With the forecast of a nice warm day in February, it seemed to be a good time to plan a road trip to explore some back roads in Kansas. After considering some options that would make for a nice day trip from the Kansas City area, I decided on a trip to Ottawa and a day exploring Franklin County. While I had been to Ottawa the last few years for the Ol Marais River Run Car Show I had never really explored the town or surrounding area. Rather than just randomly exploring some back roads like I often do, I decided to take a more planned trip this time and the information found on the Visit Ottawa Kansas website served as a great place to start planning my trip. Their website is an excellent resource for anyone visiting that area and I particularly liked the fact they had self guided tours of all four quadrants of the county. After seeing all the things to see and do I finally settled on starting out with the self guided tour of the Southwest Part of Franklin County. With my list of things I really wanted to see...which was much longer than could be done in a single day...I really looked forward to getting out and exploring this part of Kansas.
Our first stop on the day's trip was at the Franklin County Visitor Information Center, located at 2011 East Logan in Ottawa, Kansas. There, in what has to be one of the nicest visitor centers in the state, we were greeted by a charming lady named Mary Ann. The visitor center is full of brochures, maps and information not only for local attractions but also state wide as well as some out of state attractions. After browsing the vast selections and picking up information on the local driving tours, which include both turn by turn directions and also a map, we had more than enough information for things to see not only on this trip but many more to come. It was a great first stop and we really enjoyed visiting with Mary Ann. As we left I could not help but think of the advice given to me by a wise elderly gentlemen about exploring Route 66. He said that often the best memories are made by the people you meet along the way. That special waitress at the small diner, or someone else that makes you feel welcome and like part of a family. As I travel around Kansas I find that to be equally true and Mary Ann is one of those people. If you are in the area I would highly recommend a stop at the visitor center.
Since we had chosen to begin the day following the Southwest Guided Tour we headed south down main street and did not make it far before stopping a the Franklin County Courthouse. This impressive structure was built in 1893 and is one of thirteen courthouses designed by local architect George P. Washburn. It is beautifully maintained and much the same as it was in 1893. Since it was a Saturday the courthouse was closed but I look forward to visiting at a different time when it is open and I get a chance to see the inside which I am sure is every bit as impressive as the outside.
Leaving the courthouse we took a brief side trip to check out the campus of Ottawa University. Founded in 1855, this 150 year old university traces it roots back to Baptist Missionaries who started the school in conjunction with the Ottawa Tribe to benefit the children of the Ottawas. Knowing we did not have the time needed to explore all of the many things to see and do in Ottawa we proceeded to follow the self guided driving tour and left Ottawa with so many things yet to see and explore. A future trip...or several future trips...will be needed to even begin to explore the rich history and historical buildings of this nice city.
Over the next several hours we would spend a very enjoyable time criss-crossing the backroads of the Southwest part of Franklin County, Kansas.
The third stop on the route was at the site of Acorn School #74. Built in 1900 this "one room" school house is a well preserved example of a by-gone era. With it's white siding and green metal roof, along with the old fashioned merry-go-round and the outhouse out back, this piece of Americana can easily take one back in time if they are old enough to have enjoyed playing on that type of merry-go-round as a child. The Acorn school is known to have had one of the earlist hot lunch programs in the county when a teacher in the 1950's would cook meals, which often included rabbit that the boys would bring in, on the pot-bellied store. Later a kitchen was added and after school consolidation in 1959 closed the school, the building was purchased by the Acorn 4-H Club and is still used for meetings and community events today. As we were taking pictures a local neighbor stopped by to make sure everything was OK. In a typical small town fashion it was the perfect example of checking to make sure we were not having trouble while at the same time keeping an eye on this local landmark. After a nice but brief visit she went on to take her grandson to a basketball game and we continued on our trip.
Another notable historical building along the route is the A.B. (Arza Bracken) Fogle home. Built in the early 1900's this white limestone home is still being used as a private residence. The home was built by A.B Fogle and his son Dan and took about three years to complete. Framed with pine lumber that Dan removed from his mining operation, the home featured a water heating and cooling system that was piped from two hand dug wells as well as electrical lights and a cast iron furnace. Not to far farther along the road are the remains of an old stone building or wall that we also enjoyed taking photos off. We are unclear on what the remains are of but one local resident in Williamsburg said they thought it was an old cheese factory.
That brought us into tiny Williamsburg, Kansas just in time for lunch at Guy and Mae's Tavern. Famous for its excellent barbecue this small town eatery is a must visit for anyone who likes good BBQ. With excellent food and affordable prices we filled up on some great BBQ sandwiches and some of their amazing ribs. While they were busy when we got there it quickly filled up as more people stopped in until there was hardly a place to sit. After enjoying great service and excellent food it really almost made us feel like a good nap should be the next order of business but we still had more things to see and do so we continued on the self guided tour.
Leaving Williamsburg one of the next stops on the tour was the site of Silkville. Started in 1869 Sikville was an early attempt at creating an uptopian community and was once proclaimed to be the "Silk-producing Capital of America". Started by a Frenchman named de Boissiere this was an early attempt at communal living in Kansas. Besides silk they also produced cheese as well as other dairy products. Some of the original buildings still stand on private property, as well as the stone "Silkville School". Also there are sections of the original stone fence still standing. Covering about 3000 acres the land is still mostly owned by one family.
Another notable stop along the Southwest Franklin County tour is the Emerald Community and St. Patrick's Catholic Church. Founded by immigrants from Ireland who came to America in 1850 this area was the site of a log church built in 1861 and then later one built of stone before the present day brick church was built in 1899. After the inside was destroyed by fire it was renovated in 1939 and is still in use today. It features a crucifix over the main alter that was hand carved in Rome and took five months to make.
After leaving St. Patrick's Catholic Church the tour took us past several other historical sites, including the original site of the Dietrich log cabin, which was built in 1859. The cabin was moved to Ottawa in 1961 and now houses a museum. Continuing on you go through the Franklin County town of Princeton and then eventually back into Ottawa. However we decided to head south towards Garnett, Kansas instead of returning to Ottawa and stopped to see the Anderson County Courthouse, another one designed by George P. Washburn, before heading back to Kansas City.
All in all it was a great day and I cannot wait to get to go back to this area and explore some more. A special thank you goes out to the Franklin County Visitor Center and the excellent self guided tours they have put together. It would be great if every county in Kansas had those types of tours available for visitors.