Kansas Travel Blog

Chronicling changes to KansasTravel.org and Keith's exploration & photographing Kansas restaurants, attractions, museums, festivals and art. Contact him.
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St. Bede's Catholic Church - Kelly, Kansas
Tuesday - July 1, 2014: Mary joined us as we paid a second visit to Sizzles BBQ Bar & Grill in Shawnee, giving us a chance to sample three more entrees: BBQ brisket & short ribs, and ribeye steak. 

The servings were still very large. Part of the brisket and half of the ribs went home with us. The flavor of both was good, though the meat on the ribs did not want to come off the bone. The ribeye was very good.

Sizzles offers a wider variety of side dish choices with out additional charge than many restaurants. The sauteed portabello mushrooms were very good!


Sizzles BBQ Bar and Grill - Shawnee. Kansas Sizzles BBQ Bar & Grill
Thursday - July 3, 2014: Our first overnight Kansas trip of the summer began after work on Thursday, when Linda and I headed west to check into the Salina Best Western and have supper at one of my vary favorite unique Kansas restaurants, the Renaissance Cafe, which occupies part of an old high school in Assaria (population 413).

I make a serious effort to get back to this fine Italian restaurant at least once a year. I really love their steak venato (ribeye dredged in seasoned bread crumbs and grilled, then smothered in a savory sauce of brown mustard, shallots, mushrooms, cognac and cream), but decided to try the steak Porcini this time. It is also a ribeye, but dry rubbed with spices, grilled and served with porcini mushroom butter. It was good, but the Venato is still my favorite

I am going to have a tough decision the next time. Linda gave me a taste of her salmon with a sun dried tomato, shallot, garlic, thyme, white wine & butter sauce and it was some of the best salmon I have every had.

We each had the Gorgonzola romaine salad and we split a crispy calamari starter & a dark chocolate bread pudding with bourbon vanilla sauce which left my mouth felling wonderful.

Before settling in for the evening, we stopped at another unique Kansas restaurant, but this one is at the other end of the spectrum. The 92 year old Cozy Inn has just six stools and the only hot food prepared is one ounce burgers. After the wonderful meal I had just had, I couldn't bring myself to have a burger, but checked on the current menu and took a few pictures. The interior of the restaurant always smells like hamburger & onions, and after just a couple of minutes inside, Linda could smell the grease and onions on my clothes and hair when I returned to the vehicle.




Friday - July 4, 2014: WI had been careful to plans things for July 4th, to include attractions and restaurants which would be open on the holiday, but when we arrived at the "Cathedral of the Plains" (Saint Fidelis Catholic Church in Victoria, Kansas) where I intended to do new interior photography, there were many vehicles parked in front and people in dress clothes were walking in. We pushed on to Hays.

In Hays we first visited St. Joseph Catholic Church. Ellis County has a large number of magnificent stone churches which were built by the Volga German immigrants when the area was at its peak. The current building were usually about the 3rd structure at a given location and are very impressive. I already have pages devoted to several of them, but a service had been in progress when I last tried to photograph this 1887 building. The interior was interesting, but not nearly as impressive as the outside and I don't think that this one is going to get a page of its own.

The nearby Ellis County Historical Society's museum turned out to be very nicely done. The displays were attractive and professional looking and the descriptions talked about the items on exhibit, their context and how they related to other items. This is a big contrast to the many historical societies whose artifacts are just setting there more or less at random and have labels which tell you more about the person that donated the item, then about what it is or represents.

I was blown away by the work of Ellis County's renaissance man. Justis Bissing Jr was a Volga German immigrant who came to Hays in the latter half of the 19th Century. He was primarily an architect and entrepreneur, but he was also an fabulous cabinet maker. The piece which impressed me the most was a 6' tall "Apostle" clock with incredible detail. Using only a foot powered jigsaw, he spent years working on the clock which is constructed from seven woods and has four tubular chimes, two brass clock works, and eleven electric lamps that light up when the clock chimed. I wish it was running!

Linda collects postcards and they sometimes give us clues to new things to see. In the museum gift shop she found a card for the Kansas Merci Boxcar Museum, which I had never heard of, and we went there when we left the Historical Society.

There was a fairly good reason I hadn't heard of it. The "museum" consists of one boxcar in front of the American Legion Hall. It is one of 49 boxcars given to the United States by the grateful citizens of France in 1949. It was originally displayed in Topeka and then was taken on a 140 day tour of 120 Kansas towns ending on Armistice Day, November 11, 1949. I found the story more interesting than the outside of the car. It was behind bars, so we couldn't see if there was anything inside.

For lunch we tried K's Diner in Hays, which is known for "home cooking." The restaurant was very clean and the service was good. The onion rings and chicken fried steak were pretty good, Linda didn't care for the catfish, which seemed to have the same batter as the rings and steak. Although the French fries were fresh cut, they didn't takes that good and the corn tasted like straight from a can with no effort to make it more appealing.

Leaving Hays, we headed north, stopping occasionally to drive through the few small towns along the route and take some photos. The neatest stop was Palco where we photographed a restored classic Shelly service station, which appears to house a sandwich shop called, "The Spot." When we walked past the adjacent grocery store, we saw signs with the welcome news, "Auction Cancelled - The community has come together and the Palco Grocery and Deli will continue as an ongoing business and will continue to serve the city of Palco and surrounding area." Searching online in the evening, we learned that the auction had been scheduled for 3 weeks earlier. I hope it works out!

Our only planned stop for the afternoon was Nicodemus National Historic Site. Nicodemus was established in July 1877 by freed slaves leaving Kentucky.  After reaching a peak of 600 residents over then 15-20 years, the town failed when the railroad passed the community by. There are about 40 residents today, as well as several buildings being maintained by the National Park Service.

As we were preparing to leave, we saw a sign saying "Ernestine's BBQ ... Gift Shop" and saw a small home with the door and windows open. Wanting to support small town businesses, we stopped and checked out the gift shop, but didn't see anything that we wanted. We were still full from lunch, so we got cold drinks and a personal sized sweet potato pie to take with us and eat in the car. That warm pie was so good!!!.

We stayed the night at the LandMark Inn in Oberlin. It occupies the Bank of Oberlin building built in 1886, the Reeder Building built in 1888 and a small modern addition. We had the "Judges Chambers" suite right above the front door of the bank. It was a nice room, but had too much light in the morning and was too far from the wifi. I had to go to the other end of the building to get on the internet.

The Teller Room Restaurant which occupies the former bank lobby was closed for Independence Day, but the owner, Gary Anderson, had committed to preparing a meal for hotel guests who wanted them. The menu changes daily, with three options each evening. Linda had shrimp scampi and I had a open face chicken salad sandwich which was toasted with cheese. Considering the limited choice, we were both quite happy with our selections.

The Teller Room is known for its desserts (which are available anytime for hotel guests) and we split a "German chocolate hot fudge" - a house specialty which was invented after a German chocolate cake turned out differently than planned and they looked for a use for it. I really liked it, eating more than I should have! It is a sundae dish with German chocolate cake, ice cream, butter pecan frosting topping, and hot fudge sauce for $3.50

After supper, we drove around town, then returned to the hotel to play board games and catch up on the Internet.



Shelly service station - Palco, Kansas Shelly service station

LandMark Inn - Oberlin, Kansas LandMark Inn

Saturday - July5, 2014: Saturday's breakfast was included at the Landmark Inn: spicy sausage links, egg/cheese/potato dish, scone and fruit. All were good.

We drove up to the Nebraska state line and investigated Cedar Bluffs, a town of perhaps 2 dozen people. We returned to Oberlin by 10AM to be at the Decatur County Last Indian Raid Museum when it opened, but when we went up to the door, there were prominent signs saying that photography was not permitted. Since the point of the visit was to photograph the museum for my web site, we went on our way.

We headed east on US36, investigating small towns and making our way to Norton to the They Also Ran Gallery. The gallery is part of the First National Bank, but is normally closed on the weekend. The curator had made arrangements for us to be let into the gallery if we made it there before the bank closed for the day at 11:30AM.

The gallery is devoted to Presidential Candidates who were defeated, and it has received a lot of attention from around the country. Each Inauguration Day there is an inauguration party honoring the newest member of the gallery. Although the gallery is mainly devoted to the two major parties, some significant third party candidates are also included.

Across the street, we also found an cute restored vintage Conoco gas station. There are so many of these vintage stations across Kansas, with no signs explaining who is doing the work or why.

Next we visited the replica stagecoach station in the municipal roadside park. The original Station 15 was located near the present day community and was a stop on the Leavenworth and Pikes Peak Express Company. The stagecoach company had a very short life and was reorganized as the Central Overland California and Pikes Peak Express which launched the Pony Express. These companies were all in a period of about 3 years.

Before leaving town, we had lunch at the Town & Country. Linda had a club sandwich and I had a chicken fried steak sandwich, They both came on toasted white sandwich bread and came with potato chips for $7 & $8.50. They were OK, but the best thing was that it was quick.

We continued to stop briefly at some of the small towns, but the next destination was the Home on the Range Cabin, which recently had a major restoration. The one room cabin was where Dr. Brewster N. Higley wrote the poem "My Western Home" which was made into the song "Home on the Range," the Kansas State song.

Linda had never been there before and we followed it up with a visit to another place she had never visited, the Geographical Center of the contiguous United States, near Lebanon, Kansas. While we were there, another family found a camera which had been left behind. We looked at the photos and saw that it was a family of 4 who had recently been at the Big Ball of Twine, Nicodemus, and Garden of the Gods, but there was no clue who they were. The family who found it decided to look for a Sheriff's office in Lebanon to leave the camera.

We were running out of afternoon and I wanted to be at the next stop before 4PM. so we sped through the next few small towns to go to Belleville and the Boyer Gallery. I hadn't been to the gallery since 2007 and returning to share it with Linda was a real treat.

Paul Boyer lost a leg when he was 35 years old. He needed something to do, had always been mechanically creative, and started carving. For about 50 years he has made fascinating mechanical creations with tiny mechanisms to make them move. The mechanisms are as beautiful as the sculptures and many of the sculptures are funny. Others have ball bearing moving on various intricate tracks, bouncing off of trampolines and otherwise moving in multiple complex patterns. We stayed until the museum closed at 5PM.

We had supper at a place which we stumbled across in the next county seat, Mayberry's in Washington. The steakhouse occupies a large older building and has done some interesting things with the dinning room, including naming all of the booths for nearby townships and putting signs over them. But the food was uninteresting. The onion rings were ordinary frozen rings. The French fries and fried potatoes were fresh cut, but not cooked enough and not very good. My prime rib came medium well, not the medium rate which I ordered. I think the server realized it was wrong and would have taken it back, but I never send anything back.

Tonight's hotel was the 1905 Weaver Hotel in Waterville. After sitting quietly empty for years, the Waterville Preservation Society purchased the building, restored it, and volunteers have now operated it for 5 years. Most of the hotel was full with a family reunion when I made our reservation, so we settled for one of the smallest rooms. The size of the room and cramped bathroom reminded us of Europe, but everything was up to date and we had no complaints.



Cedar Bluffs, Kansas Along the railroad tracks in Cedar Bluffs

Weaver Hotel - Waterville, Kansas Weaver Hotel

Sunday - July 6, 2014: Sunday morning we slept in, just getting up in time to have the included breakfast before 10AM. I didn't care much for the breakfast which had fruit, scrambled eggs and a potato egg dish which I disliked.

When walking around the one block downtown the night before, we had seen a sign on the railroad station museum across the street which listed several phone numbers to call to get a tour. The first number listed was the Weaver Hotel, so when we came down to breakfast we asked about it. When we finished breakfast, Ann Walter (who appears to be a force for Waterville promotion) was already waiting to show us the museum, then the adjacent Opera House and the wooden caboose museum. She did a wonderful job!

Now on highway K9. our first real stop of the day was Alcove Spring, which is near Independence Crossing, where pioneer wagons following the Oregon Trail forded the Big Blue River. Part of the year there is a falls dropping down to the spring, but there were just a few drops a minute falling at this time. I had been here before, but wanted to take better photos of the graffiti carved in the rock by pioneers who stopped at the spring in the 1800s.

The spring was named by a member of the Donner Party in 1846. This location was also the site of the first recorded death in the Donner Party - 70 year old Sarah H. Keyes, who died from consumption.

We continued on K-9, making passes through the few communities we passed, until we turned off to visit the unincorporated community of Kelly. A few years ago a friend told me that the tiny community had a huge Catholic Church and this was my first time to check it out. Wow! The 1915 German Gothic inspired limestone building is very ornate, inside and out. We must have spent 20 minutes photographing the altars, statues, windows and other features. The ornate wooden pulpit has a staircase leading up to it and a canopy shaped like a large shell. St. Bede's will be getting its own page soon.

It was getting much later than we planned to have lunch, so we hurried on to Boomers Steakhouse & Grill in Holton. It turned out to be the second best meal of the trip and while it is not unique enough to make our primary list, will be added to the list of other restaurants worth visiting. We each started with a pretty straightforward, but very good French onion soup and we split a warm homemade spinach & artichoke dip. Linda had Broasted chicken and I had a broiled rib eye. They each came with fresh cut fried potato wedges and garlic toast. The wedges were a little overdone, but still good. The garlic toast was very good.

We were tempted by the house made strawberry pie, but had already had a lot of food, so we did without dessert this time. I am pretty sure that we will be back.

We drove back north and then east to Whiting, where someone had emailed me about a waterfall on the Delaware River. I  was expecting a half mile hike, but I hadn't expected the heavy growth and rocky, wet shore with no trail. When we asked a fisherman about getting to the falls, he suggested wading the half mile, which did not appeal. He also mentioned a nearby farmer who might less us drive across his land, but no one was home at that house, so we went on.

The final stop of the trip was Muscotah, just 4 miles away. It is the hometown of Joe Tinker, who was a Chicago Cub and part of the early 1900s double play combo of "Tinker to Evers to Chance." We were there for Joe Tinker Day last July when many things were going on and we wanted to see what more had happened. A museum was being developed in a former water tank which was panted to be the World's Largest Baseball, and they were starting a mural at Joe Tinker Field.  When we arrived at the field, the nice mural which adorned the snack bar was completed, but the back stop and bases had been removed from the field. While I was photographing the mural, a wasp stung me on the lower lip. Nursing my injury, we went on.

No new work has been done on the unfinished interior of the World's Largest Baseball, the seams have started falling off, and the signs were removed. This was a disappointing conclusion to the trip.



Alcove Spring - Kansas Alcove Spring

St. Bede's Catholic Church - Kelly, Kansas St. Bede's Catholic Church

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