This month’s feature on Franklin County, Kansas, comes straight from the experts! Special thanks to the article’s author Diana Staresinic-Deane, Old Depot Museum Manager, with input from Franklin County experts Deborah Barker, Director, Franklin County Historical Society and Kristi Lee, President, Franklin County Convention and Visitors Bureau.
Exploring Franklin County is a must for anyone interested in railroad history, Bleeding Kansas and Civil War history, Native American history, and architecture. A pedestrian friendly downtown, free parking, bike and walking trails, great restaurants and ample hotel rooms make Franklin County an easy place for the whole family to visit for a few hours or a few days.
No first visit to Franklin County could be complete without a stop at the Old Depot Museum in Ottawa, Kansas. Designed by Ottawa’s own George Washburn, the building was originally constructed as a Kansas City, Lawrence, and Southern Kansas depot in 1888, but was soon acquired by the Santa Fe and made a division headquarters, complete with car shops, a roundhouse, freight depot, and Railway Express Agency. After seven decades of service, it became the flagship museum for the Franklin County Historical Society. Permanent exhibits include a sound-immersion exhibit on the Pottawatomie Massacre, the exaggerated postcards of William “Dad” Martin, and a large HO-scale model railroad, where steam and diesel trains chug through a miniature version of 1950s Franklin County. This spring and summer, the museum is proud to present “From Ottawa to ‘Over There’: Franklin County Goes to War,” a photo-rich temporary exhibit on Franklin County’s role in WWI that will include a research room for genealogists and military historians. The museum gift store features local history books, music, art, and train souvenirs. Heritage Traveler subscribers will receive a special coupon to save 25% on one gift store item!
Interested in early rural Kansas history? The 1859 Dietrich Cabin reopens for the season on May 16. Open on the third Saturdays from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. from May through September, the cabin’s monthly Living History Events include reenactors, artisan demonstrations, crafts, and music. These events are free and perfect for the whole family.
Ottawa is also home to the oldest continuously operating cinema in the United States. The first motion picture played at the Plaza Cinema in 1905 and is still showing first-run feature films today. Catch a movie and explore the cinema’s Movie Memorabilia Museum as part of your Franklin County adventure! Heritage Traveler subscribers receive a special coupon for buy-one-get-one free admission to the museum.
No visit to Ottawa would be complete without exploring its architecture. Listed on the National Register of Historic Places, Ottawa’s downtown area features several blocks of beautiful 19th century architecture. While you’re downtown, watch for the Downtown History Kiosks, which highlight historic buildings and historic events on each block of this historic district. What’s more, these buildings house a vibrant collection of stores and restaurants. Architect George Washburn called Ottawa home, and many of his designs, which included courthouses, schools, businesses, and residences, can be found in Ottawa. The Franklin County Courthouse is the oldest still-standing courthouse designed by Washburn and includes the original courtroom. Ottawa University‘s Administration Building, the oldest building on campus, is another of his creations. Washburn’s own architecture office is still a part of historic downtown. Interested in historic houses? Pick up a Franklin County Heritage Homes driving tour map at the Visitors Information Center.
The Franklin County Historical Society is creating a very special event just for Heritage Traveler subscribers: a private tour of George Washburn’s downtown offices. Today the building is owned by architect Doug Loyd, who has recreated Washburn’s workspace and filled the rooms with memorabilia and artifacts showcasing Washburn’s designs. This special event will be held Saturday, June 6, from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. For just $3.00, you can tour the Old Depot Museum and then walk, bike or drive a few blocks south to your Heritage Traveler bonus tour: climbing the steep steps to George Washburn’s offices on Main Street. Just bring the coupon in your Heritage Traveler Insider email with you. Contact the Old Depot Museum for more information.
Franklin County’s history isn’t limited to Ottawa. Driving tours guide you to historic points of interest in the county. While you’re exploring the countryside, stop by the Appanoose Museum and the Richmond Museum to learn more about life in Franklin County’s rural and small-town communities. Love quilts? You’ll also love Franklin County’s Quilt Block Tour. Maps for both the driving and Quilt Block Tours are available through the Franklin County Visitors Information Center and the Old Depot Museum. Are you interested in Bleeding Kansas History? Make Franklin County part of a larger adventure that includes Black Jack Battlefield in Douglas County and the John Brown Museum in Osawatomie, both only a few miles from the Old Depot Museum’s Pottawatomie Massacre exhibit.
Want to explore Franklin County on foot or on bicycle? Make the Prairie Spirit Trail and Flint Hills Nature Trail part of your Franklin County adventure! Two major railroad lines—the Santa Fe and the Missouri Pacific—once crossed through Franklin County, and though you can’t ride the train anymore, you can hike or bike these well-maintained rails-to-trails paths. Interested in architecture? Make a day of the Prairie Spirit Trail, which will connect you to other towns with Washburn-designed structures. Interested in Bleeding Kansas History? Take in the Pottawatomie Massacre exhibit at the Old Depot Museum, then peddle the Flint Hills Nature Trail east to Osawatomie to explore the John Brown Museum.
Like to eat? Locally owned restaurants abound. Feast on Italian, Mexican, or Barbeque, or pile on the toppings at one of our local pizzerias. You’ll also find a great cup of coffee and locally baked goods on Main Street.
Want to take home your own pieces of history? Ottawa is home to several thriving antique stores, many in easy walking distance of each other. Pick up a map at the Visitors Information Center or the Old Depot Museum.
Are you bringing young children? Franklin County’s Dietrich Cabin Living History Events, rails-to-trails, parks, and playgrounds ensure that even the youngest visitors will have a great time!
Not sure when to plan your visit? Consider scheduling your trip around some of Franklin County’s major festivals. Whether you’re into art or engines, you’ll find a gathering of enthusiasts in Franklin County. Check out the Franklin County Convention and Visitors Bureau for the latest schedule of upcoming Franklin County events.
Want to get in on the special Heritage Traveler Insider deals mentioned in this article? Become a Heritage Traveler today!