Downtown Ottawa, Kansas.

7 Towns in Kansas With Rich History

For many, Kansas is the spiritual center of the American Midwest. Established as a state in 1861, during the tumultuous years of the US Civil War, Kansas evolved from a contentious territory known as "Bleeding Kansas" — for its sometimes physical conflicts over slavery — to a place of tranquil living and powerful history. Kansas traces its roots from pioneer settlements and Old West characters on either side of the law. The state's smaller towns may be thought of less often than big cities like Kansas City and the state capital, Topeka, but these towns offer Kansan culture from its past and vibrant present. The state's tourism motto, a nod to the locally-set film The Wizard of Oz, might just be right: "There's no place like Kansas."

Cottonwood Falls

The old downtown area of Cottonwood Falls.
The old downtown area of Cottonwood Falls.

Cottonwood Falls is small, with a little over 800 residents. Yet its charm stands in outsized proportions. Incorporated in 1872, found in the Flint Hills region along the Cottonwood River, the town offers riverside walking thanks to infrastructure like the Cottonwood River Bridge. Fans of history should prioritize the Chase County Courthouse — built in 1873, and the oldest continuously-used court west of the Mississippi, and a suggestion of the town's historical importance. 

Those needing fresh air and Kansas sunshine should seek out Chase State Fishing Lake, or the Chase Lake Falls east of town. The Tall Grass Prairie National Preserve provides another, protected natural area. 


The original Farmers State Bank building in Lindsborg, Kansas.
The original Farmers State Bank building in Lindsborg, Kansas. Image credit Stephanie L Bishop via Shutterstock

Lindsborg, a central-Kansas town with 3,800 souls, shows a side of Kansas' proud Scandinavian roots. Sometimes called "Little Sweden," Lindsborg, settled in 1869, traces its founding back to a certain Olof Olsson, a Swedish Lutheran pastor who left the old country for a new life, and convinced some of his followers to do the same. Oloffson's pioneering effort would draw Swedes, other Scandinavians, Germans, and Europeans from elsewhere to the community. 

Art fans will enjoy the Birger Sandzen Memorial Gallery, which has works by the Swedish-born painter of the same name. Every two years in October, Lindsborg puts on the Svensk Hyllningsfest, a celebration of the Swedish and Nordic cultures that made Lindsborg. 


The business area is in Ottawa, Kansas.
The business area is in Ottawa, Kansas.

No, not that Ottawa: this east-central Kansan town, population 12,600, is far smaller than the Canadian capital city. Ottawa, Kansas, is a charming university town, with Ottawa University and its 4,700 students inside the town limits. Ottawa's location on the Marais des Cygnes ("Swan Marsh") River showcases typical Midwest life of the past. The Old Depot Museum looks at the bygone days of the railroad. The downtown historic district still boasts a number of nineteenth-century buildings. In a more modern history, Ottowa and other Kansan towns saw an influx of German and Italian prisoners of war, brought there to address the Midwest region's labor shortage due to American men serving abroad in World War II. 

For lighter cutlure, visit the Plaza Grill and Cinema, a movie house built in 1907 and is thought to be the oldest operating movie theater in the United States. Ottawa's green spaces include sports facilities and Kanza Park, which runs down either sun of the town's Skunk Run waterway.  

Dodge City

The Boot Hill Historical Museum in Dodge City, Kansas.
The Boot Hill Historical Museum in Dodge City, Kansas. Editorial credit: RaksyBH /

Dodge City, population 27,400, balances small-town charm and big-city bustle. The town once hosted scofflaws and famously shady characters like Wyatt Earp. This is, after all, the same town that inspired the saying, "get out of Dodge," a word of advice for anyone wanting to preserved their life and liberty. History students will appreciate Dodge City's old status as a rail and transportation hub. The National Old Trails Road and the Sante Fe Trail both wind their respective ways through and out of Dodge.

The Boot Hill Museum, also called Kansas' Cowboy Hall of Fame, exhibits history and Western-themed variety shows for a portrayal of pioneer times. Fresh-air fans are sure to like the town's twenty-one parks, including Wright Park and the Dodge City Zoo within it. 


Aerial view of Salina, Kansas, in late summer.
Aerial view of Salina, Kansas, in late summer.

Salina, a town of 46,200 people, takes its name from the nearby Saline River, named for its salt content. The town, founded in 1858, sprang to life after gold was found in the hills outside town. By the middle of the 19th century, thousands chanced their fortunes here in a bid for fame and fortune, or at least fortune. The city eventually diversified into cattle farming and manufacturing. 

Visitors looking for culture and a little fun will find both at the Smoky Hill River Festival, held in town every June. Salina's Smoky Hill Museum hosts a street fair every September. Outdoor enthusiasts will enjoy the town's two side-by-side parks: Indian Rock Park and the Bill Burke Sports Complex, both along the Smoky Hill River. 


Aerial view of downtown Hutchinson, Kansas.
Aerial view of downtown Hutchinson, Kansas.

Hutchinson, population 39,700, sits on the Arkansas River in central Kansas. Founded in 1871, and the seat of surrounding Reno County, the town was nicknamed "Temperance City" for its anti-alcohol politics. The town's mining history is on display at Strataca, a working underground mine that welcomes tourists.

For more history and fascinating architecture, head to the Reno County Courthouse, an art deco colossus built in 1929. Families with children will like the Hutchinson Zoo or the Kansas State Fairgrounds, where Hutchinson has organized the state fair since 1873. Golf fans will enjoy the Prairie Dunes Country Club, considered one of the best courses in the United States. 


Red historic mansion with a mansard roof in Abilene, Kansas, with a spooky figure in the upstairs window.
Red historic mansion with a mansard roof in Abilene, Kansas, with a spooky figure in the upstairs window. Editorial credit: Sabrina Janelle Gordon /

With a modest 6,400 inhabitants, northeast Abilene's small stature belies a massive contribution to American history. It is the boyhood hometown of former president and World War II hero Dwight Eisenhower. Today, The town hosts the statesman's grave, a presidential library, and a museum. Eisenhower's hometown draws patriotic visitors of all kinds, year-round. 

Otherwise, history lovers will get a kick out of the historic Seelye Mansion, built in 1905 as the home of a medical products tycoon, and called one of the finest private homes in Kansas. Dog lovers will like the Greyhound Hall of Fame Museum, which honors, as its name suggests, the famous racing animals. 

Kansas' history is on full display across its small towns

Kansas has loads of small-town history and things to see, and not only in the towns and places listed here. From "Bleeding Kansas" to a history worthy of the grandest US states, the place has gifted its country with former presidents, stately homes, robust industries, and much more. Scandinavian-Americans across the United States can trace their roots to towns like Lindsborg, while the Wild West and opposite trends like the temperance movement also made Kansas what it is today. Kansan history has graced these towns with interest, and often with beauty, two characteristics at home in this part of the Midwest. 

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