Some museums have a low-visibility problem. Case in point: when I told my mother I was attending the Wyandotte County (KS) Museum Crawl she said, “They have enough museums to have a crawl?”
Unfortunately, her reaction didn’t surprise me. I grew up on the Missouri side of the Kansas City Metropolitan Area. Despite how close the two Kansas Cities are (yes, there’s two), it’s not unlikely for residents of one city to rarely visit the other, and that is a real shame. The Roommate (who grew up in the ‘Dotte) and I jump across the state line quite often, so it was no big deal for us. And as usual, our sense of adventure was richly rewarded.
The Quindaro Townsite, which is on the National Register of Historic Places, has a rich and vibrant history. Founded by abolitionists in an attempt to secure Kansas as a free state, migrants included Europeans, escaped African-American slaves, Wyandot Indians, and freedmen. It also grew to include Western University (formerly Quindaro Freedman’s School), the first school for blacks west of the Mississippi River. This museum tells the story of the families who founded Quindaro and their descendants through photographs, artifacts, and decorative items. Our tour guide was great and provided a wealth of information about his family and recollections of growing up in the neighborhood.
The WPA-era building housing this museum has had many lives. It’s been the Vernon School (originally known as the Colored School of Quindaro), Vernon Community Center, and is on the National Register of Historic Places. The one-room display contains photographs, clothing, and maps depicting Underground Railroad sites in the area as well as an exhaustive history of the discovery, exploration and re-dedication of the Quindaro Ruins. Inspired by our visit, we walked down the street to the overlook and memorial dedicated to the Ruins, chatted with some nice folks from the neighborhood and viewed the statue commemorating abolitionist John Brown and the site of Western University.
Stop 3: Sumner High School Alumni Room
Sumner High School traces its history to the segregation of Kansas City High School after a white boy was killed during an altercation with a black boy in a park. Ultimately, a new school was designated for black students. After quickly outgrowing its space, the current building was constructed with WPA funds and is on the National Register of Historic Places. As a result of court-ordered desegregation in 1978, Sumner High School was closed, its students reassigned, and reopened as Sumner Academy of Arts and Sciences (The Roommate’s alma mater!) Sumner High School was well-known for its rigorous academics, successful athletic programs, and high-achieving students, and the photographs, yearbooks, uniforms, newspaper and magazine clippings, trophies, and awards on display ably demonstrate that. The Alumni Room serves as a testament to Sumner’s proud past and a reminder for current students to always strive for excellence.
This museum has a dual mission: educate visitors about the history and importance of U.S. agriculture and honor distinguished leaders in its related fields. Looks rather unassuming, right? Hardly! There’s a theater, rural art gallery, barbed wire display, National Farm Broadcasters Hall of Fame, Farm Town U.S.A. (with general store, blacksmith shop, train depot, chicken coop, farm house, etc.), and the Museum of Farming, a 20,000 square foot building housing a wide variety of farm tools and equipment where a very friendly cat named Big Man will escort you through the entire building. Also don’t skip the hayride, it’s a great way to see the grounds.
We spent a lot of time at the previous stop and our crawling time was unfortunately drawing to a close. Luckily, this museum was nearby. Bonus: wine and an awesome jazz trio playing as we wandered through the galleries. The party atmosphere was a nice distraction from our museum feet as we learned about the history of Wyandotte County. With over 70,000 artifacts in its collection, there was much to discover including objects from the Hopewell culture, amazing photographs, and a community quilt show. The hands-on exploration stations were also a nice touch and seemed to be enjoyed by young and old alike.
Ultimately, The Roommate and I ran out of steam (and time) so we missed the last few stops: Grinter Place Historical Site, Strawberry Hill Ethnic Museum & Cultural Center, and Clendening History of Medicine Museum at KU Medical Center. I’ll just add those spots to my ever-growing must-see museum list.
Big thanks to everyone involved in this event, including the Kansas City Kansas Visitors & Convention Bureau and the amazing museum employees, volunteers, and fellow crawlers we met along the way!