African-American History and its links to Kansas trails

February is Black History Month, and Kansas has connections to the Civil War and Civil Rights that also tie in with some of our state’s trails.

Bleeding Kansas

In the 1850s and early 1860s, Kansas Territory was in a series of skirmishes with neighboring Missouri. The battles were so intense, they earned the nickname Bleeding Kansas or Bloody Kansas. The focus of these fights was, primarily, slavery. A few months before the Civil War officially began (some say the first shots of the Civil War were at what is now Black Jack Battlefield), Kansas entered the Union as a free state. You can walk along trails through the historic Black Jack Battlefield – featured as a top history trail in our Kansas Trail Guide.

Nicodemus Visitor's Center. Photo by Mark Conard

Nicodemus Visitor’s Center. Photo by Mark Conard


Kansas was the “promised land” for newly freed slaves, and the town of Nicodemus was created in 1877 as a refuge. It was the first black community west of the Mississippi. While the town’s population fell after the railroad didn’t make it a stop, the community still survives. You can take a self-guided tour of the National Historic Site where some of the original buildings still stand.  From the National Park Service:

The land on which Nicodemus and other black communities stood in Kansas was not the most advantageous for agriculture, and natural drought cycles frustrated efforts to raise crops. Even so, in the decades following the Civil War, this part of the West offered African Americans a chance at a life usually unobtainable in much of the South. The courage and spirit that motivated African Americans to leave their homes and move to the Midwest after the Civil War to places like Nicodemus also helped propel them toward equality of opportunity in Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka, Kansas roughly a century later.

The small town is less than a 15-minute drive from Webster State Park. The Coyote Trail in the park feature signs and interpretive information that can help you learn more about the flora and fauna of the area.

Brown v Board of Education

With Brown v Board of Education, racially segregated public schools became officially determined as unconstitutional. It was clearly a complicated time for race relations, as the Board of Education was pro-segregation, and a group of Topeka parents advocating for their children had to take the issue to the United States Supreme Court. You can visit the Brown v Board of Education site at 1515 SE Monroe Street, Topeka, KS, 66612. This national historic site is free to visit, and it is in the location of the former all black Monroe school. Inside is a series of exhibits on the history of racism, segregation, education, and justice in the state and the country. And it’s the start of the Landon Nature Trail, a 38-mile rail trail that will connect the Shunga Trail in Topeka to the 117-mile Flint Hills Nature Trail.

Overnight in Lyons Twin Mansions in Fort Scott

Lyons Twin Mansions

Lyons Twin Mansions in Fort Scott

After a long day of hiking at Gunn Park and Crawford State Fishing Lake in Southeast Kansas, I arrived at Lyons Twin Mansions in Fort Scott sweaty and stinky. I had no idea what to expect, having contacted the Chamber of Commerce and letting them arrange my accommodations for me, and I couldn’t have been more surprised and more pleased with where I’d be staying for two nights as I researched and hiked trails in the southeast: Lyons Twin Mansions in Fort Scott.


The check in room for Lyons Twin Mansions.

Near the center of town are two twin Victorian mansions one now primarily guest rooms and the other one housing Nate’s Place, the B&B’s restaurant that’s open for anyone and everyone, not just guests. I figured that I was staying somewhere unique as I pulled up and parked the car, but it wasn’t until I stepped inside and was greeted by owner Ms. Pat that I realized just how special this place was.

Elaborate decorations fill the mansion, and everywhere you look, there’s something that catches your eye. From the peacock atop a chest in the dining room to the historical pictures tucked into a windowsill on the way up the servant’s quarters stairs, it’s a lavish and unique place. There are guest rooms in the mansions themselves and a few in the surrounding buildings, as well as a dining room and lounge areas. Each one has its own character and flair. So even if you stay there once, if you go back and you get a different room, it’ll be a whole different experience with rooms ideal for romance and luxury as well as family getaways.

I was staying at the top of the main building servant’s stairs in “The Adventure” room. With wooden floors that creaked upon occasion and old, built in wooden desks, the room also came with modern features that I love whenever I can get them – a king size bed, flat screen TV, and mini fridge. Bonus – the fridge came stocked with a handful of sodas and if I managed to drink them all or needed more Diet Coke (which I happened to need), all I had to do was head outside my room to the living space that not only had a lounge area with several board games, but a microwave and popcorn and extra soda and bottled water.

Shangri-La room at Lyons Twin Mansions

Shangri-La room at Lyons Twin Mansions

My room felt more rustic luxury (as rustic as a place with a comfy bed, coffee maker, DVD player, and couch can be) but there were more high end style luxury rooms, and you can even get an entire mansion to yourself with the von Blucher mansion next door starting from $500 per night.

On the second floor of the main building, I was able to check out a room with a large, walk in steam shower, and upstairs, across the hall from my room in the former servant’s quarters, I snuck a picture through the open door of the Shangri-La room that comes complete with a large whirlpool tub.

The B&B is all about detail. Forgot something, like a phone charger or shaving cream? They’ll be able to take care of you. Don’t like the sound of trains in the night? (In the heyday of the railroad era, 7 lines ran through Fort Scott, now it’s just 2.) There are complimentary earplugs next to your bed for anyone who doesn’t want to be serenaded to sleep by the sound of a train whistle.

Both mornings of my stay, I hit up Nate’s Place for breakfast. The selection was varied, though fairly classic, with options from Belgian waffles topped with whipped cream, strawberries, and blueberries to a create your own omelet to Eggs Benedict. Something new, at least for me, was the sweet hash option – fried sweet potatoes and apples.

I wasn’t able to take advantage of the spa services the B&B can arrange (facial, hot stone and aromatherapy massage, manicure/pedicure), though I wish I would have had the time (and the money). I did get a chance to wander the grounds a bit. With a sprawling lawn in the front and a well-kept fountain and gardens in the backyard complete with hammock, it was a calm, pleasant space to relax. Just the thing after a day of hiking.

The sitting room of the main building

The sitting room of the main building

And, the B&B is on the site, which is a free hospitality exchange for touring cyclists to find places to stay on the trips. Check through the warmshowers site, and if you can, try and stay here.

And even if you’re not crossing the country on your bike or hiking the nearby trails, it’s a great spot to stay under 90 minutes from Kansas City and about 45 minutes from Joplin, MO and worth the trip for a quirky, memorable stay in a historic town.

If you go:
Rooms from $119
742 and 750 South National, Fort Scott, KS 66701


Garden at Lyons Twin Mansions

Garden at Lyons Twin Mansions – The pond I could see from my window in The Adventure room

Your opinion wanted on the Kansas parks

Sundown - February 24, 2010 - Kansas City

Sundown – February 24, 2010 – Kansas City (Photo credit: CoolValley)

The Kansas Department of Wildlife, Parks, and Tourism is looking for your input on Kansas parks. If you go to, they’re looking for specific comments and there’s also a survey that you can complete.

Four topics will be covered:
  • June 21- July 4 TOPIC:  Which outdoor recreation facilities are most in need of renovation or replacement at state and federal parks in Kansas to best enhance outdoor recreation experiences?  Specific examples are welcomed.
  • July 5 – July 18. TOPIC:  Share a story of a meaningful outdoor recreation experience that you or your family had in Kansas and how the site where that experience took place contributed.
  • July 19 – Aug 1. TOPIC:  Which of the following local outdoor recreation experiences would you like most to be within walking distance of your home (if you live in town)?   Trails/picnic areas/sports venues/natural areas/playgrounds
  • Aug 2 – Aug 15 TOPIC:  Improved access to natural outdoor experiences, particularly those water based, is important for urban dwellers.  Please provide suggestions on how this can best be achieved and examples of success stories.

Your opinions matter and will help shape the direction of the state’s Outdoor Recreation Plan!