Kansas in Miniature at the Exploration Place in Wichita, Kansas

Kansas Hotel

Small Town Kansas Hotel

Kansas: Leader or Follower?

From the divisive events of the 1850s surrounding John Brown's actions to the controversial 1954 Supreme Court decision in Brown vs. the Topeka Board of Education, Kansas has often played a prominent role in the struggle for civil rights in this country. Yet, despite many civil rights pioneers in the state and a tradition of civil rights advocacy, Kansas remained a segregated state for much of the 20th century. Separate schools, separate water fountains, separate seating in theaters, and separate hotels for blacks and whites were commonplace in many places throughout the state. Wichita's Water Street Hotel served an African-American clientele at a time when even American icons Duke Ellington, Satchel Paige, and Marion Anderson were not allowed to enter whites-only hotels.

Kansas Water Tower

Kansas Water Tower

Spelunking on the prairie

The buttes and canyons of the Red Hills are a direct result of erosion's relentless carving of the layers of gypsum (calcium sulfate). That same erosion also created numerous caves in the red siltstone and sandstone of those hills, over 400 in Barber and Comanche Counties alone. They are thought to have been created several thousand years ago, making them younger than their limestone cave cousins. The Red Hills of south central Kansas were called the Medicine Hills by Plains Indians because they believed the waters of the Medicine River contained powers to heal their ailments.

Kansas Farm

Small Town Kansas Farm

In the heart of America's heartland

In the years after the Civil War, settlers were drawn to the plains of Kansas by the promise of free or cheap land. They worked against the weather: droughts, floods, hail, lightning, and dust storms. They survived prairie fires and hordes of insects. These challenges forced farmers to experiment with new crops and new types of machinery. After finding that corn did not grow well in many parts of the state, farmers found that the wheat brought from Russia by Mennonites grew very well across the state. Kansas soon became the leading wheat producer it is today.

Kansas Carnival

Kansas Carnival

Life's a circus

Many Kansas towns were and some still are, too small to support permanent forms of public entertainment. But even early settlers needed a break from hardworking days, and traveling carnivals and fairs became a traditional treat. Families waited all year for a carnival or circus to march its way into town, with its rides, food, and entertainment. Many children worked with the carnival's traveling staff and crew in exchange for admission to the shows. These events were not just a place of thrilling rides and side shows, but also an opportunity to greet neighbors, trade news, and create a holiday for the community.

Miniature Kansas Libraries

Shrewd, unscrupulous, or enlightened?

Andrew Carnegie was born to an immigrant family and educated himself by studying at his local library. He became a businessman and built the largest steel empire of his time, becoming incredibly wealthy in the process. As he grew older, he became a philanthropist, donating money to communities all over the country to build public libraries in which anyone could study. Carnegie is remembered as a supporter of literacy and education. He is also remembered as a ruthless capitalist who exploited workers and crushed his competition by unfair means. There are several excellent examples of Carnegie Libraries throughout the state of Kansas including the one in El Dorado.

Kansas Movie Theater

Kansas Movie Theater

Escape from Reality

Before suburban, high-tech multiplexes, going to the movies meant going downtown to the movie palace. These theaters were designed to offer their patrons a welcome escape from their everyday routines. Usually elaborately designed in fantastical styles based in far-away places, ancient times or luxuriant American art movements, these theaters sported costumed ushers, lit their ceilings with electric stars, and were often the first place in town with air conditioning. The Anthony Theater, still operating in Anthony, Kansas, is a representative example of movie palace décor. It drew its inspiration from the Art-Deco style popular between the two World Wars.

Miniature Kansas Town Square

Small Town Kansas Town Square

Who Needs the Past?

Growth, modernization, and economic development are essential to keep a community vibrant and healthy. A sense of tradition, continuity, and the tangible presence of the past are important to maintain a community's sense of pride, direction and identity. What is the best answer when these views collide, creating passionate debates over whether to preserve historic structures or demolish them to make room for progress? Wichita's Art Deco Fire Station #9 was the center of a debate that pitted those who wanted to preserve the firehouse against those who believed in the value of expanding Kellogg into a highway. Advocates of change eventually won and the firehouse was torn down in 1997.

Kansas Drive In Movie Theater

Kansas Drive In Movie Theater

Soda jerks, Carhops and Jive

Restaurant dining in the 1920s could be expensive, formal, and slow. When the Nu-Way came to West Douglas on July 4, 1930, Wichitans were ready for a new way to "eat out." Into the 1950s, Nu-Way and carhop eateries everywhere combined the American love of cars and fast food. You could park easily, get served "crumbly burgers" in your car, pay less, show off the new Chevy, and still get to the drive-in movie. As car ownership grew, a world of drive-in restaurants and movie theaters grew with it. No longer a drive-in, Wichita's West Douglas Nu-Way is now called the Nu-Way Café and still prides itself on its burgers.

Miniature Kansas Homes

Small Town Kansas Homes

House, Castle or Dream?

For most of the 20th century, the American Dream included ownership of a single-family house. Early in the century this dream meant bungalows, many of them ordered by mail from Sears & Roebuck catalogs. After World War II, cheap mortgage rates and new techniques of mass production created an explosion of suburban home building. These affordable homes devoured farmland, created sprawl, and made cars almost indispensable to American life. Could these effects have been anticipated? What are the benefits and costs of designing our communities this way? Post-war suburban homes sprang up everywhere throughout the state of Kansas. Notice the fire truck at work on the burning house in the background.

Kansas Grain Elevator

Kansas Grain Elevator

Ready for takeoff

As the nation's farms grew larger, the idea of protecting crops with chemicals sprayed from the air grew with them. While a crop-dusting airplane usually started out as an army surplus biplane converted in a backyard, it still needed a reliable landing field. Airplane manufacturers and local governments, allies in the effort to bring the benefits of flight to rural Kansas, responded with county airports equipped with low-cost, easily maintained, grass runways. These far-sighted efforts have also encouraged ownership of private planes and the growth of commercial airlines. Though you won't find grass on its runways anymore, Allen County Airport exists much as it did in the late 1940's, linking the quiet tradition of crop-dusting with the frenzy of modern air travel.

Miniature Kansas Bandstand

Play It Again Sam

What if you had no computer and only a very small, snowy-screened, black and white TV? Chances are you'd be as excited as your Kansas predecessors were about concerts at the community gazebos. Throngs of people attended, including children eager for popcorn sold for just pennies a bag. Stores stayed open late so farmers could do their shopping, but when the first notes of the scheduled act filled the evening, everyone was seated on their blanket or chair – filled with anticipation. Now that's entertainment. Bandstands popped up in many communities in the first decade of the 1900s like this one in Yates Center, Kansas. In good weather, a professional or amateur act would be featured free every week.

Kansas Railroad

The Ties That Bind

Starting with the 3 mile line that linked Elwood to Wathena in the northeast corner of the state in 1860, a broad, interconnecting network of railroads spread across Kansas over the next seven decades. By 1912, the network was so important to town life that four county seat towns in southwestern Kansas were packed up on rollers and moved to new locations where they could be better served by the Santa Fe Railroad. Even today, after the abandonment of many lines, every county in Kansas is served by at least one railroad. Once a hub of railroad activity, the Kingman Railroad Station now thrives as an office building.

Miniature Kansas Church

Small Town Kansas Church

Kansas Oil Men

Uncle Frank: Barber? Banker? Oilman!

Automobiles were once a luxury and gas stations a novelty. Frank Phillips, known as "Uncle Frank" to his employees, was taking a huge risk when he made oil his third career. He tamed the boom-to-bust cycle of oil production when he combined his businesses in 1917. Ten years later, he created a huge new market for his products by investing in the concept of neighborhood gas stations. Uncle Frank's success was a classic underdog tale in which Phillips Petroleum went head-to-head with the giants in the oil industry. Within three years, he was selling gasoline at 6750 outlets in 12 states for about 17 cents a gallon. Although now used for other purposes, the Phillips Gas Station on Central in Wichita, Kansas, opened in 1927, the first of thousands of stations that sold Phillips Petroleum's gasoline.

Miniature Kansas Public Landmarks

Greater than the Sum of its Parts

Throughout Kansas, communities have demonstrated their pride in their towns by erecting prominent civic landmarks: courthouses, town halls, parks and monuments. These achievements have been located on prestigious sites to demonstrate the community's prosperity, vigor and pride to visitors and residents alike. These structures have usually been designed in the popular formal architectural style of the times to reflect their importance as testaments to civic pride and democracy. The Chase County Courthouse, constructed in 1873 in Cottonwood Falls, is the oldest active courthouse in Kansas. Designed in the French Second Empire Style of architecture, it is an outstanding example of a familiar building found in many communities.

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