Tag Archives: Johnson County

Sunday Snapshot: Museum at Prairiefire

I learned about the new Museum at Prairiefire completely by accident: I happened to catch a discussion on a friend’s facebook page about places to visit in Overland Park, and someone mentioned a new museum opening in May.

Museum at Prairiefire.

Museum at Prairiefire.

The museum is part of a larger development called Prairiefire, which has created an upscale small-town village of arts-and-crafts-inspired apartment buildings, a shopping area, a cinema, and the museum, all within walking distance of each other. The museum building itself is gorgeous and is surrounded by a wetlands park filled with native plants.

The museum includes a Great Hall (free to explore), an American Museum of Natural History exhibit (admission fee required) and a Discovery Room for children (admission fee required). During our visit, the Great Hall was filled with dinosaur and fish fossils.

The big reason to go during the next few days is the AMNH exhibit, Water: H20 = Life. Originally on display at the American Museum of Natural History in New York, it is now a wonderful traveling exhibit. It’s beautiful, it appeals to the senses with a combination of live animals and plants, text, sound, hands-on demonstrations, videos, and technology. We noticed that even younger children were taking their time exploring the exhibit, and we were amazed by how much we learned about human, plant, and animal water needs and usage. Jim and I were especially enamored with a short film about the availability of fresh water on the planet, which used multiple projectors to create a three-dimensional globe in the center of the viewing area.

The people of Tonle Sap live in floating houses and work in floating businesses.

The people of Tonle Sap live in floating houses and work in floating businesses.

Mudskippers have adapted to live in and out of water.

Mudskippers have adapted to live in and out of water.

Our favorite part of the exhibit: a video on fresh water availability projected to create a 3D world.

Our favorite part of the exhibit: a video on fresh water availability projected to create a 3D world.

The exhibit runs through July 13. If you’re in the Kansas City metro area, it’s worth a stop. We’re already looking forward to the next exhibit.

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Legler Barn Museum in Lenexa, Kansas

On our way home from Overland Park, Kansas, Jim and I were driving down 87th Street Parkway and caught sight of a sign pointing the way to the Legler Barn Museum. Unable to turn away from a barn museum, we abandoned the I-35 exit and headed west to Sar-Ko-Par Trails Park, where the museum and several other historic buildings are located.

Legler Barn Museum.

Legler Barn Museum.

Adam Legler.

Adam Legler.

It’s hard to imagine it now, but the area around 95th and Quivera in Overland Park (where Oak Park Mall is located) was once rural and part of a long stretch of land that belonged to the Legler family. Adam and Elizabeth Legler immigrated to the U.S. via the Port of New Orleans in 1847. In 1863, the Leglers moved to Johnson County and made their home just north of the Santa Fe Trail at what is now 95th and Quivera. The stone barn, a two-story structure with porthole windows on the south side, a sandstone roof, and living quarters on the second floor (the Leglers lived above their animals before their home, which would stand until the 1930s, was built), was constructed in 1864 from locally quarried stones.

 

The portholes on the Legler Barn have inspired theories that the barn was once used as a fortress against unhappy Native Americans, William Quantrill's men, and Missourians during the Civil War. Their purpose was to allow ventilation without overwhelming the livestock inside with the southern sun.

The portholes on the Legler Barn have inspired theories that the barn was once used as a fortress against unhappy Native Americans, William Quantrill’s men, and Missourians during the Civil War. Their purpose was to allow ventilation without overwhelming the livestock inside with the southern sun.

Its location near the trail and a reliable spring meant that the Legler farm was a beacon to both invited and uninvited guests. Legend suggests that William Quantrill and Jesse James rested there. Long after the house was gone, the barn stood. Then, in 1971, the barn was forced off its own land when the area was developed for Oak Park Mall and numerous other businesses.

The corner of 95th and Quivera today. Adam Legler’s house and barn stood on the northwest corner.

Fortunately, instead of demolishing the barn, city officials carefully documented the structure before disassembling it and putting it into storage, where it stayed for more than a decade until the Lenexa Historical Society (Lenexa being a nearby Johnson County town) was able to restore the barn in a local park.

Three generations of women wore this wedding dress: Clarissa Allen wore it in 1908; her daughter Mary Jane Nesselrode wore it in 1940, and Mary Jane's daughter Clarissa May Mears wore it in 1964.

Three generations of women wore this wedding dress: Clarissa Allen wore it in 1908; her daughter Mary Jane Nesselrode wore it in 1940, and Mary Jane’s daughter Clarissa May Mears wore it in 1964.

In addition to the history of the barn, the Legler Barn Museum shares the history of Lenexa. The community got its start in 1869, when Charles Bradshaw would sell land to Octave Chanute, who wanted to start a railroad line to Kansas City. (Chanute would go on to build the first bridge over the Missouri River, design the Kansas City and Chicago Stockyards, found the town of Chanute, Kansas, and would also be the designer of the Wright Brothers’ plane.) The town was officially incorporated in 1907.

Whereas much of Johnson County has a reputation for bulldozing history for the sake of suburban progress, Lenexa still has connections to its roots. Many descendants of the area’s earliest settlers continue to live nearby and are involved in the historical society. The museum includes historic quilts, furniture, maps, and photographs.  A wedding dress worn by three generations of Lenexa women is displayed in a reproduction of a Victorian bedroom on the second floor. And an interesting display explains how Lenexa accidentally became the spinach capital of the world during the 1930s (they still celebrate with a Spinach Festival).

Near the museum are several other fun historic pieces, including a train depot and a caboose. There is no charge to see the museum, but donations are appreciated. There is also a lovely park nearby. This little museum is definitely worth a look.

Sunday Snapshot: Shawnee Indian Cemetery

A small, half-acre cemetery surrounded by suburban backyards is the final resting place for some of Johnson County’s earliest known residents. Shawnee Indian Cemetery, also known as Bluejacket Cemetery, can be accessed from beneath a basketball goal where 59th Terrace comes to a dead end just east of Nieman Road.

The cemetery includes the remains of Shawnee Indian chiefs as well as others; the first known burial was that of Nancy Parks in 1837. Unfortunately, time has not been kind to this cemetery, and many of the markers have broken or fallen and are slowly being reabsorbed into the ground. Other pieces of broken markers have been saved by securing them to a large, shared concrete base. Today, the grounds themselves are well maintained and protected.

Sunday Snapshot: The 1950s All-Electric House at the Johnson County Museum

Despite growing up in Kansas City, Kansas, my husband and I have discovered just how little we know about the history of the Kansas side of the Kansas City Metro area. Our quest: to visit as many of the museum and historic sites as we can. We recently toured the Johnson County Museum, which includes a completely restored model house built by the Kansas Power and Light company in 1954. The all-electric house was designed to showcase the wonders of modern suburban living. The Prairie Village house was showcased in newspapers and magazines like Better Homes & Gardens and was toured by 62,000 people in the year that it was open to the public.

Four different families lived in the house before it was donated to the Johnson County Museum. It’s both nostalgic in a Rob-and-Laura-Petrie sort of way while also featuring some technology that’s pretty spiffy even today.

The 1950s American Dream: a ranch house in the 'burbs.

The 1950s American Dream: a ranch house in the ‘burbs.

Unlike houses of previous generations, the kitchen of the future is by the front door. The lady of the house, who should be nothing if not efficient, can now watch her children play in the front yard, answer the doorbell, easily access the washer/dryer and mangle iron, and keep dinner on schedule!

That pink formica countertop is worth $80,000.

That recreated pink formica countertop is worth $80,000.

The house featured a machine that was both a washer and a dryer so that laundry could get done even on days when the weather wouldn’t allow for clothes to be line-dried. The problem: no spin cycle. It took a long time to wash and dry a single load. But that’s okay, because electricity is cheap in the 1950s!

It's a washer AND a dryer.

It’s a washer AND a dryer.

Heating up an iron is inefficient. Enter this monster machine, which is supposed to let you roll your clothes through to iron them against the heating element. It was far better at burning hands and catching fingers. Also, it takes a lot more space than an iron.

This is supposed to iron your clothes, but mostly, it mangles your hands.

This is supposed to iron your clothes, but mostly, it mangles your hands.

The bathroom of the future features a three-bulb light fixture. The white bulb emits regular light, the red bulb is supposed to sanitize the bathroom, and the amber light is a tanning light.

A bathroom light that lights, tans, and sanitizes. Sort of.

A bathroom light that lights, tans, and sanitizes. Sort of.

The modern living room includes a spiffy hiding place for your 19-inch black-and-white television: with the push of a button, the artwork slides away to reveal the screen. Remotes weren’t invented yet, though, so you still had to get up to change the channel.

The living room of the future: a television is hidden by a painting that will slide away with the touch of a button. Who needs a real fireplace when you can have an electric one?

The living room of the future: a television is hidden by a painting that will slide away with the touch of a button. Who needs a real fireplace when you can have an electric one?

Beyond the All-Electric House, the rest of the Johnson County Museum does a great job telling the story of the growth of Johnson County, an area that was primarily developed in the post-World War II years as a suburb of Kansas City, Missouri. I find this fascinating because it’s one of the few places in Kansas that doesn’t feel, well, Kansasy, and now I understand why.  The museum also does a great job of explaining in an honest and factual way the fact that much of the county’s development through the mid-20th Century was seriously segregated, with land developments prohibiting sales to minorities and certain religious backgrounds. In addition, many historic structures and farms were leveled to make way for suburban living.

Most KCK kids lost friends when their friends' families moved to Johnson County.

Most KCK kids lost friends when their friends’ families moved to Johnson County.

This museum is also one of the most kid-friendly county museums I’ve seen. Every room includes play areas that reflect the interpretive educational goals of the room, and a large Kidscape is full of kid-sized places to explore.

The Johnson County Museum Kidscape area.

The Johnson County Museum Kidscape area.

If you’re in the Johnson County area, this museum is worth a stop. The main museum exhibits are free, with a $2 per person fee to tour the electric house.