Friday, July 10, 2015

Exploring Eastern Kansas – Part I

After departing Kansas City, we had a couple of days available for a bit of exploration before visiting our son and his family in Omaha.  I decided on a route through parts of Eastern Kansas before heading up into Nebraska. 

As usual, I’d plotted out a route that was mostly off the Interstate Highway System and I’d listed out a number of historic sites and railroad depots along the way…

Our first stop was in Ottawa Kansas.  The Old Depot Museum at 135 West Tecumseh was built as a passenger depot for the Southern Kansas Railroad in 1888.  It served as a depot until 1962, when it was given to the Franklin County Historical Society by the Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe Railroad.  It was opened as a museum on July 4, 1963.  Unfortunately, as it was a Monday and Memorial Day when we visited, the museum was closed. 

Everything that I’ve read about this museum is positive and it sounds like a great place to visit.  Admission for adults is $3.00.  Active military personnel are free.  Website:

One focus of this beautiful depot/museum is John Brown’s Pottawatomie massacre.  As anyone who has studied American History knows, John Brown was a white American abolitionist who believed armed insurrection was the only way to overthrow the institution of slavery in the United States.  His raid on the arsenal in Harper’s Ferry West Virginia was a contributing factor leading to America’s Civil War.

I did know that John Brown had spent time in Kansas but I wasn’t aware of his actions there or prior to Harper’s Ferry.  It turns out that during the 1856 conflict in Kansas, (Bloody Kansas), Brown commanded forces at the Battle of Black Jack and the Battle of Osawatomie.  More notoriously, under Brown’s leadership, his followers also killed five pro-slavery supporters at Pottawatomie.  Basically, one night after dark 5 men were taken from 3 different cabins and they were hacked to death with swords… 

To learn more about this slaughter, you can go to  To read more about John Brown, who is definitely an American icon of sorts, just go to  

OK…This classic old home in Ottawa Kansas isn’t listed in the National Register of Historic Places.  We just thought that it was a beautiful old home that was worthy of mention!

Ottawa is the county seat of Franklin County Kansas.  It is situated along the Marais des Cygnes River. Ottawa has a population of about 12,700.  The town grew up around Ottawa Indian settlements.  The tribe lived in the area from 1837 to 1867 and donated land for Ottawa University.  The town and university were named for the tribe.  The first white permanent settler built his house at Ottawa in 1864.

  • Steve Grogan, former New England Patriots quarterback and Gary Hart, former Democratic U. S. Senator from Colorado and Presidential Candidate in 1984 and 1988 were both from Ottawa.  
  • The Plaza Grill and Cinema, (formerly known as the Crystal Plaza and The Bijou), is located in Ottawa and it is one of the oldest, if not the oldest, operating movie theater in America.  It was opened in 1905!  
  • The name Marais des Cygnes means "Marsh of the Swans" in French.  This name was presumably in reference to the Trumpeter Swan which was historically common in the Midwest.  The river is notorious for flash flooding and the flood gates were up during our visit. 

This Romanesque Revival style Franklin County Courthouse in Ottawa was built in 1893.  It is the oldest of 11 remaining courthouses in the state to have been designed by George P. Washburn, a local architect.  The design features four square corner towers, a typical feature of Washburn's designs; two cupolas on the roof include a bell tower and a clock tower.  The intricate roof design includes a main hipped roof with gable ends on each side and steep hipped roofs atop the towers.  The roof line is ridged with a metal spine, and a dentillated cornice runs beneath the roof's edge.  It is an eye-catching and impressive edifice! 

As I mentioned at the beginning of this post, we were in Ottawa on Memorial Day.  We were fortunate in that we were able to spend some time at the Franklin County Courthouse where a traditional Memorial Day event was being held.  I found it especially moving as my father had paid the ultimate price for our freedom at the end of World War II.

Memorial Day originated as ‘Decoration Day’ after the American Civil War in 1868.  That was when the Grand Army of the Republic, an organization of Union veterans, established it as a time for the nation to decorate the graves of the war dead with flowers.  By the 20th century, competing Union and Confederate holiday traditions, which were celebrated on different days, had merged.  Memorial Day eventually was extended to honor all Americans who died while in the military service.

The first widely publicized Memorial Day-type observance after the Civil War was in Charleston, South Carolina, on May 1, 1865. During the war, Union soldiers who were prisoners of war had been held at the Hampton Park Race Course in Charleston.  At least 257 Union prisoners died there and were hastily buried in unmarked graves.  Together with teachers and missionaries, black residents of Charleston organized a May Day ceremony in 1865.  The freedmen cleaned up and landscaped the burial ground, building an enclosure and an arch labeled "Martyrs of the Race Course".  Nearly 10,000 people, mostly freedmen, gathered on May 1 to commemorate the war dead.

However the event in Charleston has never been given official credit for inspiring Memorial Day.  On May 26, 1966, President Lyndon Johnson signed a presidential proclamation naming Waterloo New York, as the birthplace of Memorial Day.  Earlier, the 89th Congress had adopted House Concurrent Resolution 587, which officially recognized that the patriotic tradition of observing Memorial Day began one hundred years prior in Waterloo, New York.

Whatever the origins of this somber commemoration, it certainly achieves its purpose and this small town mid-America ceremony struck a chord with both Laurie and me.  
Just click on any of the photos to enlarge them…

Thanks for stopping by and joining us on our journey!

Take Care, Big Daddy Dave


  1. I like the fine old buildings and the white stone they built with

  2. These are lovely pictures as well David! Have an amazing weekend!

  3. Dear Dave, It certainly is nice how well you plan your trips and enjoy all the history behind them. Blessings, Catherine