Tag Archives: Old Depot Museum

Smithsonian Water/Ways exhibit is now traveling Kansas #thinkwater

None of us can live without water, and a new traveling Smithsonian Institution exhibit examines the role that water plays in our lives. Water/Ways is part of Museum on Main Street, a program that brings big topics to smaller towns all over the United States.

The Smithsonian Institution’s traveling Water/Ways exhibit is as beautiful as it is informative.

Water/Ways is currently traveling through Kansas, Alabama, Tennessee and Virginia. It’s a beautiful hands-on exhibit that looks at all of the ways we need, use, and interact with water. Water decides where we live, what we grow, and even our recreation and spiritual activities. Too much or too little water can be devastating.

Learn things you might not have known about water. Endorheic watersheds are made of water that drains to a basin instead of a river or the ocean.

In Kansas, we’re constantly thinking about water. We get too much rain. We don’t get enough. Our rivers are up. Our water supply is low. Our water mains break. Our reservoirs silt up. Zebra mussels threaten our water towers. We worry we’ll deplete our aquifers.

The rest of the world is having conversations about these things. too.

This display helps you understand how much water it takes to produce everyday things, like apples, blue jeans, and cars.

The Water/Ways exhibit looks at where we find water on earth and how human activity impacts our water resources. Learn how much water it takes to grow an apple, built a car, or produce a pair of blue jeans. Try your hand at developing good water policies that protect our water supply while supporting cities AND agriculture. [Hint: It’s super hard.] Discover the water challenges faced by people, plants, and animals around the globe, and how living things have adapted to them.

Try your hand at creating public policy that will both protect the water supply AND meet water demands.

It’s a small but powerful exhibit.

In addition to the traveling Water/Ways exhibit, the Kansas Humanities Council has also awarded grants to numerous sites around the state to tell their own water story. [Disclaimer: The Old Depot Museum, where I work, received one of these grants!] The local stories are amazing and demonstrate how our own state can have very diverse water experiences.

The Smithsonian exhibit is on display at the Eudora Community Museum through August 6. If you can’t make it to Eudora in time, you can catch the exhibit in other Kansas locations through 2018.

There are also three local stories being told during the summer of 2017:

At the Mercy of the Kaw: Eudora’s Relationship with Water,” the story of Eudora’s relationship with the Kansas River (Eudora Community Museum, Eudora, Kansas)

Crossings: Getting Over, Around, and Through Water in Franklin County,” the story of the love/hate relationship between Franklin County and the Marais des Cygnes River (Old Depot Museum, Ottawa, Kansas)

Dam, That Took a Long Time,” the story of the construction of Wyandotte County Lake and Dam (Mr. and Mrs. F.L. Schlagle Library and Environmental Learning Center, Kansas City, Kansas)

Upcoming local stories look at floods, failed canals, desegregating swimming pools, and artesian wells.

This is a powerful traveling exhibit and worth seeking out before it leaves the state.

And today I have the keys to a museum…

So I’ve been a little absent from my own blog because I had a major life-changing event. That’s because six weeks ago, this conversation happened:

Historical Society Director: Would you be interested in a job managing the museum?
Me: Would I get my own keys?

And two weeks later, I was unlocking the doors to my new home away from home, the Old Depot Museum, an 1888 former Santa Fe train depot that’s now dedicated to telling the story of Franklin County, Kansas.

Old Depot Museum in Ottawa, Kansas

The Old Depot Museum in Ottawa, Kansas.

I’m completely in love with the place. The artifacts. The history. The model trains that zip through an interpretation of 1951 Ottawa. Even the farm implements, even though I have no idea what most of them do. (Yet!)

My husband will be out of school soon, and we’ll be back on the road visiting other amazing places in Kansas and blogging about them. And should you find yourself passing through Franklin County, Kansas, visit the Old Depot Museum!

Sunday Snapshots: Wedding at the Dietrich Cabin

On Saturday, I had grand plans to spend the afternoon cleaning house, but the day was too beautiful to spend indoors and I found myself driving around town admiring the the rapidly changing leaves on the trees in the older parts of Ottawa. As I passed by the park downtown, I noticed the door to the Dietrich Cabin was open, so I parked the car and wandered down the sidewalk to take a look.

The open back door at the Dietrich Cabin invites you in to a cozy space.

The open back door at the Dietrich Cabin invites you in to a cozy space.

The cabin was built in a rural area southwest of Ottawa in 1859 by a Jacob and Catherine Dietrich, who moved to Franklin County, Kansas, in 1857. This was their second cabin; the first, built shortly after the Dietrich’s arrival, burned down in a prairie fire. Losing almost everything they owned, they started over with the new cabin and it’s rather crooked logs (with the first-choice logs probably burning up in the first cabin). Jacob died in 1863.

Catherine married Jacob Puterbaugh two years later, and together they raised children from both of her marriages. During this time, the cabin evolved: rooms were added, the walls were sided, and then the house was abandoned and used to store hay. Catherine was again widowed in 1873. She lived to be 93 years old.

The family donated the cabin to the Franklin County Historical Society in 1961 in honor of the Kansas Centennial. It was moved to City Park, where it sits on a little slope between Skunk Run and the Carnegie Cultural Center.

However, the cabin, which is usually open on weekends, had been closed much of the summer as it underwent major repairs. Rotten logs needed to be replaced and walls needed to be rechinked with a proper compound. So when I saw the cabin wide open yesterday, I really wanted to go inside.


As it turned out, Kathy Quigley, who manages the Old Depot Museum in Ottawa, was opening up the cabin for a special occasion. Bryce Dietrich had returned to Ottawa to marry his bride-to-be on the front porch of his great-great-grandparents’ cabin.

The groom’s family explored the house that is a part of their heritage as they waited for Mary Metz, the bride.  When Bryce caught sight of his spouse-to-be approaching the cabin, he leaned over the rail and called her up to the porch. “Welcome to my great-great-granddad’s shack,” he cheerfully called out as she climbed the limestone stairs.

Kathy and I were a little teary-eyed as the bride and groom exchanged vows and posed for photos, including one in front of the mantel where Bryce’s own great-great-grandparents’ wedding portrait is still displayed.

Bride and Groom

The bride, Mary Metz, poses with her new husband, Bryce Dietrich, in front of the fireplace in the Dietrich cabin. Bryce’s great-great-grandparents’ wedding portrait rests on the mantel behind them.

It was a lovely and poetic moment, seeing such love and happiness shared in a space embedded with 164 years of family connections.

The bride and groom on the front porch of the Dietrich Cabin in City Park.

The bride and groom on the front porch of the Dietrich Cabin in City Park.

While you might not be lucky enough to catch a wedding at the Dietrich Cabin, you can explore it and its history. For hours and tours, contact the Franklin County Historical Society.

Bonus Snapshots: A Patriotic Fourth in Ottawa, Kansas

This year, our Fourth of July reflected on why we’re able to celebrate the holiday in the first place. Jim and I kicked off our holiday at the Glorious Fourth celebration at the Old Depot Museum in Ottawa, Kansas, where we joined over a hundred other early birds for a reading of the Declaration of Independence, a great oration on why our history is important, and a nice breakfast of apple-stack cakes. I realized as the Declaration of Independence was being read how long it has been since I’ve really thought about what those soon-to-be Americans were fighting for, and how we’re still sorting out those hopes and needs today.

Our day ended with a fabulous fireworks display hosted by the city. Thousands of Ottawans sat on the levee walls of the Marais des Cygnes River downtown to watch a magnificent show.

Ghost trains on the low plains: a Kansas railroad story

The first time I noticed it, I was curled up with a book on our old sofa in our new house. The lulling and soothing sound of a train in the distance had kept us company many, many nights during our years in Emporia.

My husband, Jim, noticed the sound, too.

Our little old house, built in 1925, is one of thousands of homes within a stone’s throw of the Santa Fe tracks in Kansas. But unlike Emporia, where the trains still rumble down the tracks, Ottawa’s trains were long gone.

“Ghost train,” I said.

Ottawa didn’t start out as a railroad town.

Franklin County — with Ottawa at its heart — grew around the various Native American settlements and a religious university.  In its earliest years, settlers passed through it along the Santa Fe Trail in the northern part of the county. The little town’s future was not secure until 1868, when the ambitious Leavenworth, Lawrence & Fort Gibson Railroad Company, whose plan it was to lay tracks from Lawrence, Kansas to the Gulf of Mexico, laid tracks to Ottawa.

LL&G Railroad roundhouse sign, on display at the Old Depot Museum in Ottawa, Kansas.

With the railroad came prosperity. This little flood-prone town on the Marais Des Cynges River suddenly had the resources to build a public school and buy a steam fire engine. The Ludington House hotel had rooms to rent and the Ottawa Mills & Elevator opened for business on Main Street. By 1872, the LL&G had built a roundhouse and car and machine shops, bringing hundreds of jobs to the little town, whose population had climbed to 6,250 — nearly half of its present-day population.

LL&G RR Car Works, Ottawa, Kansas.

But the LL&G was in financial peril, and in 1878, it was sold to a new group, who renamed it the Leavenworth, Lawrence & Galveston Railroad Company. Yet the push to interconnect Kansas towns did not lose momentum. Operations in Ottawa continued to grow as the LL&G became the Kansas City, Lawrence and Southern.

In 1880, the Santa Fe Railroad gained control of the KCL&S stock.

Ottawa became one of the hubs of Kansas.

A new depot, designed by the great Kansan architect George Washburn, was built in 1881 and remained in use until 1962. The Depot became the the heart of all of the comings and goings, welcome hellos and tearful goodbyes, of generations of Kansans.

I think about where my house is located,  within walking distance of the Depot, and wonder what it would be like to be able to walk down the street and purchase a train ticket to almost anywhere in North America during a period in time when most people where traveling by horse or wagon. Even today, with so many modes of travel at my disposal, I am limited by how far I can drive first. To catch a train, I must drive to Topeka or Kansas City; to catch a flight, I must first make my way to Kansas City or Wichita for a commercial airplane.

An example of a 1903 train schedule shows how easily Ottawans could move from city to city. On display at the Old Depot Museum in Ottawa, Kansas.

The last train rumbled past our little old house more than 30 years ago. For twenty years, the little towns were disconnected. Some old depots, like Ottawa’s were saved and repurposed into restaurants and museums. Other depots were not so fortunate.

Author Michael Perry once wrote, “Maybe that’s all you need to know about this town–the train doesn’t stop here anymore.” And many of those little towns, whose hotels and diners depended on railway traffic, shuttered their windows and locked their doors. The story of these little towns was approaching a sad ending as the Atchison, Topeka, & Santa Fe (ATSF) Railroad sold the line to the Kansas City Terminal Railway Company, who promptly filed for abandonment.

Built in 1881, the former Santa Fe Depot in Ottawa, Kansas, now serves as the Old Depot Museum. This grand building was lucky enough to find new life as a museum and trail head for the Prairie Spirit Trail.

But it’s not the end of the line. Thanks to the vision of the  Kansas Department of Wildlife and Parks and countless volunteers,  the old rail lines that once carried passengers from town to town are being reconnected through a rail-trail park called the Prairie Spirit Trail. Ottawa, Princeton, Richmond, Garnett, Welda, Colony, Carlyle and Iola can all be reached by foot or bike. The rail line, the connection, the web that strings together communities, is growing stronger as other rail-trail parks repurpose old railroad lines across the state.

The Prairie Spirit Trail as it runs past the beautiful courthouse in Garnett. There’s something magical in knowing that I could follow this all the way home.

I peek through the blinds of our living room window as the sound of the ghost train dies down and the air grows unnaturally still, far more quiet than the air ever was in Emporia.

It is drizzling and dark, but the well-lit Prairie Spirit Trail is still in use. A bicyclist rides north; a man and his dog walk south.

When the next ghost train passes by, I settle in to the comforting sound.

The Prairie Spirit Trail in Ottawa, Kansas. If you listen closely, you can hear the echoes of ghost trains passing through on still nights.

Special thanks to the Old Depot Museum for their excellent displays and information on the history of the Santa Fe Depot.