Tag Archives: Council Grove

Dining on the Santa Fe Trail

Driving through the Flint Hills, I was again delighted by their beauty. As I drove, I was reminded of an observation, stated in a variety of ways: that Europe may have more years than the U.S., but the U.S. has more miles. Crossing so much of the Midwest, I have been vividly aware of how true that is.

Today, I was heading to another historic town: Council Grove. I was definitely not going to have enough time here, as I had to keep going (promises made sometimes drive schedules). I would not have a chance to visit a number of museums and historic buildings that sounded interesting, but I was determined to visit Hays House Restaurant, the oldest continuously operational restaurant west of the Mississippi. But antiquity isn’t the only thing remarkable about Hays House. The builder, Seth Hays, was Daniel Boone’s great-grandson and Kit Carson’s cousin—so a little bit of extra history there. When Hays arrived here in 1847, he was also the first white settler of Council Grove. He had been sent to trade with the Kansa Indians (also known as the Kaw—the people for whom Kansas was named). He soon found himself also handling steadily increasing traffic along the Santa Fe Trail, on which Council Groves sits.

Hays initially built a log cabin and trading post, but by 1856, he needed to expand, as the numbers traveling on the Santa Fe Trail had grown so much. That’s when he built the restaurant that still bears his name. Then, in 1867, after 20 years in the log cabin, Hays built a brick house for himself, which today houses the museum of the Morris County Historical Society. In addition to the restaurant, Hays also started a newspaper for the town and opened the first bank.

Council Grove is as charming as one might hope. I drove through, admiring the layers of history evident in the tidy little town. I parked near Hays House and walked around a bit, discovering a few other places to add to my “next time” list, and then headed for the restaurant. It was too early for lunch and too late for breakfast, but there were still a few folks in the place. I asked the waitress what the fastest thing was I could order. She said biscuits and gravy. While I have a particular fondness for my own sausage gravy, this dish is usually reliably tasty just about everywhere, so I said yes, plus coffee. Still a long drive ahead. Enjoyed my late breakfast, and was delighted when the waitress offered me a large, lidded cup of iced water for the hours ahead on the road. Then I had to leave.

Definitely need to get back here sometime, to explore further. But I had an appointment in Kansas City, so I had to keep on moving.

Below are photos of the front of the restaurant, on the town’s main street, the National Historic Marker for the Santa Fe Trail, and an interior shot that reveals a bit of the older wood from which the building was built. Somehow, perhaps because I grew up with stories of Daniel Boone and the Santa Fe Trail, it seemed every bit as remarkable to be here as it did to visit much older places in Asia and Europe, to which I did not have quite so strong a cultural connection.

Hays House Restaurant

Santa Fe Trail Marker

Hays House Interior

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Kansas: We’re not in Illinois, Toto

Everyone knows that the Midwest is flat, but leaving Illinois and heading west, across the Mississippi River and then the Missouri River, one learns that “flat” is a relative term. Granted, there were no towering mountains, but the terrain I was crossing was a lot more varied than that of Illinois.

In fact, after Florida, which is largely close to sea level, Illinois is the nation’s second flattest state, so Missouri and then Kansas are far more topographically interesting. They are also a lot more open. Missouri has about half the population of Illinois, and Kansas has about half the population of Missouri.

Knowing this, I had actually expected wide open spaces in Kansas. What I hadn’t expected was to find it so enchanting. As I drove into the Flint Hills region, en route from Topeka to Wichita, the phenomenal greenness of the area led me to imagine that, if the farm hands were the inspiration for Dorothy’s Oz companions, the Flint Hills were the inspiration for the Emerald City.

A friend would later tell me that the Flint Hills are not always as astonishingly verdant as I was seeing them, but what I witnessed was glorious, and it is the image I currently carry with me of the heart of Kansas. Plus, the Flint Hills are home to the world’s largest continuous tallgrass prairie, so even if not always so green, they will always be remarkable.

This is not my photo, as I was on a highway. It is from a Visions of the Flint Hills exhibition, and it reflects what I saw—though I tend to think what I saw was even more beautiful, and it was certainly far more extensive.

.Flint Hills

Tales of Wichita will wait for future posts, but one more thing is worth mentioning about this handsome region. Returning north, I headed through the Flint Hills region to historic Council Grove. During this drive, along more rural (but still excellent) roads, I encountered a touch of whimsy that delighted me. Just off the road, on hills and rises around Council Grove, there are metal statues recreating once-familiar scenes. It is hard to judge from a car, but the statues appeared to be life size—though I imagine that to create that impression they would need to be larger than life. The two I saw were a cowboy on horseback roping a calf and a Native American gazing out over the hills. I have, since returning home, searched and found photos of other of these Flint Hill statues, but the surprise of seeing the two I encountered was sufficient to make them vividly memorable.

But these were not the only things to love about Kansas. More to follow.

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