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Kansas Travel Tips



Topeka center looks like a 1950s small town; small enough to enable diagonal parking in front of its many stores and shops. One almost expects to see a quaint A&P market or a Woolworth's Five & Dime.That's the sense of the town. But a bit of updating with newly planted trees lining red brick sidewalks dotted with wooden benches, flowering urns and hanging plants, adds immense charm to the 40-year old buildings.

Statehouse (913) 296-3966
This Classical French Renaissance Capitol has six Corinthian columns and other pilasters with Corinthian capitals. The copper dome rises 304 feet, from the ground to the top of the lantern-crested tip. A statue of the goddess, Ceres, was originally intended to top the dome, but Kansans at that time considered her "too immoral." The Kansas Capitol is noted for its dramatic murals of Kansas history, particularly the ones painted by John Steuart Curry, the most famous being the extraordinary, and often reproduced painting of the fiery antislavery leader, John Brown, with a Bible in his upraised left hand and a "Beecher's Bible" (a rifle) in his other blood-stained hand. The "Beecher Bibles" were so named after Harriet Beecher Stowe's brother who, in order to get rifles to the abolitionists across the pro-slavery Missouri border, labeled the crates "Bibles."

Tip: Try to arrange a ride on the 1920s cage elevator. It's one of the few remaining hand-operated passenger elevators in the country, and frequently used as a prop in Hollywood films. The ride is a rare experience.

Check it out . . . The Secretary of State's office contains a multi-hued wood table handmade by a prison inmate in the 1890s. It contains 2000 pieces of various types of wood, including Oak, Walnut, Ash, and Maple, each piece painstakingly inlaid by hand.

Kansas Museum of History (913) 272-8681, Ext. 414
The exhibits, dioramas and hands-on programs in this museum make learning about Kansas history, culture, and art fun for children and curious adults. One of the most fascinating features of the museum is an actual Santa Fe &Topeka train where museum visitors can get on board and see the difference between Coach and First Class accommodations in the early days of train transportation. The First Class portion of the train is stunning in its lustrous wood, gleaming brass accents and plush amenities. Of course this direct comparison between the way the two classes traveled presents a fantastic perspective of society as well.

Check it out . . . One of the museum's changing exhibits featured this month is art in Kansas. Fantastic examples of woodcut drawings, block prints, offset prints, ink drawings, watercolors and oils on canvas -- with exhibits of the necessary tools and processes for each -- provides a deep appreciation for the depths of the art and the pains of the artist.


Lawrence was settled in 1854 by a group of Massachusetts abolitionists who came to live here as as a bulwark against advancing slavery in new territories. The settlers considered naming the town New Boston but decided instead on the name Lawrence, in honor of Amos Lawrence, the man who funded their emigration. With strong abolitionists nesting so close to ardent proslavery residents in nearby Missouri, Lawrence became one of the deepest cuts of "Bleeding Kansas," a cut that was constantly reopened before it could ever fully heal. For years skirmishes erupted between proslavery forces in Missouri and the new abolitionist emigrants, leading to the Wakarusa War in 1855. Six months later the city was sacked by a proslavery sheriff leading 400 Missourians.This attack attracted John Brown (of Harper's Ferry fame) to the area who retaliated by killing five proslavery settlers. More skirmishes and deaths ensued on both sides through the Civil War. In 1863 an irregular band of unruly Confederate soldiers, under the leadership of an unstable William Clarke Quantrill, raided the city with the specific order to "kill every man, burn every house." Two hundred men and boys were killed while the city was reduced to a pyric pile of smoldering homes and buildings. But the town quickly rebuilt, this time choosing brick buildings over wood. Today many of these brick buildings remain on the city's main boulevard, Massachusetts Street. (All the streets in Lawrence are named after states, in the order in which they entered the Union.) Massachusetts Street bustles with activity as students from nearby University of Kansas mix with tourists in the many outdoor cafes, restaurants, and unique shops, such as Waxman Candles, where candles are poured onsite, and Sarah's Fabrics, a sewing and fabric store stuffed with bolts of beauty -- yards and yards of exquisite print and solid fabrics. (Note: I wish there was a Sarah's Fabrics in every town.)

Lawrence Visitor Center (785) 865-4499
Stop at the Lawrence Visitor Center to pick up information on the sites listed below. The Center is housed in a restored 1888 Union Pacific Train Depot -- with whistling trains still rushing by every 15 minutes. The staff displays old photos of the station's history and also presents a fantastic 27-minute film of the history of Lawrence, with reenactments from personal accounts of the clashes between pro- and anti-slavery factions. A very touching film. Don't miss it.

Tip: Ang Lee's new movie, "Ride with the Devil" tells the story of Quantrill's Raid. It's due to be released November 1999.

Check it out . . . Concerts by the 53-bell carillon from the Companille Bell Tower on the University of Kansas campus are held on Wednesday and Sunday evenings in summer.

Walking Tours
Lawrence offers four self-guided walking tours:

1) Quantrill's Raid: Before dawn on August 21, 1863 an "unstable" Confederate captain and 400 rowdy, often drunken men, raided Lawrence in a surprise attack. The order was to "kill ever man, burn every house." Four-hours later, 200 men and boys lay dead and the town was in a smoldering mass of burned ruins. The Walking Tour retraces the steps of Quantrill's vengeful executed attack on the sleeping civilians.
2) House Styles of Old West Lawrence: Formerly the neighborhood of Lawrence's elite, the houses on this tour reflect different architectural styles from 1860 to 1930. Five of the houses survived Quantrill's raid of 1863.
3) Historic Cemeteries: Each of the five historic cemeteries scattered throughout Lawrence, reveal a personal account of the town's wrenching pre- and post-Civil War history, it's settlement, as well as its ethnic and socio-economic makeup.
4) Walking Tour of Historic Jayhawk Boulevard: Jayhawk Boulevard, once part of the Oregon Trail, curves through the heart of the University of Kansas. This 1/2-mile road winds past Romanesque buildings, museums, chapels, and libraries, all open to the public.

Watkins Community Museum of History (785) 841-4109
If this museum were empty it would still be worth a visit just to tour the fantastic 19th century three-storied Romanesque building that once housed a bank. All three floors offer delightful surprises. A brass-railed marble staircase leads up to the 47-foot entryway, past three huge stained glass windows and a 25-foot chandelier. (This was a bank?) On the second floor, ornate grillwork and teller's cages indicate the building's original purpose, as do the terrazzo tiled floors with words like, "Bank" and "Mortgages" spelled out in tiles on the floor. The building alone is worth the trip, but it's contents make it even more pleasurable. The museum is filled -- stuffed from the basement to the top floor -- with historic artifacts, such as a restored 1890 surrey with the fringe on top, a 1920 Milburn electric automobile, an exhibit on some of the fighting in Bleeding Kansas, the "Sacking of Lawrence," and "Quantrill's Raid," as well as exhibits on home life. For example, a typical 19th century Victorian parlor is upstairs on the third floor, as are exhibits on the history of sewing and quilting. In the basement is the story of basketball. This exhibit is fittingly housed here as the sport was invented by local Lawrence resident, Dr. James Naismith, a teacher burdened with the task of "keeping the boys busy" indoors when the weather prohibited outdoor recreation.

Prairie Park Nature Center (785) 832-7980
The soon-to-be open Nature Center (due to open 9/18/99) has 71 acres of walking trails, bird watching areas, and eight acres of virgin, never-plowed prairie with 180 species of native plants. Although the educational center is not yet open to the public, we were able to walk the trails and peek in the windows to get a glimpse of some of the exhibits. It looks like a wonderful, bug-free way to learn about prairie life.


Lawrence KOA, Lawrence (402) 476-2282
At one time this must have been a beautiful campground. Beautiful flower boxes full of lavender and other wildflowers greet visitors at the entrance. A red rosebush trims the swimming pool. It's all very pretty, but somehow seems neglected. The entire area has been laid out by loving hands, but somehow the same hands got tired of maintaining it, or management changed hands to ones not as careful. A small cement walkway with quaint little stone bridges over a frog pond lead to the laundry room and rest rooms. The laundry room is big, airy and relatively clean. The rest rooms, however have fallen into woeful neglect with missing tiles, and soap dispensers that had fallen off the wall and are left helter-skelter on the counters. The sites themselves are shady and roomy enough, but there's a strong sense that the care that once went into this place is no longer there.

Tip: Around the corner, about a half-mile from the campground is a wonderful Riverwalk trail that follows the Kansas River.

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