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Historic Leavenworth, Kansas

Kansas, filled with breathtaking rolling grassy hills and flowing rivers, is more than just the world’s largest contiguous tallgrass prairie. It is a state filled with history. Often called “The Gateway to the West,” Leavenworth, Kansas, in particular, is steeped in history.

“And we just love to share it,” said Kristi Lee, the director of tourism for the Leavenworth Convention and Visitors Bureau.

This historic city gets its name, “Gateway to the West,” because the port located there (still in operation) supplied all the wagon trains heading west and was where all the military folks were stationed.

Leavenworth is the very first and oldest city in the state. Incorporated in 1827, this historic town offers plenty of attractions for history buffs. “We’re part of the Freedom’s Frontier National Heritage Area, which has to do with Bleeding Kansas and the Civil War and the continuing struggle for freedom,” Lee said.

There are several breathtaking historic churches to tour, including one located near the VA Administration that was featured on Ripley’s Believe It or Not, because they held Protestant services in the top and Catholic services in the bottom of the gorgeous Gothic-style church. Lee says the National Cemetery near there is worth strolling through as well.

Visitors can also enjoy gorgeous walking trails, including one trail parallel to the incredible Missouri River — which is the longest river in America and called “the river of life” for the Great Plains. If you’re looking for a fun night out in Leavenworth, checking out the Heritage Center for dinner and a show is a must. In fact, on July 7, the gospel group, “The Master’s Voice” will be performing following dinner at the center, which is perfect for a church group out for a night on the town.

There’s so much history to see and take in when visiting Leavenworth, including its historic — yet bustling — downtown district filled with local favorite places to eat and shops filled with antiques and local art. If that’s not enough, here are four ideas of must-see attractions to visit while enjoying Kansas’ oldest city.

Harvey Girl Luncheons

As part of the National Fred Harvey Museum, visitors can enjoy a lunch transporting them back to the time when the Fred Harvey Company restaurants and hotels were in their prime. Harvey created the first “fast food” dining experience in the Southwest, and women, who donned long black dresses and white aprons, were famous waitresses with impeccable charm and customer service. It was prestigious to be a “Harvey Girl” because according to the Leavenworth Historical Association, the Fred Harvey Company was one of the first businesses to promote cultural diversity in the workplace and the first to employ a workforce made up entirely of women.

C.W. Parker Carousel Museum

Lee says this museum may be considered Leavenworth’s No. 1 attraction. It includes a ride on a fully operational and restored 1913 C.W. Parker carousel, which was originally made in Leavenworth during the carousel company’s heyday. Guests will also enjoy perusing all the exhibits about how they made carousels and all the restored horses and other historically registered carousels. Groups of 20 or more can arrange for a private tour during the week, but the museum is typically open from 1 to 5 p.m. on Saturdays and Sundays.

Fort Leavenworth

Fort Leavenworth is the oldest operating military installation west of the Mississippi and is home to the Buffalo Soldier Monument, the Frontier Army Museum, a gorgeous and historic Bethel A.M.E. church from the 1800s — which was part of the Underground Railroad — and more. The Buffalo Soldier Monument was dedicated to the memory of the Ninth and 10th Cavalry regiments of the U.S. Army, who were Black soldiers in the Civil War. At the Frontier Army Museum, visitors will explore uniforms, weapons and equipment that was used by the Frontier Army in 1804. And guests can tour the famous (and gorgeous) church as well.

The Richard Allen Cultural Center

Across the street from the historic A.M.E church is the Richard Allen Cultural Center, a museum offering a glimpse into the history of African Americans in Kansas locally as well as the rich heritage of African Americans worldwide. There’s also memorabilia belonging to General Colin Powell and statues of Buffalo Soldiers. The center was named for Richard Allen, who founded the first African Methodist Episcopal Church in the U.S. Throughout the year, the center offers a tutoring program for Leavenworth youth, as well as a Jazz by the River event and golf tournaments.