Tag Archives: Travel

Mmmmm Food: Eating in Kansas

During last year’s whirlwind tour of North Central and Northwest Kansas, we found some amazing food–the kind of amazing food that you think about and want long after you’ve been there. Today I found myself thinking about a chicken house we loved in Hays and trying to rationalize whether it made sense to drive almost four hours to get there just for dinner, so I thought I’d blog about three iconic Kansas eateries worthy of a stop.

Say Cheese!

Alma Creamery

Alma Creamery sits on the edge of Alma, the “City of Native Stone” in the Flint Hills that is lovely enough to explore just because it’s a neat little town. Alma’s cheese isn’t a secret–when I posted on facebook that we were pulling into the parking lot, many professed their love for this Kansas-made cheese and maybe just a little envy that we were visiting the Mother Ship.

Alma CheeseLocally made Cheddar, Colby, Colby Jack, Pepper Cheddar (my favorite Alma cheese!) line the shelves, and many of them come in snackable curds, which we snacked on for the rest of our trip. They also carry other Kansas-made products. And did I mention you can sample the cheese right there in the store?

Cozy InnA Cozy Run

You know it’s going to be an adventure when you post that you’re stopping at Cozy Inn in Salina and your friends are both expressing envy and giving you advice on how to minimize the onion smell in your car.

These aromatic burgers are packed with flavor, much of which involves onions. Lots of onions. I like onions. But even though we sat in the truck with the windows down (it was too rainy to sit out at the tables that day), the onions traveled with us for the next two days.

I liked those little burgers. Jim loved them. I have a feeling arguments over Cozy Inn Burgers are the kind of thing that end marriages. But everyone should try them at least once. Also, bonus points for the fabulous signage.

The Chickenette

I know I’m going to start a food war here–people are very particular about their fried chicken–but I’m just going come right out and say it: Al’s Chickenette in Hays had some of the best fried chicken I’ve ever had.

It was the kind of food where neither Jim nor I could speak, because the experience was about the miracle of what was on our plates. Truly fabulous food, the kind you find yourself thinking about and worrying, just a little, about whether or not you can ever again score such a perfect meal.

Al's Chickenette in Hays, KansasBonus: another fabulous iconic mid-20th Century sign, complete with blinky lights.

All three of these stops had great food. But just as important is the fact that they had great service. If you find yourself wandering by, make a stop.

A Note About Food Allergies

Food allergies can limit my culinary adventures. All three of these locations were wonderful about answering my questions so that I felt confident in what I was eating. What’s more, all three of these places make their food on-site, which means they know what they’re preparing. If you or someone traveling with you has food allergies, these are places who will give you an honest answer about what’s in their food.


Sunday Snapshot: Blue Mound on the Oregon Trail

Many trails originating in what is now the Kansas City metro area followed the same path until they reached Gardner, Kansas, where they separated. From Gardner, the Santa Fe Trail headed southwest through much of the state. The Oregon and California Trails moved in a more east-northeasterly direction.

The Oregon Trail had progressed several miles north of the Santa Fe Trail by the time it reached present-day Douglas County. Near Lawrence, just south of the Wakarusa River and 56 miles from the trail’s beginning, is one of the early major landmarks for the Oregon- and California-bound travelers: Blue Mound. Despite the trees and human development, this large hill is still visible for quite a distance; during the 1800s, when the land was still open prairie and the treeline was limited to the Wakarusa riverbank, it would have been visible from many miles away.

Blue Mound from the northeast.

Blue Mound from the northeast.

After Quantrill’s Raid on Lawrence on August 21, 1863, Major. Preston B. Plumb was at Blue Mound with somewhere between 100 and 250 men, but was unsuccessful at stopping Quantrill’s men, who headed south past the mound and scattered for a successful escape. During this week’s Twitter reenactment of Quantrill’s Raid (which you can still read on Twitter!), Jim Lane criticized Plumb for not taking the offense.

Today, roads surrounding the mound, which is still in a highly rural area, are easily accessible. However, be warned: despite appearing on Google Maps and TomTom as a county road, E 1700 Rd to the immediate south of the mound appears to be a long driveway to private property. To learn more about the Oregon and California Trails, click here.

Blue Mound from the southeast.

Blue Mound from the southeast.


Sunday Snapshot: Stone Girl in Overbrook Cemetery

During our recent adventure searching for evidence of the Santa Fe Trail in Osage County (more on that soon!), we wandered into Overbrook Cemetery, which is practically situated on top of documented (and visible!) Santa Fe Trail ruts.

Most of the markers are basic and not nearly as old as the trail, but there was one in particular that drew us: the memorial to Vivian Butel, whose little girl statue has watched the trail where wagons once passed since her death in 1918.

Profile photo Overbrook Cemetery

Sunday Snapshot: Me, the Author

Saturday, March 16, was my first-ever public event as an author talking about my soon-to-be-published book, Shadow on the Hill: The True Story of a 1925 Kansas Murder. Fifty people–standing room only–showed up at the fabulous community library in LeRoy, Kansas to hear me talk about the history of the murder and read from my book. It was an author’s dream come true.

If you weren’t able to join me in LeRoy, more events are in the works and already scheduled for the not to distant future.

Me, reading from my book. Not one person fell asleep and started snoring during my entire presentation. Photo by Jim Deane.

Me, reading from my book. Not one person fell asleep and started snoring during my entire presentation. Photo by Jim Deane.

Sunday Snapshot: Christmas in Downtown Ottawa, Kansas

Historic downtown Ottawa is decked out for the holidays. Because I like to suffer for my art, I waited until the evening following our first snowfall of winter to bundle up and shoot photographs of the Victorian buildings on South Main Street, which are dressed up with lights on every facade and Christmas trees in every storefront window. My favorite touch is the star perched on top of the grain silo at the Ottawa Coop building. The snow was mostly gone, but the Christmas cheer could not be melted.

Christmas lights bring warmth to an otherwise chilly night in Ottawa, Kansas.

Christmas lights bring warmth to an otherwise chilly night in Ottawa, Kansas.

Happy holidays to all of my friends out there in the online universe!

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.

Sunset in Silkville

Sunset in Silkville, Kansas

An unusually warm December day ends in a beautiful sunset near Silkville, Kansas.

Two Decembers ago, East Central Kansas was buried under snow drifts six feet deep. This year, we’re closing the calendar out with 50-degree weather and beautiful skies. In the wide open spaces between Williamsburg and the Franklin-Coffey county line, where only hints of ghost towns remain, the sunsets can take your breath away. Every second is a different color, a different texture, a different experience. Just a hundred yards or so from the sign identifying what is now the Silkville Ranch, the sky churned with more life than the land beneath it.

A century ago, this land was not so barren.

In 1869, Ernest Valeton de Boissière, a native of France, purchased 3,500 acres from the Kansas Educational Association of the Methodist Episcopal Church. He established Silkville, a self-sustaining commune whose primary export was silk ribbon. De Boissière built elaborate facilities, including a 60-room building to house Silkville’s residents, a winery, an ice house, a school house, and the structures needed to grow silkworms and produce silk. Silkville’s library was the largest library in Kansas at that time. For a short time, Silkville thrived.

As other companies began to compete in the domestic silk trade and the commune’s residents discovered they could earn better wages elsewhere, the commune began to fail. By the 1890s, the commune was gone, and de Boissière deeded the land to the International Order of Odd Fellows (I. O. O. F.) to establish an orphanage, but after de Boissière’s death, a legal battle over the property’s ownership ensued between the I. O. O. F. and de Boissière’s sister, Madame Corrine Martinelli. In 1903, Martinelli won the suit and seven years later, the land and its structures were sold for $130,000. Six years later, the 60-room house burned to the ground.

Today, most signs of Silkville–other than the Silkville sign itself–are gone. The structures have long since disappeared, and most of the mulberry and Osage orange trees planted to feed the silkworms have been cleared away to make room for grazing cattle. The area where most of the buildings were is now listed on the National Register of Historic Places as a Western settlement.

De Boissière’s idea of Utopia may have failed, but on a warm winter evening, when you can get out of your car and feel like you have the whole sky to yourself, it still seems pretty close to perfect.

Learn more about Silkville at the Franklin County Kanasas History Portal, or read Phyllis M. Jones’ recorded memories of the community that no longer exists.