RV Destination: The Czech Capital of Kansas – Wilson, KS
By: Lisa & Dan Brown
This past September (2017), after we had visited our son and his family in Minneapolis, it was time to get underway and make way down the road to head west southwest as the autumn temps were starting to plummet. When that red mercury starts falling, that’s our cue to leave.
Dan did a little research on where to anchor down and found an awesome Corps of Engineers in Kansas near Wilson. We parked our Heartland Landmark at Minooka Park COE Campground that overlooked the water. A couple days after settling down and getting set up, we put our walking shoes on drove to Wilson, Czech Capital of Kansas.
It’s small towns like Wilson that make us yearn to experience more about the backroads of and roadside attractions in America because we truly believe it’s where America starts.
Wilson is like no other town that we’ve seen. Its an old Railroad town where locomotives pulling supply cars either brought in coal and supplies or hauled out locally grown agriculture. When we arrived, we were greeted with a welcome sign partly printed in Czech. But we were also fascinatingly greeted by a huge Czech Egg exhibit! As you will see, it’s 20 feet tall and 15 feet wide. It’s no wonder it’s been dubbed ‘World’s Largest’.
Once we took a few photos, we walked into the small town. It’s an old town with architecture that boasts peculiarity and interesting history. Instead of me telling you why these were so significant, I’ll just point you to our recent blog post Post Rock Scenic Byway – Kansas.
A short and sweet history lesson…
Beginning in 1874, Czech immigrants from Bohemia came to Wilson to work on the railroad, establishing the town as area center of Czech culture. We noticed, as with all of the towns in central United States, railroad tracks divided the town. Without researching too far, we’re assuming these long steel remnants of transportation delivered goods and coal to the community and hauled out grain and agricultural harvest from the area because of the neighboring ‘Kansas Skyscrapers’ (grain silos) posed directly next to them.
As we walked further into town, we didn’t find it bustling like other towns we’ve visited throughout our travels. It was ghostly quiet with few modern cars and people. Some of the buildings were ruins while others appeared to be brought back to life and refurbished as there were fresh business signs posted on or in front of them.
These buildings were not constructed with wood or modern masonry as there were no trees or forestry to be found from miles around (it’s Kansas!). So, wood and those kinds of construction supplies were not commodities. Instead, they were constructed of limestone blocks that were hand split and brought in locally. Other buildings were of steel metal siding. Today, some are refaced with stucco that has proven it doesn’t last as long as the original sandstone blocks.
Funny though, we did see a run down Lumber Company next to the train tracks which probably was the only game in town to acquire building supplies. You won’t find The Home Depot or Lowe’s here!
We stopped for some lunch vittles at Made By Scratch, which by the way, was highly recommended by some of the locals. We treated ourselves to a delicious home cooked buffet lunch of chicken and dumplins, mashed potatoes, incredibly smooth gravy and green beans.
Though the building and interior was seriously dated, and the dishes and silverware didn’t match, the staff was exceptional, accommodating, friendly and the pies…OH THOSE PIES!! Their idea of a serving was one quarter of a pie with a huge scoop of homemade vanilla ice cream! Holy moly me oh my! I’ve not eaten pie that good since Grandma used to make.
When it came time for us to pay our bill, Dan slipped out to get our soiled laundry from our truck and take it into the tiny two-machine laundromat next door to get them started while waited to pay our tab.
Notably, there was an elderly cowboy-looking gentleman who was standing next to me at the old cash register. As I studied him, I was thinking “Oh, the stories he could tell!” Anyways, I told the cashier to go ahead and give me his bill. He acted shocked that ‘some outsider’ would do such a thing, but he gladly obliged and was grateful. It certainly opened up for some interesting dialogue.
I stayed and talked for a couple minutes to hear ‘his story’, but he and the cashier seemed more interested in learning about our travels than telling me about their town and livelihoods. Of course, it always seems that way in any of these so-called ‘one horse towns’.
Once our conversations ended, I made way next door to see how our laundry escapade was going. Dan was seated inside perusing the internet on his phone. While we were waiting for our laundry machines to cycle, we decided to go walk lunch off and meander deeper into the town.
Again, it was eerily quiet with very little pedestrian or vehicle traffic. Our question was ‘where did they all go?’ According to the 2010 census, there were 781 people. I don’t think we saw 10…total.
While we were walking up and down the small streets, we noticed a peculiar short round building made out of the limestone I wrote about in our previous blog piece; Post Rock Scenic Byway. As we walked up to it, we noticed it was an old water tower and jail.
We looked inside it’s only barred window and interestingly, we noticed a porcelain sink and a toilet with semi-modern plumbing. Notably, it’s been reported that for a short time, it was rented out as an apartment. Funny, you can’t say you couldn’t find a corner to pee in!
We made our way back to the laundromat noticing a building with several trees growing inside of it, which is telling of how long it’s been abandoned. You surely don’t see that everyday!
There was a small part that had a few more modern homes on the main drag, so to speak that led out of town. I couldn’t help photographing this little gem. What a great ‘tiny house’. I so wished I could have seen the inside…if only.
Right next door, there as a small Bed and Breakfast and I couldn’t help noticing this cool little ‘public library’. I’ve heard and read of them but have never seen them in person. If only I had some books to donate!
So, our visit to old Wilson, Kansas, concluded after we finished our laundry and headed back to the Minooka Park Corps of Engineers Campground. We feel blessed to be able to cruise the backroads of America; to learn about and see the things modern travelers don’t see as they zip on down the interstates. If only everyone could ‘take the next exit’ to see these small towns and how they formed our great Country. Each are unique and have their own story to tell. I’m tellin’ ya, “the backroads is where it’s at!”