Places To Go in East Kansas
Historic sites or interpretive facilities on the Santa Fe National Historic Trail in east Kansas (listed east to west) for you to visit. Please contact each site before you go to obtain current information on closures, changes in hours, and fees.
(updated January 26, 2015)
Shawnee Indian Mission State Historic Site, Fairway
Location: 3403 W. 53rd Street (between Mission Road and Reinhardt Street)
Telephone: (913) 262-0867
Access: 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday. Closed on all state holidays. Please call ahead for availability of North Building exhibits.
Historical Significance: The Shawnee Mission was one of many missions established as a manual training school attended by boys and girls from Shawnee, Delaware, and other Indian nations from 1839 to 1862.
Available Facilities: Three buildings dating from the historic period (the east, north, and west buildings) are still standing, two of which are open to public visitation.
Exhibits: The North Building and the two-story East Building are laden with exhibits that describe six historic themes, one of which is the overland trails.
To learn more: www.kshs.org/places/shawnee/index.htm
Harmon Park (Trail Swale), Prairie Village
Location: Austin Harmon Park is at 7727 Delmar Street (at 77th Place). The park is one mile west of the Kansas-Missouri border.
Telephone: (913) 381-6464 (City of Prairie Village)
Historical Significance: A segment of the southern branch of the Santa Fe Trail, located southwest of Westport, Missouri, crosses this 4-acre city park. It is one of the few confirmed places in Johnson County where physical evidence of the trail can be seen today. Rounded depressions in the ground called swales are visible diagonally across the park. These swales were originally sharply defined ruts worn into the ground by thousands of cattle, oxen, and wagons. Slight shifts in the wagon path, as well as years of weathering, smoothed these ruts to their current gently sloping indentations. A partnership of federal and local governments and private citizens created Harmon Park in the early 1990s in order to preserve physical evidence for future generations.
Exhibits: An exhibit in the park interprets visible trail ruts.
To learn more: www.jocomuseum.org/overlandTrails/trail_2.htm
Sapling Grove, Overland Park
Location: 8210 Grant Avenue (at 83rd Street)
Telephone: (913) 895-6390 (Parks and Recreation Department, City of Overland Park)
Historical Significance: Since the late 1820s, Sapling Grove, located on the headwaters of Turkey Creek, was a significant campsite on the Santa Fe Trail. George Sibley, an Indian agent who was commissioned to survey the trail in 1825-27, included Sapling Grove on his list of campsites. Sapling Grove was the rendezvous point for the Bidwell-Bartleson group, the first caravan of families to head west on the trail in 1841. Overnight travelers camped on the hill where Comanche Elementary School now stands. This 21-acre park was known in recent years as Comanche Park. In 2003, however, the city renamed the park after a local teenager petitioned for a name change to honor the Sapling Grove campground.
Exhibits: The park has several interpretive historical markers that discuss 19th century trail activities.
To learn more: www.jocomuseum.org/overlandTrails/trail_5.htm
Lone Elm Campground, Olathe
Location: In Lone Elm Park, a 160-acre community park located southeast of the corner of S. Lone Elm Road and W. 167th Street, Olathe
Telephone: (913) 971-6263 (Olathe Department of Parks and Recreation)
Access: open daily until 10 p.m.
Historical Significance: For several decades, starting in 1821, this site served as a campground and rendezvous point for travelers along the Santa Fe, Oregon, and California trails. During construction of the park's ball fields (after 2004), several artifacts were discovered that dated to pioneer travelers. Visitors can use their imaginations to journey back in time and trod where thousands of pioneers had come before. The wagon swale can still be seen at one point along the trail where it crossed the creek.
Available Facilities: The park offers four historical interpretative waysides (created and installed by the City of Olathe) and a large interpretive sculpture. In addition, there is a quiet walking trail that winds through forests and prairielands and past three original water wells.
To learn more: www.olatheks.org/parksrec/locations/loneelm
Mahaffie Farmstead and Stagecoach Stop, Olathe
Location: 1200 E. Kansas City Road, adjacent to Kansas City Road Park (near N. Ridgeview Road), Olathe
Telephone: (913) 971-5111
Access: Open May through December, Monday through Saturday 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. and Sunday noon to 4 p.m.
Historical Significance: The Mahaffie Stagecoach Stop and Farm Historic Site, locally known as the Mahaffie Farmstead, was a stage station on the Oregon and California as well as Santa Fe trails. The original farm was founded by James Beatty Mahaffie and his wife Lucinda in 1858. The 2-story native limestone house was constructed in 1865. The Mahaffie family ran the farm until 1870 and resided there until 1886. The house's heyday came with large numbers of westbound travelers of the 1860s, a time in which dinners were served in the basement.
Available Facilities: The Mahaffie Farmstead is the only known Santa Fe Trail station that is open to the public. It is owned and operated by the city of Olathe.
Exhibits: The house, which is situated on almost 40 acres of land, has been converted into a museum and gift shop. It frequently hosts events connected to Bleeding Kansas and bushwhackers. There is an in-house blacksmith and other various era-specific artisans, along with an outdoor exhibit.
To learn more: www.olatheks.org/Mahaffie/About
Gardner Museum, Gardner
Location: 204 W. Main Street (at Oak Street)
Telephone: (913) 856-4447
Access: Saturday through Tuesday, 1 to 4 p.m. and Friday, 4 to 7 p.m.
Historical Significance: In a 1924 dedication of a state historical marker at the edge of Gardner, Senator Rolla W. Coleman called the place where the trails divide "the grand-daddy of all highway junctions." From its beginnings in 1857, Gardner can attribute its early growth to its unique location at the junction of the Santa Fe, Oregon, and California trails.
Available Facilities: The Gardner Historical Museum was founded in 2002. The museum maintains its facility on Main Street as well as at the Herman B. Foster house, which was built in the spring of 1893.
Exhibits: Each room of the museum is filled with exhibits that highlight Gardner's early heritage. Local residents have donated and loaned hundreds of artifacts to the museum inventory.
To learn more: www.gardnerhistorymuseum.org/
Watkins Community Museum of History, Lawrence
Location: 1047 Massachusetts Street
Telephone: (785) 841-4109
Access: Tuesday through Saturday, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., extended Thursday hours to 8 p.m.
Available Facilities: The nonprofit Douglas County Historical Society operates the Watkins Community Museum of History. Its mission is to collect and preserve historical materials of Douglas County, Kansas, to interpret local history, to encourage research, and to develop the museum's collections.
To learn more: www.watkinsmuseum.org/
Trail Corridor and Ruts, near Overbrook
Location: In Osage County, one-half mile north of US Highway 56 (N. 300th Road), 7 miles east of Overbrook and just west of E. 550th Road.
Access: These ruts, visible for about a mile, are located on privately owned farmland just north of a feedlot. They are not directly accessible to the visiting public. However, a portion of these ruts can be viewed by driving one-half mile north from Highway 56 and looking west.
Historical Significance: The ruts are along the trail's main route.
Available Facilities: There is about one mile of trail corridor in this area of which one-third of a mile still retains some discernable trail ruts.
COUNCIL GROVE - 10 Sites
Council Oak (CG #1)
Location: U.S. Highway 56 (E. Main Street), near N. 4th Street
Telephone: (800) 732-9211 or (620) 767-5413 (Council Grove Chamber of Commerce and Tourism)
Historical Significance: The Council Oak received its name from a council that was ostensibly held under this tree on August 10, 1825. This council, which was attended by three U.S. commissioners and the chiefs of the Great and Little Osage Indians, resulted in a treaty that - in return for an $800 payment - gave Americans and Hispanics free passage along the Santa Fe Trail through Osage territory. This meeting was also the namesake of Council Grove, a trailside community that was founded in the late 1840s, because of the mile-wide grove of hardwood timber in the area.
Available Facilities: A protective canopy east of the Neosho River bridge protects the stump of the Council Oak. Before it blew down in a windstorm in 1958, the oak was approximately 70 feet high and measured 16 feet around.
Exhibits: There is an outdoor exhibit at the site.
Neosho Crossing (CG #2)
Location: Just north of where U.S. Highway 56 (Main Street) crosses the Neosho River
Historical Significance: This natural rockbed crossing site was an important river crossing on the Santa Fe Trail and one of the best documented of those on the trail. The steep banks and high water sometimes made crossings difficult, but riffles in the stream indicate the presence of a flat, hard rock streambed that would have helped make the crossing easier.
Available Facilities: A new Riverwalk Park marks the site.
Exhibits: An outdoor exhibit is on the east side of the Neosho Riverwalk.
Seth Hays Home (CG #3)
Location: On Wood Street near Hall Street (two blocks south of Main Street)
Telephone: (620) 767-5882 or (800) 732-9211 (Morris County Historical Society)
Access: Open for tours on Sunday from 1:30 to 4:30 p.m. Memorial Day through October 1st.
Historical Significance: This brick house was built by Seth Hays in 1867. Hays' black maid (and former slave) "Aunt Sally," lived in the basement. Hays, though single, adopted a daughter in 1867, and Sally cared for the family until her death in 1872.
Available Facilities: It is one of the few trail homes in the area that has been preserved near its original condition. The home is operated as a museum by the Morris County Historical Society.
Exhibits: There is an historical marker on the property.
Hays House (Restaurant) (CG #4)
Location: 112 W. Main Street (U.S. Highway 56) at Neosho Street
Telephone: (620) 767-5911
Access: Open daily for lunch and supper (although not open for Sunday supper)
Historical Significance: Seth Hays, who was the great grandson of Daniel Boone and cousin of Kit Carson, came to Council Grove in 1857 to trade with the Kaw Indians. He originally built a log house out of which he traded. In 1859, he put up the large building originally called the Frame Store. The building has seen many uses in the early days; it was a gathering place for meals, mail distribution, court trials, church meetings, political speeches, and an early, bawdier form of dinner theater. Early patrons included Jesse James and General George Armstrong Custer. It was later remodeled as the Hays House Restaurant.
Available Facilities: The Hays House, a longtime restaurant, is known as the oldest continuously operating restaurant west of the Mississippi.
Exhibits: Today, the Hays House contains many historical artifacts, including artwork, arrowheads, other American Indian relics, and a notable crystal collection. There is an outdoor exhibit in front of the building.
To learn more: www.hayshouse.com/
Pioneer Store (CG #5)
Location: 131 W. Main Street
Telephone: (620) 767-7623 (existing graphic arts business)
Historical Significance: Built in 1858 by local merchant Malcolm Conn, the Conn Store was one of the two most important trading posts in Council Grove during the Santa Fe Trail days. It shared the business provided by trail travelers, the Kansa (Kaw) Indians, and later, by local settlers. The Conn Store has been added on to and remodeled over the years. The outline of the original store is defined by the light-colored stone on the building's west side.
Available Facilities: The building was erected in 1858 and, although it is much altered from its original state, it is still in use by the local business Redbud Design Graphic Arts. It is on the National Register of Historic Places.
Exhibits: An outdoor exhibit is located across the street.
To learn more: www.kshs.org/places/kawmission/reconnectionssantafetrail.htm
Simcock House (CG #6)
Location: 206 and 208 W. Columbia Street
Access: This property is a privately owned building called the Marks Apartments; it is primarily important because of its history and its extant exterior architectural features. It is not open to general public visitation.
Historical Significance: In 1860, Council Grove merchant Goodson M. Simcock constructed the southwest portion of this 2-story stone house. Simcock was a partner of Seth Hays, providing goods and services for the Kaw Indians and the Santa Fe Trail trade. He was one of the organizers and original stockholders of the Council Grove Town Company, formed in 1857. Upon Hays' retirement in 1862, Simcock became the sole owner of the business, retiring in 1873. The "Simcock House" was added on to in 1863 and in the early 1900s. The house is on the National Register of Historic Places.
Available Facilities: none
Kaw Mission State Historic Site (CG #7)
Location: 500 North Mission Street (at Huffaker Street)
Telephone: (620) 767-5410
Access: 9:30 a.m. to 6 p.m. Wednesday through Saturday. Closed Sunday through Tuesday and state holidays. Open by appointment. Group tours by appointment. To schedule, call (620) 767-5410.
Historical Significance: Built during the winter of 1850-51 by the Methodist Episcopal Church South, the Kaw Mission served as a boarding school for Kaw (Kansa) boys until closing in 1854. It then became a school for white children when the Indians refused to send their children to the school. It was the first all-white school in Kansas.
Available Facilities: Today, the Kaw Mission is one of the oldest buildings still standing in this part of Kansas and is operated by the Kansas State Historical Society as a museum. The Kaw Mission is administered by the Kansas Historical Society.
Exhibits: One exhibit and items in the building's bookstore feature the Santa Fe Trail.
To learn more: www.kshs.org/places/kaw/
Hermit's Cave (CG #8)
Location: Belfry Street near Hays Street (two blocks north of Main Street)
Historical Significance: Most sources suggest that this cave was the temporary abode of an Italian religious mystic Giovanni Maria Augustini. Born in 1801, this religious mystic lived here for a brief period in the spring of 1863. Later in 1863, he left Council Grove in the company of a wagon train, walking the 500 miles on the Santa Fe Trail to New Mexico. Other sources state that the "Hermit of the Trail" was Franciscan friar Matteo Boccalini, who erected a cross shortly after he arrived. Disheartened because the Jesuits interfered with his appointment as secretary to the Pope, he came to America and wandered from one Indian tribe to another teaching the gospel and administering the last sacrament to people on the trail.
Available Facilities: none
Last Chance Store (CG #9)
Location: At the corner of Main Street (Highway 56) and Chatauqua Street, at the west end of the Council Grove business district.
Historical Significance: Erected by Tom Hill in 1857, the Last Chance Store was, for a brief period of time, the last opportunity for freighters bound for Santa Fe to pick up supplies for their journey, hence its name. It is also the oldest commercial building in Council Grove. For several years, the building housed post office facilities, and it also served as a government trading house and polling place. The store has become known as the most famous (but not the largest or most important) trading site in Council Grove during the trail years. The building is on the National Register of Historic Places.
Available Facilities: The privately owned building remains near its original state today.
Exhibits: There is an historical marker on the property.
To learn more: http://kansasflinthills.travel/sites/last_chance_store
Rawlinson-Terwilliger House (CG #10)
Location: 803 West Main Street (at Adams Street), Council Grove, KS 66846
Telephone: (620) 767-7986 (Trail Days Café and Museum)
Access: 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. Monday through Saturday. For large parties, call for reservations.
Historical Significance: This house, which now serves as a restaurant, was built in 1861 by teamster Abraham Rawlinson and his wife Mary. The house witnessed Santa Fe Trail traffic for the next five years, and was later purchased by a livery-stable owner William Riley Terwilliger in 1870.
Exhibits: various items in the restaurant explain the history of the Santa Fe Trail as well as the property itself;the property surrounding the café interprets a later (1920s) tourist camp.
To learn more: www.traildayscafeandmuseum.org/