The house where President Eisenhower used to live in Abilene, Kansas. Editorial credit: spoonphol /

7 Best Historic Towns in Kansas

Kansas is a Midwestern state sitting in the heartland of the United States. It is famous for its vast prairies, violent tornadoes, and rich agricultural resources. Many Native American tribes initially inhabited the Great Plains, which comprise most of Kansas. During the mid-1800s, early pioneers began building homesteads in the territory as the nation's population moved westward. With the constant influx of settlers and the development of railroads, many small towns began as havens in the untamed wilderness, where residents could find safety, security, and purpose. Today, these towns offer a rich tapestry of history and culture, reflecting countless generations of families who have learned to work the land, reap its bounty, and build lasting legacies. As you visit the small towns in Kansas, chances are you will experience the independent and practical spirit that defines the heart of the Sunflower State. These towns stand as a testament to Kansas' diverse and vibrant cultural heritage and are bound to leave lasting memories long after a visit. 


The original Farmers State Bank building in Lindsborg, Kansas.
The original Farmers State Bank building in Lindsborg, Kansas. Editorial credit: Stephanie L Bishop /

Often referred to as "Little Sweden USA," Lindsborg sits in the central part of the state, fully embracing its Scandinavian heritage. The town began as a community founded by Swedish immigrants in the 1860s, and visitors will find the town exuding a charming old-world atmosphere. Visitors can stroll down the streets adorned with Dala horses, browse the unique buildings, shops, and boutiques, or tour the Birger Sandzen Memorial Gallery, a world-class art museum. History buffs will want to visit the Lindsborg Old Mill and Swedish Heritage Museum to glimpse the local history.

The downtown district is replete with Swedish influences, and plenty of locally-owned businesses exist to explore. One of the most culturally relevant in the Hemsjold Gift Shop. This small store is the birthplace of the Dala Horse, and visitors will enjoy watching and interacting with the local artisans as they work. For a memorable place for lunch, try the Crown and Rye or stop by the Blacksmith Coffee Shop and Roastery for authentic Swedish pastries in a restored blacksmith shop.


Constitution Hall in Lecompton, Kansas.
Constitution Hall in Lecompton, Kansas. Editorial credit: William Silver /

Lecompton is a town located on the south side of the Kansas River. It was the territorial capital from 1855 to 1861. Many of the town's residents were pro-slavery, which caused constant conflicts with anti-slavery forces located in nearby Lawrence and other areas. These conflicts gained a notorious reputation as "Bleeding Kansas." When Kansas was admitted to the Union as a free state in 1861, its admission helped fuel the fires igniting the Civil War. Today, there are two museums, the Constitutional Hall and the Territorial Capitol Museum, filled with interesting artifacts and displays. The Bald Eagle Mercantile is a quaint series of small shops and antiques where one can always find something quirky and unique.  

For a genuinely farm-to-table experience, the Burning Barrel serves a multi-course meal from May to October on a working farm, with produce and meat raised locally. You will need reservations but won't be disappointed if you go. Aunt Netter's is an excellent local place for indulging in homestyle food and gourmet cupcakes. Their motto is one everyone should live by - "Eat Dessert First." 

Council Grove

Washunga Days Parade in Council Grove, Kansas
Members of the Local 4 H club ride their horses on Main Street in the Washunga Days Parade in Council Grove, Kansas. Editorial credit: mark reinstein /

Council Grove found its place as a way stop on the Santa Fe Trail, which ran from Missouri to New Mexico. It was named for the peace treaty negotiated between American settlers and the Osage Nation, allowing travelers to journey westward. Pioneers often gathered under the mile-wide grove of trees before proceeding along the route.

Today, visitors can walk along the main street over the same paths as the early pioneers. Visit the Kaw Mission and Last Chance Store Museums, or enjoy many historic sites, including the Hays House, a restaurant/tavern built in 1857 that still functions today. The Trails Day Cafe and the Saddlerock Cafe are excellent choices if you need a place to eat. The Council Grove Reservoir is just north of town and has some of the best freshwater fishing in the state. Be sure to drive along the Flint Hills Scenic Byway, which features rolling Kansas hills and beautiful views of the prairie grasslands. 


Eisenhower Presidential Library and Museum in Abilene, Kansas.
Eisenhower Presidential Library and Museum in Abilene, Kansas. Editorial credit: Michelangelo DeSantis /

This Old West cowtown flourished as a railroad hub, processing hundreds of thousands of cattle driven from Texas along the Chisum Trail. During its peak, the town became notorious for its lawlessness as gamblers, saloonkeepers, and outlaws flocked to the community to make money from the cowboys who were often paid for finishing their drives. Abilene also boasts itself as the birthplace of President Dwight D Eisenhower, the 34th President of the US. His presidential library, boyhood home, and gravesite are all located here and are worth visiting.  

To glimpse the local history, tour the Seeyle Mansion, which is filled with original furnishings, glassware, and decor. Families with children will enjoy the Heritage Center of Dickinson County, its old pioneer buildings and unique collection of carriages, cars, and the 1901 carousel. The downtown section of Abilene is a cornucopia of exciting shops, boutiques, and restaurants. For an excellent place for lunch, Amanda's Bakery and Bistro is a delightful local hangout. Everyone should stop by to see the World's Largest Belt Buckle to scratch this unusual roadside attraction off their bucket list. 


The historic Keoster House in Maryville, Kansas.
The historic Keoster House in Maryville, Kansas. Editorial credit: WanderinNomadPhotography /

Marysville is home to the Pony Express Museum, which tells the stories of the Pony Express riders as they made their way west of Missouri, delivering mail to western settlers. The museum is the only surviving home station left on the route and includes the original livery stable, where riders changed horses while continuing on their way. The Marshall County Historical Museum is housed in the Old County Courthouse and offers an exciting look at rural Kansas life.

For outdoor enthusiasts, the Blue River Rail Trail starts in Marysville, with a well-maintained route for hiking or biking. If you like adventure, consider traveling along the path some 70 miles north toward Lincoln, Nebraska. The downtown streets are brick-laid cobblestone, which adds to the turn-of-the-century look, with many of the old buildings supporting a variety of local shops. If you need a place to eat, the Wagon Wheel Cafe is a beautiful country diner with good food, excellent service, and large portions. 


The Romanesque style Thomas County Courthouse stands near large grain elevators in Colby, Kansas.
The Romanesque style Thomas County Courthouse stands near large grain elevators in Colby, Kansas.

Most travelers discover this "Oasis on the Plains" as they travel across Western Kansas toward the Rocky Mountains in Colorado. The small town sits right on I-70, and while it is a favorite stop for gas and snacks, there is more to the town than you might expect. The town began as a haven for weary settlers who were living in sod homes in Northwest Kansas. The brutal winters and rough conditions of prairie life were taking their toll, forcing the families to band together. Thomas Colby, a local preacher and homesteader, filed a petition for the town in 1881. It would take another six years for the Union Pacific Railroad to reach the small hamlet, but once it did, the steady supply of goods, lumber, and supplies helped bolster the town's population. 

Today, the Prairie Museum of Art and History is a beautiful venue filled with local history displays, including the Kuska collection of dolls, art, and glassware. Families will love exploring the various buildings, including the old sod house, rural church, schoolhouse, and the Cooper Barn, which is the largest barn in the state. 

This small town hosts the Pickin On The Plains Music Festival at the end of May each year, and this three-day celebration attracts some of the best folk and bluegrass musicians in the country. The downtown area is pleasant and pedestrian-friendly, with ample walking, biking, and green space. Be sure to browse through the many small shops and restaurants. J & B Meat Market is an excellent place for a bone-in ribeye, while the B-Hive is a small diner downtown that the locals like for their delicious burgers. 


Commerce Street in downtown Emporia, Kansas.
Commerce Street in downtown Emporia, Kansas. Editorial credit: mark reinstein /

This lively college town is right on I-35, precisely at the midpoint between Wichita and Kansas City. The town began as a business venture in 1857, initiated by a group of entrepreneurs from Lawrence. The location was perfect for a town, as trade regularly flowed along the route. The flourishing railroad only continued to enhance the town's significance as more and more residents, shopkeepers, and workers settled in the area. During the Civil War, Emporia was a vital rail station for moving supplies and troops.  

Home to Emporia State University, the town has one of the prettiest main streets in America. There are nine blocks of intimate shops, boutiques, and antique galleries to explore, so there is always something for everyone. Indulge your need for a sugar rush at the Sweet Granada Chocolate Cafe, which features handmade confections, or browse through Paper Moon Antiques for a vintage item. Radius Brewing is a fantastic micro-brewery and pizza spot, while Bobby D's is a classic barbeque joint about a block away. 

If you have an hour to spare, visit the David Traylor Zoo. This small city park zoo is well-maintained and features several species of birds. History enthusiasts might want to tour the William Allen White home. He was a well-known local editor who founded the Progressive Party. The community takes pride in being the home of disc golf, with several professionally designed courses around the city. With its numerous festivals, charming and quaint downtown, and campus activities, this small town is becoming a unique treasure of Kansas. 

These small Kansas towns, with their rich cultural heritage, offer a journey into the past for travelers willing to explore their histories. Born from the fertile soils of the prairie, each town tells a unique story, from the Presidential Library in Abilene to the Swedish traditions of Lindsborg to the strong determination and survival of pioneers as they moved west. Exploring these cultural gems provides a deeper understanding of the free-state spirit Kansans have felt for generations and showcases the influences that have shaped the state into the vibrant tapestry it is today.

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