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!!


  1. Great photos, good story telling as always, Frank.
    I can't wait to get back to this area when I can.

  2. Frank I am always amazed at your photos and storytelling. You have quite a gift my friend. Have you considered publishing?

  3. Thank you - I enjoyed seeing what it looks like in this little corner of the world. My daughter is going to college in St. Mary's in the fall, and we're anxious to see what things are like there. We're from Arizona - what a contrast! Thanks again!

  4. This tour is the best thing you can do I recommend you this tour because you can walk through different trials and beautiful places this is amazing. Sildenafil Citrate

  5. That's perfect having travel plans I feel so identify with this because my next travel plan will be visiting Brazil I know it'll be perfect because Brazil has beautiful beaches.

  6. Looks stunning there. i will have to check this place out soon.

  7. Hi, nice post. I have been wondering about this topic,so thanks for sharing. I will certainly be subscribing to your blog.

  8. Nice voyage through our neck of the prairies (and woods). But hey, next time at least wave when you come through!

  9. I grew up in Blue Rapids and I appreciated your photos and narrative. Thanks for the memories!
    Lee Stuart