery and anti-slavery clients when this region was dubbed “Bleeding Kansas.”  During the Civil War, the town became a strategic location utilized to quell uprisings and maintain supply lines.  Abandoned by the military after the war, soldiers returned when settlers opposed railroad construction in the 1870s.  This 17-acre historic site was authorized in 1965 but not established as a part of the National Park Service (NPS) system until 1979.

Highlights

Museum, film, Officers’ Quarters, restored tallgrass prairie

Must-Do Activity

The NPS visitor center is located in the old hospital at Fort Scott National Historic Site.  There are 11 original structures here and you can walk through the well-maintained Officers’ Quarters, bake house, and carriage house.  Posted here 1842-1853 were flamboyantly-uniformed dragoons, who were elite fighters on foot or horseback.  Dragoons knew they were only as effective as their horses, so they took good care of them.  In fact, the horse stables remain the largest building at Fort Scott on the edge of the beautifully-landscaped parade ground.

Best Trail

The site may be small and surrounded by roads and development, but it does maintain five acres of restored tallgrass prairie (utilizing controlled burning) with a short nature trail.

Instagram-worthy Photo

The site is especially pretty in November, when the maple leaves turn red and orange in sharp contrast to the white buildings.

Peak Season

Summer

Hours

https://www.nps.gov/fosc/planyourvisit/hours.htm

Fees

None

Road Conditions

All roads paved

Camping

There is a city-operated campground about two miles from the fort, as well as several state parks in the region.

Related Sites

Fort Smith National Historic Site (Arkansas-Oklahoma)

Fort Larned National Historic Site (Kansas)

Tallgrass Prairie National Preserve (Kansas)

Explore More – What are the three architectural styles reflected in the buildings are Fort Scott?

Tallgrass Prairie National Preserve

Overview

The tallgrass prairie formerly covered 170-million acres of North America, but today only 4% of that exists in a few isolated pockets due to conversion to agriculture.  The Flint Hills of eastern Kansas were too rocky for tilling, so this was an ideal place to create Tallgrass Prairie National Preserve in 1996.  Occasionally, land managers utilize fire to support fire-adapted native grasses against invasive species. Before our visit in November 2014, large areas were burned.  The bison that live here enjoy eating the fresh green grass that sprouts following a fire and wildflowers thrive with the release of available soil nutrients.

Echo at Tallgrass Prairie

Highlights

Spring Hill Ranch, Lower Fox Creek School, bison herd

Must-Do Activity

After reading the interpretive panels at the visitor center, walk around the buildings next door at the historic Spring Hill Ranch.  The 1881 ranch house is open for tours seasonally.

Best Trail

There are many trails that wander through the 10,894-acre preserve that is jointly run by the Nature Conservancy and National Park Service.  Many loop options are possible, but no backpacking is allowed, possibly due to the bison herd.

Instagram-worthy Photo

Just down the road from Spring Hill Ranch is the one-room Lower Fox Creek School which was open from 1884 to 1930.  Its walls are made of local limestone.

Peak Season

Summer

Hours

https://www.nps.gov/tapr/planyourvisit/hours.htm

Fees

None

Road Conditions

All roads paved

Camping

Chase State Fishing Lake has 10 primitive campsites two miles outside Cottonwood Falls, Kansas.  Several U.S. Army Corps of Engineers campgrounds surround Council Grove Lake, which is located 20 miles north.

Explore More – At first the grasslands may all look the same, but how many species of plants are found within Tallgrass Prairie National Preserve?

Brown v. Board of Education National Historic Site

Overview

The only National Park Service (NPS) site named for a court case.  The one named started here in Topeka in 1951 when segregation was the law of the land.  Five cases were consolidated when the issue escalated to the Supreme Court by 1954, when they finally overturned the 1896 ruling of Plessy v. Ferguson.  In his decision, Chief Justice Earl Warren wrote, “Separate education facilities are inherently unequal.”

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Highlights

Monroe Elementary School, Hall of Courage

Must-Do Activity

Tour the former African-American-only Monroe Elementary School, restored to its 1950s appearance with some classrooms turned into exhibits on the civil rights movement worldwide.  If you visit on a weekday, you might hear the halls filled with the sounds of children again, since it is a frequent fieldtrip destination.

Best Trail

None

Instagram-worthy Photo

Walking the Hall of Courage gives some idea of what it would have been like as an African-American student attending a desegregated school in the 1950s.

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Peak Season

Spring seems to be popular for school fieldtrips.

Hours

https://www.nps.gov/brvb/planyourvisit/basicinfo.htm

Fees

None

Road Conditions

All paved with a designated NPS parking lot.  Check the address (1515 SE Monroe St.) for Monroe Elementary School on the NPS website as our GPS sent us to the park headquarters inside Topeka’s main post office.

Camping

None at the site, but nearby Lake Shawnee Campground is run by the county.

Scott in a kindergarden classroom
This is how a classroom at Monroe Elementary School would have looked in the 1950s (note the fireplace for heat).

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There is plenty to see and read in the visitor center, including the story of Nelson Mandela.

Explore More – Which future Supreme Court Justice headed the legal team for the Browns?

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