Take a tour through Kansas and you’ll find yourself following the footprints of history.
As America grew from the Atlantic Coast and the Midwest toward the Rockies and the Pacific Ocean in the 19th century, Kansas became a crucial crossroads of cowboys, soldiers, gunslingers, Native Americans and myriad other figures that made the American West. Though the area is no longer wild, destinations throughout the state have maintained their Western bona fides and give groups a number of ways to experience Kansas’ rich heritage.
This itinerary travels from the eastern edge of the state into its far western reaches, stopping to see some of Kansas’ most interesting historic sites. The trip can be accomplished in five days and is guaranteed to teach your travelers things that they never knew about Kansas.
Leavenworth, A Frontier Fortress
Not far from Kansas City, the town of Leavenworth is home to two notable institutions: a large famous prison and Fort Leavenworth, an Army installation with more than its fair share of history.
Used primarily for advanced military education, Fort Leavenworth is open for groups to tour and has a number of interesting attractions. The fort was founded in 1827 and is the oldest continuously active fort west of the Appalachian mountains. It played a major role in keeping the peace among the Indian tribes and pioneers who made their way through the area on their way to settle in the West.
Historic tours of the fort include stops at Fort Leavenworth National Cemetery, the Command and General Staff College and the Buffalo Soldier Monument. Also on-site is the Frontier Army Museum, which showcases the Army’s role in westward expansion and has artifacts such as a carriage used by Abraham Lincoln and a Conestoga Prairie Schooner.
While you’re there: The C.W. Parker Carousel Museum in Leavenworth can bring out the child in even the most seasoned traveler. This museum pays tribute to the Parker company that made carousels in the city during the early 20th century and features dozens of original, hand-carved figures, as well as a working carousel that groups can ride.
Topeka, A Victory Remembered
We often think of the civil rights movement as taking place in the deep South, but one of the most pivotal legal decisions in America’s desegregation originated in Topeka. Brown vs. Board of Education was the landmark Supreme Court decision that mandated integration of public schools nationwide in 1954, and today, the Brown vs. Board of Education National Historic Site helps visitors appreciate the significance of this achievement.
The historic-site museum is located in a former Topeka school that itself was once segregated. The classrooms have been converted to museum galleries that use multimedia and experiential exhibits to give visitors an understanding of the context of the civil rights struggle to and the difficulties encountered by some of the first black students integrated into all-white schools. The museum encourages visitors to consider the present state of race relations in the country and to find ways to achieve unity and reconciliation.
While you’re there: A number of businesses in Topeka offer interactive experiences for tour groups. Visitors can learn to fuse glass and make jewelry at Prairie Glass Studio; pick up home decor techniques at Discovery Furniture; make premium soy candles at Marion Lane Candles; and enjoy a candy demonstration and tasting at Hazel Hill Chocolate.