Friday, June 19, 2009

Attractions in Osborne County, Kansas

There is plenty to see and do when visiting a region as interesting as Osborne County. The valleys of the North and South forks of the Solomon River define the landscape in the north while the broken expanse of the Blue Hills Uplands dominates in the south.

In 2008 a contest was held to determine the Best of the Best, the Greatest Attractions in the county - better known as the 8 Wonders of Osborne County. Sponsored by the non-profit organization Osborne County Tourism, Inc., the public voted on 17 potential candidates. The following 8 Wonders of Osborne County emerged as the winners in the heavily-contested contest, and as such are a "must-see" for visitors:

*8* The limestone Alton Bluffs tower above the South Fork Solomon River a mile south of the city of Alton. A dominating natural landmark, the Bluffs are the setting for the annual Sunrise Service, held every Easter morning for the past 60 years.

*8* The former town of Covert was founded in 1880 and was a thriving community until the post office was closed at last in 1966. At its height the six blocks that comprised Covert sported a population of 150 people. Covert Rural High School (1915-1952) was the lifeblood of the community for many years. Teacher John Locke was born near Covert and taught his first years here; as the lone senior (and the team's coach!) he led Covert in 1926 to the Kansas State Basketball Tournament, the smallest school to ever do so. Locke went on to become the winningest high school basketball coach in Kansas history and was named to the Kansas State Sports Hall of Fame in 1990. Covert is located 6 miles south of Osborne on US-Highway 281 and 11 miles west-southwest on County Roads 404 & 671.

*8* In 1910 a point atop a hill in the southeast corner of Osborne County in what was then known as Meade's Ranch was selected by U.S. Geodetic Survey as the center point for its grid of survey dots and lines across the nation. In 1927 both Canada and Mexico attached their grids to this point as well, and it received the official name as the North American Datum. More commonly called the Geodetic Center of North America, all surveys and deeds on the continent originate from this point. This unique site was named to the National Register of Historic Places in 1973. It is currently on private property. A replica of the marker, located 18 miles southeast of Osborne, can be found beneath the State Historical Marker in Osborne's Roadside Park at the junction of Highways 24 and 281. Open daily dawn to dusk.

*8* The pride of downtown Downs, the 1917 Missouri Pacific Railroad Depot recalls the days when Downs was a major railroad division point. Painstakingly restored to its original look, the depot has been listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

*8* Natoma's elegant Presbyterian Church is considered to be the finest example of Carpenter Gothic architecture in Kansas. The 1898 structure is entered on the National Register of Historic Places for another architectural milestone as well: it was the second structure in the world built with the "no-sag roof" concept. This revolutionary idea of distributing the weight on a roof eliminated the need for supporting columns was created in Natoma by construction owner Henry Beisner and is now a fundamental part of all modern architecture.

*8* The former State Bank of Portis building commands your attention as you drive down Market Street/U.S. Hwy. 281 in the village of Portis. It was built of native limestone in 1886.

*8* Courthouse Square in Osborne County, Kansas was selected by the first county commissioners in the fall of 1871 to be the site for the local seat of power. The historic square is the home to several county entities: the Osborne County Hospital; the Osborne County Jail; the 2000 Osborne County Veterans Memorial; the 1929 Osborne County Pioneers Memorial; and the Osborne County Courthouse. Listed on the National Register of Historic Places, the century-old courthouse was a 2008 finalist for the 8 Wonders of Kansas Architecture as a prime example of the Richardsonian Romanesque courthouse style. A further attraction is the face of early settler John Wineland, carved into the south face of the clock tower. Open 8AM-5PM Monday through Friday. 425 West Main, Osborne. 785-346-2431.

*8* The 20-mile, 21-stop Sod & Stubble Country Self-Guided Tour is a driving/biking tour located two miles northwest of Downs and features many of the people, sites, and events made famous in the 1936 book Sod & Stubble by John Ise. An international bestseller today, Sod & Stubble is considered a classic piece of literature and is used as a textbook in many colleges and universities across the United States and Canada. The tour starts one mile west, one mile north, and a half mile west of Downs.


The Bloomington Schoolhouse, District #10, is a classic one-room native limestone school built in 1879. School was held in this building from January 1879 to May 1898. The building is used today for various meetings.

In 1877, Pennsylvania native Howard Ruede arrived in the Kill Creek community of central Osborne County, Kansas and staked out a homestead. For the next year and a half he wrote letters back to his family telling them about life on the Great Plains. In 1937, 12 years after Howard's death, author John Ise edited these letters the book Sod-House Days: Letters of a Kansas Homesteader 1877-1878 was published. Sod-House Days is still published in over 20 countries around the world. In celebration of the 70th anniversary of the book, the 15-mile, 20-stop Rediscovering Sod-House Days Self-Guided Tour was established in 2007 and features many of the sites and people made famous in Howard Ruede's classic tale. Numerous interpretive markers along the route expand the visitor's knowledge of the grit and sheer determination that it took to survive as a prairie settler. Located 11 miles south and west of Bloomington on County Roads 671 & 388. 785-346-5565.

The Lipton Hotel was built in 1880 and once sheltered famous politicians and other dignitaries. Today it houses Stuff N' Such, one of the area's finest gift stores on the street level, and a number of the old rooms upstairs have been converted into modern apartments. 801 Morgan Avenue. 785-454-3416.

The historic 1890 Baptist Church at 1213 Morgan Avenue is now home to Richardson Pipe Organs. Tour the factory and learn about organ design from European-trained organ master Steve Richardson. 785-454-3868.

The Railroad Gazebo, located in Railroad Park in the center of Downs, is a replica of the original gazebo. It continues to serve as a focal point for community events, just as it did in the late 1800s.

Be sure to windowshop at the Prairie Wind Art Gallery, 810 Morgan Avenue. If you are lucky, resident artist Gary Ozias will be at work and will be answer your many questions. 785-454-3847.

The Downs Golf Course is open to the public and located four miles north of the city along State Highway 181. It is a challenging, well kept, nine-hole sand green course. 785-454-3805.

The Downs Cemetery on West U.S. Highway 24 dates from 1878 and holds the resting places for many a source of frontier stories still told in the region. Veterans from the Mexican War through the end of the 20th Century also rest here. In the east portion is a large memorial dedicated to the Henry Ise family that features the names of families who settled in the area prior to 1879.

One of celebrated Kansas artists Stan Herd's first murals can be found in the lobby of the United National Bank, located at 702 North Second Street. The painting dates from 1978. 888-483-4230.

The native limestone Pohlman Building on Elm Street was constructed in 1900. It is being renovated and soon will house Natoma’s new community museum, to be operated by the local non-profit organization Natoma Heritage Seekers.

The Osborne Carnegie Library is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Built in 1912, the brick structure was funded by a local tax and a grant from the Carnegie Foundation. From 1912 through 1995 it served the community as the Osborne Carnegie Library and now is a regional genealogical & historical research center operated by the Osborne County Genealogical and Historical Society. Donations accepted. Open Monday-Friday, 1:00 to 5:00 PM; otherwise by appointment. 307 West Main, Osborne. 785-346-9437.

The Osborne County Museum Complex, located on North Second Street west of the junction of Highways 24 & 281 in Osborne, offers an opportunity to visit the past with memorabilia dating back to the pioneer days. Exhibits include horse-drawn farm machinery, stonemason's tools, Medical equipment, military uniforms, Kansas license plates 1913-1978, barbed wire, horseshoes and bridle bits, pens and pencils, Indian artifacts, and much more. Admission is free and the museum is handicapped accessible. Hours Memorial Day through Labor Day: Monday thru Friday, 1 pm to 5 pm, Sunday 2 pm to 4 pm. Otherwise open by appointment. 785-346-2798.

Osborne's Roadside Park is located on the northern edge of town at the junction of U.S. Highways 24 & 281. In the center of the park stands the Information Kiosk, one of 24 such kiosks erected along a 120-mile stretch of U.S. Highway 24 in the Solomon River Valley by the Solomon Valley Highway 24 Heritage Alliance. North across the road from the kiosk stands the Geodetic Center of North America State Historical Marker, detailing the history and importance of this unique site.

The historic native limestone Scout Cabin was built as a Works Progress Administration (WPA) project in 1938 and features original fireman poles and a massive stone fireplace. The building is available for meetings, reunions, and other community events. Located on West Main Street in Osborne. 785-346-2082.

The Shady Bend Recreation Area is located at the end of West Main Street on banks of the South Fork Solomon River. This recreation area encompasses the 9-hole Shady Bend Golf Course; the Osborne Gun Club Shooting Range; the Shady Bend Walking/Biking Trail; and the 1930s WPA Scout Cabin. Centering the area is the Osborne Dam, built across the South Fork Solomon in 1936.

The Shady Bend Mountain Bike/Walking Trail , part of the Shady Bend Recreation Area, offers four miles of singletrack through a wooded area. The trail is located a mile west of Osborne, just north of the Shady Bend Golf Course. Additional trail mileage, as well as improved trail signage, is in the works. The trail consists of five loops of mostly flat terrain along the South Fork of the Solomon River, although there are some stream banks and shallow sink holes that add variety to the trail. Donations accepted. 785-346-2715.

The Osborne Country Club first opened in 1930 and is located atop the North Hill just over a mile north of that city. Don't let the $3.00 "all-you-can-play-in-a-day" rates fool you; this nine-hole sand green golf course has long been considered to be one of the toughest of its kind in Kansas. Jokingly known as "Coronary Hill" among the local players, the steep terrain and frequent winds make this an ideal course for the golfer who likes to be challenged. Several men's and women's golfing tournaments are scheduled during golfing season.

Want to play someplace a little different? Try Osborne's Shady Bend Golf Course. This public nine-hole, par 36 golf course on the banks of the South Fork Solomon River has irrigated, tree-lined bluegrass fairways with bentgrass green with a slope rating of 130. It's sure to be a challenge to any golfer. The daily rates are low at an economical $10.00. Rental golf carts are available. A dozen men's and ladies' tournaments are held during the golfing season. Located a half mile west of Osborne on West Main Street below the WPA Scout Cabin. 785-346-2024.

The Osborne City Cemetery opened in 1879 at the corner of Eleventh Street and West U.S. Highway 24. Veterans ranging from the Mexican War though the Vietnam War are buried here. Noted buffalo hunter Jeff Durfey and Howard Ruede, author of the celebrated book Sod-House Days, both rest here as well. A kiosk in the north-central part of the cemetery lists those in repose and allows for easy locating of graves. A special Memorial Day service is held annually in the cemetery. Open sunrise to sunset. 785-346-5611.

In the Portis City Park stands a limestone marker honoring Portis native Melvin Miller, who as "Mel Millar" was the cartoonist who drew the very first Porky Pig cartoons in the mid-1930s.


At 10:30 PM on the night of September 22, 1943 a B-24-D Bomber with 11 personnel onboard crashed amid severe rain and electrical storms into a hillside in southern Covert Township of Osborne County. The Army moved in and due to rules of wartime secrecy hushed up the incident, asking the patriotic locals not to discuss the crash. For 60 years they kept their word. The story was rediscovered in the summer of 2003 and local residents broke their years of silence. A granite monument for the crash site in honor of those who died in the service of their country was paid for with private donations and a dedication was held on April 3, 2004, with several relatives of the crash victims in attendance. The monument is located 17 miles south, 4 miles west, and 2.75 miles north of Osborne. 785-346-2715.

The parents of Russell Stover, maker of Russell Stover chocolate candy, homesteaded 11 miles south and one mile east of Alton in Mount Ayr Township. At this time brothers Jeremiah (1886) and Russell (1888) were born. A marker has been erected to commemorate the site.

The Twin Creek Scenic Backway is a 33-mile loop along both paved and unpaved roads through Covert, Jackson, and Winfield Townships of southern Osborne County. This Backway traverses the eastern end of the High Plains Physiographic Region and the western edge of the Smoky Hills Physiographic Region, which is known as the Blue Hills Uplands. Two of the scenic vistas along the Backway, Sand Mound and The Cheyenne Gap, have been called by various state officials as being easily among the best such fetures in the entire state. Still under development, the Backway route will eventually feature interpretive markers at each of the 25 scenic and heritage stops. The tour start/end point is located 10 miles south of Osborne or 12 miles north of Luray, Kansas on U.S. Highway 281, The National American Legion Memorial Highway. 785-346-2715.

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