Thursday, May 15, 2014

Explore Kansas

Old windmill at the Cottonwood Ranch

If we listened to what comedians had to say, Kansans could develop a full-blown inferiority complex. Kansas is labeled a flyover state. People who don't know any better think it's just a flat piece of land that you have to drive through to get to the Rockies.

Even we Kansans sometimes don't realize what's in our own backyards. A couple of weekends ago, Randy and I went to northwest Kansas to get our Army truck converted to a feed wagon. We coordinated the delivery with our first Explore Kansas event with the Master Farmer-Master Farm Homemaker organization.

Our hosts were Cleon and Anita Davis of Hill City who organized a day-long tour of their neck of the woods. OK, there weren't many woods, but there were certainly beautiful hills and valleys of the Plains beginning to green up for spring. (I wish I'd taken scenery photos. The landscape is decidedly different from my part of the state, where, yes, it is rather flat. But there's beautiful in it all, in my humble, Kansas opinion.)

But I did take photos of some of the attractions we saw as we traveled Graham County in a school bus. (As we slowly drove past a park on a Saturday in our big yellow school bus, I figure at least a few people were thinking, "What are those old people doing on that bus?")

The guys on the trip started their day at Money Chevrolet, where they got a private tour with owner Mike Money.
Do you watch "American Pickers" on the History Channel? His collection would rival anything that Mike and Frank find across America as they search for automotive and transportation memorabilia. These are no longer dusty relics found hidden away in barns and old businesses. They are spit-and-polish glimpses at the past. 
He had neon and porcelain signs scattered among his large collection of carefully restored cars and pickups.
The women on the trip got to spend a few minutes looking at the automotive memorabilia after our first stop of the day, the Linda Louise Doll House.
Judy Goltl and her husband, Evan, moved and converted an octagonal farm granary into the doll house as a tribute to their 5-year-old daughter, Linda Louise, who died of cancer in 1962.The doll house sits adjacent to their Hill City home. 
She literally has hundreds of dolls, all of them occupied in living tableaus that have them sharing a tea party, bathing, playing the piano or taking a nap. Judy has supplemented her doll collection with pieces of antique furniture and vintage toys and clothing.
She gives tours of her doll house by appointment. (Call 785-421-5455.) While she doesn't charge admission, she has collected more than $1,000 in donations, which she has forwarded to St. Jude Children's Research Hospital in memory of their daughter.

Our tour also took us to the small town of Morland, also in Graham County. We toured the Morland Mercantile, a small grocery store made possible through grants and the hard work of community volunteers. I loved the sign on their window which said, "Free Wind: Take All You Want."

Another Morland attraction is the mural on the outside of the Citizens State Bank.
The bas relief mural was made entirely of brick by Arkansas artist Jack Curran. He sculpted the mural to commemorate the local paleontology dig funded by National Geographic in the mid-1980s. He formed plants, animals and terrain found in northwest Kansas 8 to 10 million years ago and added a modern-day digger. The dig site is on private property in Graham County, but artifacts found there can be viewed at the Sternberg Museum of Natural History in Hays.

While in Morland, we ate at the Prairie Junction Restaurant. (They feature several flavors of homemade ice cream.) After a short bus ride, we arrived at the Cottonwood Ranch at Studley, Kansas. (Yes, there is really a town named Studley. They can no longer have city signs because they proved too big a temptation for souvenir seekers.)
Cottonwood Ranch was originally purchased as 160 acres in 1878 by businessman Abraham Pratt of England. Pratt and his two boys lived in a dugout on the south bank of the South Soloman River the first few years after the purchase. The original house was built in 1885 out of native stone and was one room with an earthen floor and sod-covered roof. After a blizzard that winter that left ice on the inside north wall, the roof was replaced with wood and two other additions added to the east and west sides of the house, making the house what it is today. 

The house has several beautiful stained glass windows, not something I would have thought about seeing in a home built more than a hundred years ago.
The ranch also consists of a sod stable, sod-walled corral, and wooden bathhouse that are still there today. In the 1880s, a natural spring was modified to carry water into a cistern at the house, which a pipeline carried to provide running water there.
Like many Kansas settlers, the Pratts build their outbuildings with influences from their native country. The way the outbuildings adjoin the stone wall is called a Yorkshire pattern, based on a design from their native England. The Pratts raised Merino sheep, considered to have the finest and softest wool of any sheep.

The Cottonwood Ranch is staffed by longtime curator Don Rowlison. Cottonwood Ranch is owned by the Kansas State Historical Society but is operated by Friends of Cottonwood Ranch based in Hoxie. Cottonwood Ranch was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1983, and was nominated for its association with the settlement of western Kansas and its unique architecture.
We also toured the Graham County Historical Museum based in Hill City. With only a day in Graham County, we didn't get to see all of the attractions, which also includes Nicodemus, an all-black community established by former slaves from Kentucky in the 1870s.

Our brief tour of Graham County just proved there is lots to see and do in Kansas. We're nearing the end of school and vacation season. If you're looking to come to my neck of the woods, check out these blog posts about attractions in my area:

Quivira National Wildlife Refuge
Stafford Mercantile
Nora Larabee Memorial Library 
Stafford United Methodist Church
Stafford County Flour Mills (written by Amber Fox Rugan on her blog, A Gentle Word)

This would be just a glimpse at the attractions near Stafford. Let me know if you're coming this direction and want additional ideas!

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