Atchison, Kansas: Many Stories to Tell!
She Vanished! He was President of the United States for One Day! It is the most Haunted town in Kansas! The brick roads were laid by a crippled, deaf/mute in record time and the story was told by "Ripley's Believe it or Not"! Atchison has many stories to tell...
Atchison, Kansas, situated on the bluffs of the Missouri River, defies the stereotype of Kansas Prairie Land with its rolling hills and beautiful trees. The town is part of the Glaciated region of the state and it feels quite similar to its neighboring Missouri towns… but don’t repeat that to the locals!
Amelia Earhart is Atchison's most notable claim to fame, but after our recent Day Trip to the northwestern Kansas town, we learned that Atchison has many more stories to tell... stories full of mystery, history, fun and local lore.
This is your guide to a Family Day Trip in Atchison from Attractions, to Shopping, to Family Friendly Dining, to Autumn Events... there is something for everyone!
Day Trip Diary:
Atchison Trolley:Details: 200 S. 10th Street, 1.800.234.1854.The Trolley runs from April – October. Hours for Sept-Oct: Friday 11am-3pm, Saturday 10am-11am, Sunday 1-3pm. Tours start on the hour. Fare is $6/adults, and $2/children ages 4-10 for a 45-60 minute ride and tour. The Trolley leaves from the Santa Fe Depot which also houses the Visitor’s Center and neighbors the Rail Museum (both of which are free/accept donation). You can also take Trolley Tours for Haunted Atchison and a Fall Foliage Tour in October.
Why I Recommend It: This is the way to start your day in Atchison! Our tour guide gave a wonderful history of the town complete with terrific stories and anecdotes. She also shared insider tips on the best food and shopping. You have a terrific view of the sites and the trolley makes frequent stops for photo ops. Kids love the novelty of an old-fashioned trolley ride, and the entire family will enjoy the tour.
A Few Fun Things We Learned: Atchison, Kansas, was named for a Missourian, David Rice Atchison. After James K. Polk left office, Zachary Taylor refused to take the Oath of Office on the Sabbath. Atchison (a Missourian) who was Senator Pro Tem, served as President of the United States for one day. Legend has it he spent most of the day sleeping after celebrating the night prior.
A tour of Atchison must include stories of Amelia Earhart, and we heard several on the trolley. From her childhood sled rides under the belly of a horse to her marriage to George Putnam to her famous disappearance and childhood in the small town.
Long before Amelia, Lewis and Clark were exploring Atchison and they named the local creek "4th of July Creek" after celebrating America’s Independence there in 1804. The point is still the location for annual celebrations and fireworks on the 4th of July.
The tour also included tales of the town’s Irish, German, and Catholic heritage with stops at Benedictine College, several local churches, as well as many historic homes and sites that are part of Atchison’s legendary Haunted Atchison Tour. Atchison claims to be the most Haunted town in Kansas, which left me pondering, “How do you measure that exactly?” Nonetheless, it made for many interesting stories (to read a few see: www.legendsofamerica.com/OZ-HauntedAtchison.html). The home pictured here features two gryphons atop the roof. Legend has it the original owner made a pact with the devil in order to acquire his fortune and placed the gryphons on his home to honor the pact. When a new owner attempted to remove them, he fell to his death.
Atchison Visitors Center and Historical Society Museum:
Why I recommend it: The Visitor’s Center provides free information and brochures on local sites and attractions as well as other Day Trips and attractions in Kansas and Missouri. If you have questions about local attractions or restaurants, the staff is very knowledgeable and helpful. The Museum presents exhibits on the town of Atchison, Amelia Earhart, Lewis and Clark, the origin of the Atchison, Topeka, and Santa Fe Railroad, Native American Artifacts, and more.
Atchison Rail Museum and Train Rides:
Details: 200 S. 10th Street, 913.367.6238. Open Daily (10am-4pm Sat, noon-4pm Sun). Train Rides are Free / Donations Accepted. The Train Rides are seasonal (April-Oct. 31) For information see www.nekr.tripod.com.
Why I recommend it: Children love riding the 12” gauge train and the seats are large enough for mom and dad too! The local club runs a model Steam Train and a Gas Electric train. After riding the train, we explored the historic rail cars and engines including a Steam Locomotive Engine, more than one Caboose, Passenger Cars, Freight Cars, and a Snow Plow. For train lovers, this is one stop you don’t want to miss!
Amelia Earhart Birthplace:Details: 223 N. Terrace Street, 913.367.4217 for information. Open Daily (9am-4pm Mon-Fri, 10am-4pm Sat, 1pm-4pm Sun). Admission is $3/adults, and 50cents for children 12 and under (infants and toddlers are free). For information see www.ameliaearhartmuseum.org.
Why I recommend it: A visit to Atchison without touring Amelia Earhart’s childhood home would be like a visit to St. Louis without the Arch. The home has been restored to its original décor by the Ninety-Nines, the organization of female pilots, who operate the museum.
A Few Fun Things We Learned: The 1897 home is located on Terrace Street, overlooking the Missouri River on a road made of brick. Amelia (nicknamed Meelie) was born in the home built by her grandparents and lived there throughout most of her childhood. The museum displays many Amelia artifacts and model planes, but the one I found most interesting was Meelie’s Coaster a replica of the coaster Amelia built with her sister when they were young girls. They attached it to the roof of a small shed and went for a ride. She got hurt, but was undaunted declaring that it was just like flying and she dreamed of flying someday.
Throughout the home you will see paintings and sculptures of Amelia and her planes, but my favorite was the painting in the Upper Hall by Robert Wilson showing Amelia with her first Airplane, a Kinner Canary, purchased on her 24th birthday.
Warnock Lake Park / Amelia Earhart Earthwork / International Forest of Friendship:Details: 178620 274th Rd… to find it simply follow the Blue Signs. Open Daily (Dawn-Dusk).
Why I recommend it: After a day of site seeing and tours, this is the perfect place for fresh air and exercise. Warnock Lake Park features a small fishing lake, picnic areas, and a playground. The unique features are the Amelia Earhart Earthwork and the International Forest of Friendship.
The Amelia Earhart Earthwork is a one-acre portrait of Amelia created by Kansas artist Stan Herd in 1997. Permanent plantings, stone, and natural materials create a portrait of Atchison’s Legendary Lady. Drive into the park and you’ll find a viewing deck to take photos of the portrait.
Also within the park, you’ll find the International Forest of Friendship with wooded trails featuring trees representing all 50 states and 35 countries. One tree is the “Moon Tree” which was grown from seed and taken to the moon aboard Apollo 14. The park and lake are beautiful when the leaves turn for autumn!
Other Attractions:St. Benedict’s Abbey: 1020 N. 2nd Street. Open Daily. Free and open to the public for Self-Guided Tours. The church was designed by a student of Frank Lloyd Wright in 1957. The architecture is markedly modern in style compared to the Victorian buildings throughout Atchison. A self guided tour booklet is provided. I took the tour while my girls (preschoolers) rested in the van with Daddy. This is a quick tour, but very interesting architecture and artwork.
Mount Vernon Cemetery: Burial place of many famous Kansans including Governors, Senators, Pony Express Riders, and Amelia Earhart’s Grandparents.
Evah C. Cray Historical Home Museum: 805 N 5th Street, 913.367.3046. The 1882 mansion with 25 rooms resembles a castle.
Muchnic Art Gallery: 704 N. 4th Street, 913.367.2939. The Queen Anne- style mansion houses art exhibits.
Theatre Atchison: 401 Santa Fe Street. 913. 367.1647. $10/adults, $6/students. Live performances of classic shows in a quaint theater. Autumn 2009 Shows: The Music Man (Sept. 18-20, 25-27), Pride and Prejudice (Nov. 13-15 & 20-22). Visit www.theatreatchison.org for more information.
Shopping in Atchison:
Atchison is home to several Antique Shops and Boutiques. Two shops in particular that are fun for a Family Day Trip are:
Doodlebugs: 720 Commercial Street, 913.367.5015, Mon-Sat 10am-5pm. Doodlebugs is a local Children’s Book Store and Toy Store.
Nell Hill’s: 501 Commercial Street, 913.367.1086, Mon-Sat 9am-5pm. Mary Carol Garrity’s nationally acclaimed emporium of home furnishings.
Family-Friendly Dining in Atchison:
There are several great choices for families! We ate at Snow Ball and Maid-Rite on our trip, but several other restaurants received great recommendations from tour guides and volunteers at local sites.
Snow Ball: 111 N. 8th Street, 913.367.0298. Tues-Fri 7am-9pm, Sat & Mon 11am-9pm, Sun 1pm-9pm. Snow Ball serves Ice Cream, Sandwiches, and Espresso. The Old Fashioned Ice Cream Shop and Candy store is also a “lunch counter.” Sandwiches range from $1.50 for Grilled Cheese to $3.99 for Chicken Salad Croissant… with combo meals for an additional $2-3 (which adds a drink, chips, and ice cream). They also serve delicious Ice Cream treats (we enjoyed an Old Fashioned Chocolate Ice Cream Soda) and old fashioned candy (Candy Buttons, Candy Cigarettes… now called “Candy Sticks”, Rock Candy and more).
Maid-Rite: 801 Commercial Street, 913.367.4583, Mon & Tues 11am-8pm, Wed-Sat 6am-8pm, Sun 6am-2pm. We find Maid-Rite restaurants when we travel north (mostly on visits to see family in Iowa) and the 50s style décor and Maid-Rite sandwiches are a hit when dining with children! Maid-Rites (similar to what we know as Sloppy Joes) come in several varieties, from classic to Cheese-Rite, Chili-Rite, Bacon Cheese-Rite, BBQ Texas-Rite, or my favorite Taco Maid-Rite. Prices range from $1.99-2.99 for a sandwich or $2-3 more for a combo meal. They also serve classic sandwiches, salads, breakfast, and of course… Ice Cream! Sundaes, Parfaits, Malts, Shakes, and Floats top off the delicious lunch.
Other Choices: The Atchison Visitor’s Center provides a great Dining Guide complete with restaurant menus. Local choices include BBQ, Italian, Diners, Bakeries, Mexican, Chinese, Steak, or Pizza. Fast Food chains and franchises are also prevalent. Two fun options we considered were Flyers Grill (102 Atchison) overlooking the river and the Lunch Counter at the Ball Brother’s Drug Store (504 Commercial)… how often do today’s children eat lunch at the local Drug Store? The counter is complete with swivel chairs and soda fountain!
More MoKan Day Trips & Vacations!
- 20-30 Min. East: Independence: Log Cabins & Trails West
- 45 Min. Northeast: Sibley: Lewis & Clark Country
- 45-60 Min. North: Weston: Autumn Splendor
- 1 Hour North: St. Joseph: Wild West in our Backyard
- 1 Hour Northeast: Lexington: Civil War in Missouri
- 1-2 Hours North: Jamesport: Amish Country
- 2- 3 Hours South: Carthage: Classic Rt. 66 Road Trip
- 2 1/2 - 3 Hours Southeast: Springfield: Ozark Country
- 4-5 Hours South: Branson: Vacation Capital of the Midwest
- 4-5 Hours East: St. Louis: Gateway to the West Kansas
- 20-30 Min. West: Bonner Springs: Be a Kid for a Day
- 30-45 Min. South: Louisburg: Apples, Autumn, and Astronomy
- 30-45 Min. West: Lawrence: Eclectic College Town & Family Fun
- 60-90 Min. West: Topeka: More than a Capital City
- 60-90 Min. South: Fort Scott: National Historic Site
- 3 1/2-4 Hours Southwest: Hutchinson: Soar to Outer Space