Any number of us would ask, ‘why on earth would I want to visit Wilson, Kansas?’ Well, we said the same thing but after taking an afternoon to go explore, we were pleasantly surprise about the history of this little Kansas town and there is good reason why its so important to Kansas history.
In September 2017, after we had visited our son and his family in Minneapolis, it was time to get underway and make way down the road to head west southwest as the autumn temps were starting to plummet. When the mercury starts falling, that’s our cue to leave and head for warmer climates.
Dan did a little research on where to anchor down and found an awesome Corps of Engineers in Kansas near Wilson. We parked our 5th wheel at Minooka Park COE Campground that overlooked the water.
A couple days after settling down and getting set up, we put our walking shoes on drove to Wilson, Czech Capital of Kansas.
It’s small towns like Wilson that make us yearn to experience more about the backroads of and roadside attractions in America because we truly believe it’s where America starts.
When we arrived, we were greeted with a welcome sign partly printed in Slavic. We were also hugely greeted by a beautifully painted monstrous Czech Egg right when we entered town. As you see by it’s 20’ tall and 15’ wide monstrous size, it’s no wonder it’s been dubbed ‘World’s Largest’.
Once we took a few photos, we walked into the small town. It’s an old town with architecture that boasts peculiarity yet of interesting history. Instead of me telling you why these were so significant, I’ll just point you to our recent blog post Post Rock Scenic Byway – Kansas.
A short and sweet history lesson…
At the beginning of 1874, Czech immigrants from Bohemia arrived in Wilson to work on the railroad and establish the town as area center of Czech culture.
We noticed, as with all of the towns in central United States, railroad tracks parted the town.
We’re assuming these long steel remnants of transportation delivered goods and coal to the community and hauled out grain and agricultural harvest from the area because of the neighboring Kansas Skyscrapers (grain silos) posed directly next to them.
As we walked further into town, we didn’t find it bustling like other towns we’ve visited throughout our travels. It was ghostly quiet with few modern cars and people.
Some of the buildings were ruins while others appeared to be brought back to life and refurbished as there were fresh business signs posted on or in front of them.
These buildings were not constructed with wood or modern masonry as there were no trees or forestry to be found from miles around. So, wood and those kinds of construction supplies were not commodities. Instead, they were constructed of limestone blocks that were hand split and brought in locally. Other buildings were of steel metal siding. Today, some are refaced with stucco that has proven it doesn’t last as long as the original sandstone blocks.
Funny though, we did see a run down Lumber Company next to the train tracks which probably was the only game in town to acquire building supplies. You won’t find The Home Depot or Lowe’s here!
We stopped for some lunch vittles at a local cafe. We treated ourselves to a delicious home cooked buffet lunch of chicken and dumplin’s, mashed potatoes, incredibly smooth gravy and green beans.
Though the building and interior was seriously dated and the dishes and silverware didn’t match, the staff was exceptional, accommodating, friendly and the pies…OH THOSE PIES!! Their idea of a serving was one quarter of a pie with a huge scoop of homemade vanilla ice cream! Holy moly me oh my! I’ve not eaten pie that good since Grandma used to make. Even with Dan and I sharing it, we couldn’t finish it all.
When it came time for us to pay our bill, Dan slipped out to go do it at the tiny two-machine laundromat next door.
While Dan was doing laundry, there was an elderly cowboy-looking gentleman who was standing next to me at the old cash register. As I studied him intensely, I was thinking “Oh, the stories he could tell!” Anyways, I told the cashier to go ahead and give me his bill to. He acted shocked but gladly obliged. It certainly opened up for some interesting dialog.
I stayed and talked for a couple minutes to hear his story but he and the cashier lady seemed more interested in learning about our travels nomadic lifestyle. I showed them a photo of our RV and did their eyebrows raise!
Once our conversations ended, I went next door to see how our laundry escapade was going. Dan was seated inside perusing the internet on his phone. Since we had about a half hour for the machines to cycle, we went to go walk lunch off and meander deeper into the town.
Again, it was eerily quiet with very little pedestrian or vehicle traffic. It was actually a little scary like some sci-fi movie. According to the 2010 census, there were 781 people. I don’t think we saw 10.
While we walked up and down the small streets, we noticed a peculiar short round building made out of the post rocks I wrote about in our previous blog piece; Post Rock Scenic Byway. As we walked up to it, we noticed it was an old water tower and jail.
We looked inside it’s only barred window and interestingly, we noticed a porcelain sink and a toilet with semi-modern plumbing. Funny, one could say they couldn’t find a corner to pee in!
Looking at the time on our phones, we made our way back to the laundromat noticing this building with several trees growing inside of it which is telling of how long it’s been since being abandoned. You surely don’t see that everyday!
There was a small part of town not far up the street from the laundromat that had a few modern homes. I couldn’t help photographing this little gem. What a great tiny house. I wished I could have seen the inside.
Right next door, there as a small Bed and Breakfast and I couldn’t help noticing this cool little ‘public library’. I’ve heard and read of them but have never seen them in person. If only I had some books to donate!
So, our visit to Wilson, Kansas concluded after we finished our laundry and headed back to the Minooka Park Corps of Engineers Campground.
We feel blessed to be able to cruise the backroads of America that the majority of travelers just skip through. If only everyone could take the next exit to see these small towns and how they formed our great Country. Each are unique and have their own story to tell.
The backroads is where it’s at.
Related blogs you may be interested in:
Minooka Park Corps of Engineers Campground
Post Rock Rock Scenic Byway
Roadside America: Garden of Eden in Lucas, Kansas – Coming soon!!!