Last weekend when the weather was relatively nice for a January in Kansas, Jim and I wondered down some previously unexplored roads in Douglas County. We stumbled upon the little community of Vinland, Kansas. In a space smaller than two city blocks, we found two historic churches (including the church where basketball legend James Naismith was once a preacher), a Grange Hall on the National Historic Register, and the oldest library in continuous use in Kansas. Across the street from the town was a mowed-grass airfield for small planes.
The town of Vinland was settled in 1854, and its community members were generally strong abolitionists. Its citizens fought along with John Brown at the Battle of Black Jack, and they believe that area-resident Charles Dow was the first person to die in the Civil War in 1855.
The citizens of Vinland were an educated bunch, and they established a library early in the town’s history. Founded in 1859, the library was in continuous use until recently, when it was turned into a museum. One of Kansas’ oldest citizens, Martha Cutter Kelley Smith, was still assisting patrons at the 3,700-volume library with a potbelly stove in 2008, when she was 102 years old, and Kansas honored her as the oldest female worker in the state. Her Vinland roots run deep; Martha’s own family had homesteaded near Vinland in 1866.
As we drove around Vinland and admired the architecture and the history, we had no idea that the town was in mourning. Their elderly librarian, Martha Cutter Kelly Smith, had passed away the day before our visit at the age of 108.
Vinland is still an active community and holds an annual fair. You can follow Vinland on facebook. The library museum has been open to the community on summer weekends in the past, and we hope to make a trip back to see the library museum soon.