Wednesday, June 24, 2009

A Tour to Marysville and Blue Rapids

There's been a theme to my two most recent road trips - namely rain and the effects of rain on travel plans. My Saturday-Sunday trip to Council Grove and Eureka was cut to half a day because of heavy rains. On Monday I headed toward Riley County with a goal of getting some late afternoon photos including sunset in the Konza Prairie Preserve. The preserve trails were closed, however, due to wet conditions. I redirected my itinerary, which turned out well, spending more time than expected in Marysville and Blue Rapids, both north of Manhattan in Marshall County.

Marysville, Kansas - Pony Express City

kansas journeys pony expressPony Express Monument ~ One of the more romanticized episodes of the settling of the American West was the story of the Pony Express, immortalized in verse, art, song, and film. The image we have of those brave young fellows galloping across the prairie is stirring stuff, and pretty much right on. It was demanding and often dangerous work. We sometimes fail to realize the business side of the venture was not entirely successful, failing to land the hoped-for government subsidy (yes, even in 1859) until it was too late. By then the transcontinental telegraph line had been completed.

Kansas Travel Pony Express StationPony Express Station ~ The 1859 native-stone stable shown above is the only original Pony Express home station standing on its original site. These home stations were located at 40 to 50 mile intervals along the Missouri-California route. At this Marysville station, the young riders relayed pouches of valuable mail to the next section rider, then rested while awaiting the next delivery in the opposite direction. In addition to the stable and blacksmith shop, the building houses a museum of Pony Express and Marshall County memorabilia.

Black Squirrels ~ Black squirrels are very important to the citizens of Marysville, sort of an unofficial mascot, and are given the right of way all over town. Why? These rare black rodents, cute but nonetheless rodents, are not native to the plains states. The story goes that in 1912, a young prankster "liberated" a pair from the display cage of a visiting carnival, and the squirrels were never recaptured. The descendants can be seen today, especially in the city park, but I saw several others in older parts of town with big trees.

Dual Main Streets ~ Like most towns in the midwest, Marysville has a mix of beautifully restored or maintained Victorian business buildings and those which were re-fronted in the 1950s and 60s with tasteless faux-modern facades. What Marysville has that has far more unusual is parallel Main Streets. The block between the two is only as deep as one building. This oddity dates to the pre-Civil War days of Bleeding Kansas, when pro-slavery and abolitionist forces struggled to dominate the state. Businesses found it smarter and safer to establish separate entrances for Southern sympathizers and free-staters.

Historic Courthouse Museum ~ My first view of this stately courthouse was in the warm light of late afternoon sun which made the view of this red-bricked building even more striking. I got off a couple of shots, but unfortunately did not get back to visit the museum and historic courtroom. According to my copy of "Kansas Guidebook for Explorers," I missed some interesting sights and exhibits dedicated to Marshall County towns (including the ghost towns), local military heroes, and Native Americans.

Koester House Museum ~ Built in 1876 by one of Marysville's first bankers, this showplace home is now a museum offering guided tours. The Koester House is but one of several magnificent homes in the area placed on the National Register of Historic Places.

Historic Trails Park ~ Eight important and historic trails passed through this vicinity:
  • Oregon Trail,
  • Pony Express,
  • Mormon Trail,
  • Overland Trail,
  • Military Trail,
  • Otoe-Missouria Trail,
  • St. Joseph-California Trail, and
  • Pike's Peak-California Trail.
These trails are commemorated in a series of informative plaques and monuments, placed in a small wooded park near the location of Franklin (or Francis?) Marshall's rope ferry on the Big Blue River. A replica of the ferry is also at the site.

1914 Round Barn ~ In 1914 the owners of this farm southwest of Marysville ordered a barn, by mail order one assumes. Many say the barn was from Sears and Roebuck, although there is nothing in the barn today to prove (or disprove) that. It was shipped as a kit by rail to the Marysville area, then assembled on this spot. The current owners of this farm (whose name escapes me) have faithfully maintained this barn and updated the classic prairie farmhouse on the property as well. The barn is known as the Lewis Rowe barn, probably a reference to the original owners.

Arched Stone Bridge ~ West River Road Drive (the one that goes to the round barn), is a gravel road through hilly, wooded landscape. Few drivers happen to notice several very old stone, arched bridges along the way. I had read of these bridges beforehand in a guidebook and was watching for them, but still only spied this one - and I almost missed it! Looking at this photo you can see why.

Blue Rapids - Where the Town Square Is Round

No, there are no Blue Rapids here. I was told there used to be rapids on the Blue River but they were the result of a dam which no longer exists. And yes, as you can see by looking at the photo above, the town square is round. Kind of like a huge traffic round-about, except this one has businesses and parking around it. And a police station in the middle. Nancy and I have a fond memory of Blue Rapids; it was at a farm/rescue shelter near here that we adopted Melody, our loving Shetland Sheepdog. On this trip I was to visit sites of historic interest, however. Blue Rapids, a town of about 1300 residents, sits near the Big Blue River and has several significant sites.

Alcove Spring is certainly the most notable of the local sites on the route of the Oregon Trail. Located near the Independence Crossing, where travelers crossed the Big Blue, this spring with adjacent woodlands and meadows, provided a key campground before attempting the crossing.

Emigrants on the trail destined for Oregon wrote of this spot's beauty and serenity. A few contemplated ending their journey here, only six days after crossing into Kansas Territory. Some groups, including the ill-fated and infamous Donner-Reed Party, camped here for several days after rains swelled the nearby Big Blue River beyond its banks making it impassable. But eventually they moved on. Settlement would not come to the region for several more years.

Little is left from those visitors. A few travelers carved names and dates into rocks and trees. One 70 year woman in the Donner party, Sarah Keys, died of illness while camped here and was buried. Her actual burial site is not known, but a Daughters of the American Revolution monument honors her memory. There is little to see here in the way of relics or artifacts - other than wagon ruts (known as swales) still visible in some spots. But it is interesting and worthwhile to view the location, and to better understand the rigors of the westward march. It is also a beautiful area - especially in springtime when the wildflowers are in bloom and spring water is flowing over the ledge.

Holm Cabin ~ Back in town, there is more of interest on the round square, beginning with the Holm Cabin, built in 1876 by Swedish immigrants and moved to this location in 1996.

Oldest Library ~ Also on the town square is the public library, built in 1876 of native limestone. It is the oldest library building west of the Mississippi River in continuous use, and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

Old Bank ~ Kudos to the State Bank of Blue Rapids. This family-owned bank has occupied this native limestone building since 1870, and has maintained the architectural and aesthetic integrity of this stately structure.

Round Barn ~ Here's another interesting old, round barn, located east of Blue Rapids on K-9 Highway. This one was built in 1913, and as can be seen here, is quite sizable.

I stumbled into this little hometown cafe, quite literally, causing locals to smile at the clumsy out-of-towner with the fancy camera. No problem, I was laughing at myself. While listening to other customers discuss the situation of wet fields delaying the wheat harvest, but allowing the corn to grow like crazy, I scarfed down a hearty hot roast beef sandwich, made from real pot roast and real (not instant) mashed potatoes. Then I looked at the chalkboard menu again and saw sour cream raisin pie listed, and learned that it was made at home by my waitress' mom. Diet or not, I was defenseless from this temptation. Rich, creamy, heavenly!!!

Bonus Coverage - Westmoreland, Kansas
I stopped in Westmoreland briefly en route to the I-70 interchange and the drive home. Here are a few photos and key tidbits:

Scott Springs Oregon Trail Park
~ Hundreds of thousands of westward bound pioneers camped here by the springs. This sculpture commemorates the site. Located half mile south of town on K-99 Highway.

Pottawatomie County Courthouse
~ Erected in 1884 of native limestone.

Old Stone Church
~ Built by German Evangelical Association in 1888 of native stone; now part of Westmoreland's Rock Creek Historical Society Museum complex.

Classic Church Building ~ White clapboard church building, looks like it belongs in a Norman Rockwell illustration.

Main Street Mercantile
~ quaint old business building, one of a couple of antique or gift shops in Westmoreland.

... and that's the way it was. hope you
enjoyed traveling along, and come back
for the next road trip with me. Bye!!

Monday, June 15, 2009

Smoky Hill River Festival

The Smoky Hill River meanders through the central Kansas town of Salina. Nestled on the banks of a horseshoe bend in the waterway sits Oakdale Park, site of the annual Smoky Hill River Festival.

Located in the middle of the country and boasting a population just under 50,000, Salina may lack some of the cultural and ethnic diversity of large metroplexes; however, the Smoky Hill River Festival can never be accused of lacking diversity. It features a wide variety of foods, arts, and music styles. Nancy and I, in this our first visit to the festival, found no reason to tire of what we were experiencing. There was always a change of pace coming.

This is my first attempt at video blogging. Hoping to avoid creating any one video file that is too large, I have made three separate slide shows. The first is an introduction focusing on festival attendees and foods, the second festival art, and the third on music. (I'm not certain why the opening title slide of the second show doesn't appear on this page. Still learning.)

While selecting photos of the festival art and artists, I discovered that almost all of my images dealt with more contemporary, folksy, or quirky works, as if there were no "traditional" artwork at the show. That wasn't the case, but now you know which types of artwork captured the eye of this photographer/writer.

The official program lists more than fifty entertainment groups, some of which were from local schools and organizations. Even so, the lineup of first rate performers is impressive. I only heard a small portion of those on Friday evening and during the day on Saturday. I was really hoping to catch Kelley Hunt, but we needed to head home prior to her performances.

Salina's Smoky Hill River Festival - another great Kansas event worth a visit!


Slide shows created in Windows Movie Maker. All images © frank thompson photos.

Please let me know how you like this video blog format. You are welcome to leave a comment in the space provided.
Thank You for dropping by to check out my Kansas Journeys Blog.

Frank Thompson


Wednesday, June 10, 2009

On the Road Again Part 2

Continued - this is part 2...

By the time I pulled into Eskridge, I was ready for a restroom break and a bite to eat. There were a number of vehicles in front of Annie Mae's Cafe Gift Shop, so I figured I couldn't go wrong there. Correct. It was Mexican food day, and I had a nice taco salad. The surroundings were just like most small town cafes, meaning serviceable not fancy, and the service was what you expect in such a place, meaning they treat you like a neighbor, even if you're a complete stranger. The natural, unaffected friendliness is so unlike the rehearsed and artificial line of patter you receive at Red Robins, Ruby Tuesdays, Applebee's, etc. Refreshing.

Next door was a grocery/general store. Eskridge is fortunate; not every town of this size even has this much of a place to buy groceries.

The grandest of Main Street's old structures is the Waugh Building, shown below, now partially occupied by a law office. Some restoration has been done on this beautiful old building, but I am certain they would welcome investment in order to accomplish more.

West of Eskridge on Highways 4 and 99 is the Native Stone Scenic Byway, a delightful drive with some scenic views. Just a few miles outside of town, however, I encountered my biggest surprise of the day - Lake Wabaunsee. This community lake (not Corp of Engineers) is not huge, but is beautifully situated in the Flint Hills, has a golf course, B&B with restaurant, beach and other amenities. There are a number of nice, but not extravagant homes around the lake. I can see the attraction - it's a very pleasant setting.

Continuing the Native Stone Scenic Byway into Alma takes you through some of the region's more scenic ranch lands. This prairie land was open range until 1867. Land owners were then paid 40 cents per rod (16½ feet) to build and maintain these stone fences, some of which have been continually cared-for or restored.

The excursion ended in Alma, the "City of Native Stone." I've previously visited and photographed Alma, so did not take time on this trip to do further shooting. Here are a couple of images from the earlier visit to that charming little town.

Settled in 1858, which makes Alma one of the older towns in the state, the heritage of its early settlers (Swedes, Germans, English, and Irish) is still very strong. In addition to its numerous interesting old buildings of native stone, Alma boasts a creamery which makes several very tasty all-natural cheeses. Its location just three miles south of Interstate 70 makes it an easy place to get to.

Saturday, June 6, 2009

On the Road Again: Snokomo Road and the Native Stone Scenic Byway (Part 1)

Friday, June 5, 2009 - It felt good to get behind the wheel of the old Isuzu and head out for a day of Kansas back roads adventures again. This surgery recuperation business has been a long, slow process, and I have long been eager to get out of the house and go exploring!

With only a general itinerary in mind - Paxico and nearby Snokomo Road, I headed west. The Google map at left shows the route upon which I settled: Snokomo Road south to Kansas Highway 4 with a stop at Eskridge for lunch; then following Highway 99 (the Native Stone Scenic Byway) with a stop at Wabaunsee Lake to Alma. From there it was back on the interstate to home and suburbia.

Earlier in the year, I had stopped in Paxico only to discover that I had no battery in my camera. After back-tracking to Topeka to purchase a new battery, it was necessary to hastened on to my meeting in central Kansas, promising myself to re-visit this colorful village. I'm pleased that I made it back, and on such a glorious day for photography. The sky could not have been any bluer, the clouds any "puffier," as you will see in the church picture further below.

Main Street - Paxico, Kansas DSC_7973 cr ed jpg Ramblin Rose Cafe - Paxico, Kansas

Tourism must rank only second to agriculture in Paxico's economy, and travelers are there to visit its many antique shops which are located in the town's refurbished downtown buildings. Thirty years ago, this was almost a ghost town, but now it's a delight to see and visit. Furthermore, I read this progressive little burg now has not one, not two, but three annual festivals! There's the Harvest Festival in October, a one-day blues fest in September, and best of all - a Meat Loaf Festival in June! Who can resist a meat loaf cook off?

Chicken a la Cart

Above - "Chicken a la Cart." I didn't make that up. That's what the shop owner called it. "Chicken a la Cart" works for me. He had a number of other chickens (roosters, actually) around the place, too.

Antique Business - Paxico, Kansas

Just north of town is a stately church whose twin spires can be seen for a number of miles. It is the Sacred Heart Catholic Church, whose cornerstone indicated, in English and German, that the congregation was organized in 1874, and this lovingly-maintained building finished in 1922. I did not attempt to enter or obtain a photo of the interior.

Sacred Heart Catholic Church - Paxico, Kansas

Many times as I have driven along I-70 I have looked at the Snokomo Road exits and promised myself to explore that road some day. This was the day. It's gravel all the way south to K-4, but in good condition and is a nice drive through this section of the Flint Hills. There is a Snokomo Creek, and apparently at one time a hamlet called Snokomo in the area, but I don't see that community on any maps, even my DeLorme Atlas of Kansas. A number of picturesque, but abandoned, stone school houses and barns particularly caught my eye along the route. Below are scenes photographed along the way:

Part 2 of this blog (coming soon) will feature stops at the town of Eskridge, at Lake Wabaunsee, and views along the Native Stone Scenic Byway between Eskridge and Alma.

All photos in this blog © frank thompson photos, and may not be reproduced or reused in any manner without written consent of the copyright holder.

Monday, June 1, 2009

A Serbian Festival - Kansas Style

One of the benefits of living in a metropolitan area is the ongoing exposure to a kaleidoscope of cultures. If one is observant and does not confine oneself to their own little neighborhood, these facets can be seen in daily comings and goings around town - ethnic restaurants, traditional garb, neighborhoods and churches, etc.

Having first been introduced to folklore festivals during my days traveling about Europe as an Air Force bandsman, I enjoy and seek out these colorful events. Fortunately, Kansas City has a number of such festivities, ranging from large commercial enterprises at Crown Center to smaller-scale, community or church-sponsored fundraisers. They're all fun!

This past weekend I spent some time at a Serbian Festival sponsored by St. George Serbian Orthodox Church in Lenexa (College Boulevard west of Pflumm Road). I had photographed the exterior of the church about a year ago and had met the amicable Father Alex while doing so, with plans to return some day with the proper equipment to do some interior shots. I'm still planning to do that. The church building is only a few years old, but the appealing design pays homage to tradition, as can be seen in the photo below.

St George Church was established in 1919 in Kansas City, Kansas, presumably in the area of that town where other eastern-European immigrants had established their enclaves. In addition to the families of the earlier settlers, the local Serb community increased during the 1980s with the addition of families who fled their homeland as a result of the violence and (NATO) bombings. Even though this congregation has now moved to suburbia, they have always had a Serb-speaking pastor, and strive to maintain ties to their homeland's heritage.

Traditional music and dancing are integral components of most such festivals, and St. George had that lined up, too. I was told the scheduled folk dance demonstration would not take place until the evening, but when I mentioned I was hoping to shoot some dancing scenes, a group of youngsters from one of their "heritage classes" was rounded up to do a Kola (line or circle dance) for my benefit. How's that for accommodating? Pretty cool, eh? Somehow it did not matter one iota that these kids were wearing typical American garb rather than colorful native costumes. They enjoyed themselves, and were fun to watch.

The best part?

Food, of course! That's always my favorite feature of any ethnic festival. On this day I opted for a light lunch of Burek (a meat pie in filo) with a Serbian-style potato salad. Later in the day, I returned to the festival with Nancy to enjoy a meal of Cevapcici (grilled skinless sausage, shown below) before heading off to KC for the final subscription concert of the symphony for the season. Of course, we had to try out some sweets, too. They were great!

DSC_7940 ed blog DSC_7892 4x6 ed blog

I was pleased to run into a member of the congregation whom I had previously met at the Black Dog Coffeehouse - Patrick Hinkle. Pat took a few minutes off from his responsibilities to show me around, and was instrumental in lining up the dancing demo on my behalf. Thanks, Pat.

St. George Orthodox Church's Serb Festival is a low-key, but charming and relaxing affair, more like being at a big family gathering than a fund-raising extravaganza. In part, that is due to the friendly, good nature that Serbs are known for - even those transplanted to Kansas. Where never is heard a discouraging word...

All photos copyright frank thompson photos.