Wabaunsee County has a proud history that is represented by numerous historical sites: Beecher Bible and Rifle Church, one-room schoolhouses and cemeteries, historical trails and scenic byways, just to mention a few.
Please note some of these sites may be on private property and not open to the public.
Please respect private property by not trespassing and leave public sites just as you found them.
We are offering ways to explore:
- virtually with online information about our local heritage sites, see below
- driving routes that maximize scenery and historic sites
Wabaunsee County Historical Society & Museum
Established in 1968, the mission of the Historical Society is to preserve the heritage of Wabaunsee County. The museum maintains extensive genealogy records, photos, artifacts, and interpretive displays. This comprehensive collection allows visitors to explore the undertold stories of the region as well as learn more about the heritage sites listed below.
Hours: March 13-April 25th: Monday-Saturday 10-4, closed for lunch. 12 – 1. Sunday 1-4.
Summer hours starting May 1: Monday – Saturday 10-4, closed for lunch
Mount Mitchell Heritage Prairie Park
Local and national history and the wonders of nature come alive at Mount Mitchell. While standing on its summit, learn about the Native American culture that considered the hilltop a sacred place, walk on the route of the Underground Railroad in the footsteps of African American freedom-seekers, and learn about local events leading up to the Civil War.
Hours: Open year-round, dawn to dusk
Beecher Bible & Rifle Church
This church, built in 1862 and originally known as the First Church of Christ at Wabaunsee, is named in honor of the abolitionist Henry Ward Beecher, brother of Harriet Beecher Stowe, the author of Uncle Tom’s Cabin. The modern name refers to the Sharps rifles and Bibles that Beecher provided the abolitionists from New Haven, CT who settled here in 1856. The name came into being when the gift was announced, and headlines proclaimed, “Bibles and Rifles for Kanzas.” This incident escalated the tensions between pro and anti-slavery forces in the territory, which only weeks later led to the sacking and burning of the free-state capital at Lawrence. The church was placed on the National Register in 1971.
The Volland Store
Opened as Kratzer Brothers Mercantile in 1913, it was filled with every kind of merchandise and became the social and cultural center of Volland and the surrounding community. The Volland Store was a centerpiece of the community until the early 1970s when it closed after the death of its storekeeper, Otto Kratzer. In 2015 the former general store was re-purposed as an art gallery and event center and serves once more as a gathering place for the community, both near and far.
There are several areas in Wabaunsee County that offer opportunities to be active outside while learning more about wildlife and the history of the area.
This 235-acre spring-fed lake started as a state initiative in 1933 but was completed as a Works Progress Administration project in 1937. Some of the recreational cabins were originally barracks constructed as a camp for transient workers. In the 1940s they housed German prisoners-of-war. They are enjoyed today by residents and out-of-towners. For more information about Lake Wabaunsee visit www.lakewabaunsee.com
Wabaunsee Pines Golf Course
Located at Lake Wabaunsee, Wabaunsee Pines is a nine-hole public golf course featuring limestone berms and native grasses of the Flint Hills. “The Gem of the Flint Hills” was constructed and is maintained with volunteer labor. For more information about Wabaunsee Pines Golf course visit www.wabaunseepinesgolf.com
Echo Cliff Park
The 50-foot cliffs received their name in 1895 but there is archeological evidence that Native Americans had lived or camped here over 1,000 years ago. The park area was cleared during the 1920s, and the original truss bridge is open to pedestrian traffic only. In the 1960s Earl Hepworth, a local farmer and artist, created the signs, picnic tables and other amenities the park offers today. Owned by the Echo Cliff Park Trust, it is located south of Highway 4, on Echo Cliff Road.
Bolton Wildlife Area
The Bolton Wildlife Area is a contiguous tract of land a half mile wide by two miles long. The 640-acrea area consists primarily of native prairie. The area is managed by the Kansas Department of Wildlife, Parks, and Tourism and has begun to manage intensively for greater prairie chicken habitat on the property, in addition to other native species of the region. The Bolton Wildlife area is located 2 ½ miles north and 1 ½ miles west of Paxico.
SITES WITH HISTORIC MARKERS
The Wabaunsee County Historical Society and Native Stone Scenic Byway have contributed to installing roadside historic markers, informing travelers about ghost towns, schools, churches, stone fences and more.
Wilmington School on the Santa Fe Trail
Wilmington School, built in 1870, is located in the southeastern corner of Wabaunsee County in the original town site of Wilmington. Once a thriving settlement along the Santa Fe Trail, this community was passed over by the later railroad, and it declined in the twentieth century. The school is the only remaining structure in the former town of Wilmington. It served children in the district from 1870 to 1951.
Native Stone Fence
The 1867 law abolishing the open range provided for payment of 40 cents per rod (16 ½ feet) to landowners to build and maintain a 4 ½ foot stone fence. Stone was plentiful and was the main material to build fence. Miles and miles were built in Wabaunsee County until the introduction of barbed wired in 1872.
This stone country school has served the Snokomo community since being built in 1883. The district was 11 square miles with only nine taxpayers. Due to school consolidation, it closed in 1947 and was restored by the Snokomo Silent Workers Club between 1972 and 1975.
The town was first called Bismarck and was renamed Halifax in 1885 by the U.S. Post Office. After the closing of the post office the town was renamed Hessdale by the Atchison Topeka Santa Fe Railway. It was a major cattle shipping railhead on the ATSF spur line in Wabaunsee County.
Old Stone Church
This church was dedicated in 1882 as a Mission Church of the Eliot Congregational Church from Newton, Massachusetts. Services were held here until 1905 when a church closer to town was dedicated. Currently, Memorial Day services are held the last Sunday in May.
In 1856 the Keene community was known as Fremont City. In 1877 the name was changed to Keene. Like many small villages in the Flint Hills it provided trading opportunities for area ranchers and farmers to purchase goods and enjoy social connections. By the 1970s the store had closed, and the school, blacksmith shop, and town hall had all been demolished. Keene became a residential community like many other small towns that have virtually vanished from existence.
HISTORIC TRAILS & SCENIC BYWAYS
Native Stone Scenic Byway
This Scenic Byway, established in 2005 now spans 75 miles through Shawnee, Wabaunsee and Riley Counties. The scenic route showcases native limestone: not only the fences, bridges, and buildings but also the natural stone outcroppings along this Byway. The Byway maintains ten informational kiosks along the route, with eight of them located in Wabaunsee County: Echo Cliff, Eskridge, Lake Wabaunsee, Highway 99, Alma, Mount Mitchell Heritage Prairie Park, and Wabaunsee. For more information about the Native Stone Scenic Byway route visit: www.travelks.com
Skyline Mill Creek Scenic Drive
This scenic drive was established in 1968 by business people in Paxico, Alma and Alta Vista to encourage traffic to the businesses in these towns. The Native Stone Scenic Byway committee adopted the drive as an added feature of its highway route. The drive spans the county beginning in Alta Vista, following the West branch of Mill Creek on old K-10 Hwy through Alma, then south on Hwy 99, turning east up Skyline Road for beautiful views from ridge lines of the county. Note that Skyline Road is a gravel road, so plan accordingly!
Santa Fe Trail
The Santa Fe Trail, celebrating the 200th anniversary in 2021, makes a brief but significant trek through the ghost town of Wilmington in the far southeast corner of the county. In this area, there are several historical plaques that mark where the Santa Fe Trail traversed the county.
Clapboard Ravine Overlook
A go-to spot for 360 views of Wabaunsee County and beyond! To the north you will see the Mill Creek Valley, and Interstate 70. To the east is a view of Kuenzli Creek Valley. To the south you see an expanse of pastures and cattle. To the west you can view the town of Alma and all the way beyond the hills that rise above Volland.
Sacred Heart Catholic Church
Sacred Heart of Jesus Catholic Church, Sacred Heart Parish was established in 1874 by German Catholic immigrants who had been attracted to the area by Catholic newspaper articles written by the Jesuits of the Potawatomi Indian Mission in nearby St. Marys. The articles were written to encourage German settlement in the area. The present church was built in 1922. The native stone schoolhouse across the street was erected in 1905. With its twin spires that can be seen for miles, the church is known as “The Cathedral of the Flint Hills.”
Considered one of the finest barns in the Flint Hills, the Schepp barn was built in 1905 by Alma stonemason August Falk for John Ludwig Schepp. It is located in Farmer Township, seven miles southwest of Alma on Illinois Creek Road. The three-story barn is 40×80-feet in size and includes a 38×64-foot granary on the west side of the building. Under the granary, a large arched-ceiling water reservoir was built to store the runoff from the expansive roof of the barn, and plumbing was installed down the hillside for a cattle-watering tank that was gravity-fed. Recent renovations have given new life to this magnificent structure.
Known to locals as “The Soccer Ball,” this meteorologic radar facility is located on the Skyline portion of the Skyline/Mill Creek Scenic Drive between Alma and Snokomo Road. Its elevation and location make it a popular navigation point within the county. One of 160 NEXRAD radar sites located the across the country, this network allows for a 15-minute lead time before the arrival of a severe storm, a major advancement in forecasting that has saved many lives. The NEXRAD system is a joint effort of the U.S. Departments of Commerce, Defense, and Transportation. The controlling agencies are the NWS, Air Force Weather Agency, and Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), respectively.
Chalk School, District #23
Organized in the early 1880s, today it stands as an 18’ x 36’ frame structure. Though not the smallest in the county, with 73 children attending in 1883, there would not be much room for indoor recess. View Chalk School, adjacent to the Chalk Cemetery, on Chalk Road east of Old K-4 Highway.
Volland School, District #26
Built in 1906 the Volland school has been beautifully restored, both inside and outside, to reflect the school experience in the early 1900s era. This includes the interior with a wood stove and original desks. View from Old K-10 Highway, approximately one mile west of Volland.
NATIONAL REGISTER OF HISTORIC PLACES
There are 19 places in Wabaunsee County on state or national historic registers, including two registered in 2020: The Grimm-Schultz Farmstead and the Pratt-Mertz Barn. The historic places include barns, churches, parks, downtown districts, bridges, and schools. Information courtesy of the Kansas State Historical Society.
Alma Downtown Historic District
Downtown Alma is characterized by two-story stone and brick commercial buildings from the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Nearby stone quarries provided much of the building material for Alma’s turn-of-the-century historic resources, and even today the town is known as “the city of native stone.”
Eskridge City Park & Bandstand
The Eskridge City Park & Bandstand was built between June 1908 and March 1909. Standing in the approximate center of Eskridge City Park (established in 1903), the bandstand is the park’s focal structure. The park and bandstand are associated with the most vigorous period of economic growth and community development in the history of Eskridge.
The Grimm-Schultz farmstead is a group of eight related structures. Built between 1875 and 1915. The farmstead’s historic buildings include five primary farm structures: a stone house, stone barn, stone corn crib/wash house, stone and frame granary, and a frame and concrete hay shed.
The Fix Homestead
The J.R. Fix Family homesteaded the land in 1865. The large stone house provided a bedroom for each of the eight daughters. Now the Fix Homestead is called Mill Creek Lodge at Volland Point and has accommodations for individuals and a venue for weddings. The Fix Homestead is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
Paxico Historic District
Paxico is an example of the T-type railroad town popular in the late nineteenth century. The town was platted north of the Chicago, Rock Island, and Pacific Railroad line with two intersecting commercial streets: Newbury Avenue and Main Street. The large two-story general store, now an antique store, was an economic and architectural landmark in the town.
The Pratt-Mertz Barn is a two-story multi-bay limestone barn constructed in 1876 by Samuel G. Pratt. The two-story native limestone barn has a gabled-roof with wood cupola and attached loafing shed, chicken house, and shed bay for livestock feeding. Limestone detailing includes elliptical arched door openings, and an engraved keystone bearing the craftsman’s initials and date of construction – S.G.P. 1876.
Early Wabaunsee County settler Peter Thoes established his home and farmstead around 1854. It was one of a cluster of properties that took root before the Civil War and the founding of Alma, and it even vied for the location of the county seat. Thoes lived on and farmed this same property until his death in 1894. The sprawling and iconic barn on Thoes’ property was built in phases from the late 1870s to the early 1890s.
Below are some of the cemeteries that are the final resting places of more well-known residents. Among them are African-American Buffalo soldiers, Underground Railroad conductors and stationmasters, and veterans of American wars. Many of the gravestones are engraved with German or Swedish script, reflecting the heritage of those who settled here. There are quite a few family cemeteries, mostly inaccessible on private land. However, the Fix Cemetery and Nehring cemeteries have road access and can be visited.
Buffalo Soldier John H. Medley (1834-1921), of Company B 10th Cavalry is buried here. The 10th Cavalry Regiment of the US Army was originally formed as a segregated African American unit in 1866. They were the original “Buffalo Soldiers” and served in the post-Civil War Regular Army. They served in combat during the Indian Wars in the western United States, the Spanish American War in Cuba, and in the Philippine-American War.
Prairie View Cemetery
A high prairie cemetery in Rock Creek Township, it contains the graves of early settlers and colonists from the nearby Wabaunsee Exoduster Colony which was founded by Isaiah Montgomery and the Kansas Freedman’s Relief Association in 1879. Colonists Cynthia Jane McCutcheon, the 19-year- old daughter of Peter and Charity McCutcheon, and Gilbert Jackson, and possibly other Exodusters are buried here.
This cemetery was originally called “Mission Creek Township Cemetery.” Free-state immigrants from Appleton, Wisconsin, settled in this valley in 1856. Sylvester and Cynthia Ross, parents of US Senator Edmund G. Ross, made famous by President John Kennedy’s book Profiles in Courage, are buried here. Captain Henry Cowles, an early Topeka settler from Oberlin, Ohio, was a promoter of this settlement. Succumbing to pneumonia, he was the only casualty of John Brown’s famous “Battle of the Spurs” near Holton, Kansas, in 1859. This cemetery contains a number of interestingly-carved gravestones and the grave of Elizabeth Beach, wife of Dr. Samuel Beach. The couple ran an Underground Railroad station at their log home not far west of the cemetery.
This cemetery is an official National Park Service Network to Freedom site commemorating the Underground Railroad. It is the burial place of four individuals known to have participated in this famous network of safe houses assisting enslaved people to escape to Canada. They are Jehu Hodgson, Mary Loy Hodgson Thomas, Ann Madden Harvey, and Morris Walton. The cemetery is located on what was part of Jehu Hodgson’s original claim of 160 acres. The first burial occurred on July 15, 1858. The Hodgson home, built in 1857, was a short distance west of the cemetery. Today there are no visible remains of the Hodgson home. However, the homesite, which is an open field, can be viewed from the cemetery. The home was a station on the Underground Railroad and Jehu Hodgson was both a station keeper and a conductor. His wife Mary Loy Hodgson was present at the time and cooked for her guests. The Hodgson’s land abutted George Harvey and Henry Harvey’s claims, and is less than a mile from the site of Henry and Ann’s cabin, which was also a station and is a Network to Freedom site.
Also a Network to Freedom commemorative site, this cemetery is the final resting place of many notable people associated with the early days of Kansas. Resting in the shade of old cedar trees are seventeen individuals known to have participated in the Underground Railroad. They are: Captain William Mitchell, William Mitchell Sr., Agnes Mitchell, James Monroe Bisby, Hannah Bisby, J. Evarts Platt, Enoch Platt, Sarah Platt, Joshua Smith, Mary Dibble Smith, John Smith, Charles Burrill Lines, Maria Wooding Lines, Austin Kelsey, Maria Bristoll Kelsey, Samuel R. Weed, Julius F. Willard and Amos A. Cottrell. The famous Beecher Bible and Rifle Church, listed on the National Register of Historic Places, is in the village just to the west. Mount Mitchell, a 170-acre hilltop tallgrass prairie park is one mile to the east. A monument to the memory of the Colony is at the park’s summit. This cemetery also contains the graves of about sixty Civil War veterans and many of the Colony’s members and their descendants. Maude Mitchell designed the memorial gate built from local glacial erratics (Sioux quartzite) in 1952. She was the daughter of Captain William and Mary Mitchell.
Thank you to our
CROSSROADS COMMUNITY PARTNERS
Arla & Tony Barelli
Kansas Beef Council
Wabaunsee County Historical Society
Community Exhibit Partners
Alma Area Foundation
Bruce & Tina Breckenridge
Bank of the Flint Hills
Carl & Mary Ice
Jim & Barbara Meinhardt and KanEquip, Inc.
Lyons Angus Ranch
M7 Ranch – McGee Family
Mount Mitchell Prairie Guards
The Native Stone Scenic Byway
Heidi & Nelson Nast
Henry & Cara Newell
Patty & Jerry Reece
Stockgrowers State Bank
Wabaunsee County Farm Bureau
Community Event Partners for Explore Wabaunsee County Week
Alma Chamber of Commerce
Flint Hills Stone
Bill & Kathy Hogue
EXPLORE Map printed courtesy of Wabaunsee County Economic Development Office