Day Trippin’ Around KC
The end of summer is a perfect time to get out of town … but where to? Guest blogger Lysa Allman-Baldwin shares her recommendations on what to see and do outside of Kansas City, Missouri.
There are many advantages to living in and visiting the KC area—the Heartland of America. And one of them is the close proximity to several cities that have a great deal in the way of culinary, history, artistic and recreational diversions—making them great day trips.
You may have been to, or just driven through, these three spots, and are familiar with what they have to offer. But within each one are a few surprises guaranteed top delight and inspire.
Located just 40 miles west of Kansas City, Lawrence has been listed as one of 12 distinctive U.S., destinations by the National Trust for Historic Preservation, as well as among “The 10 Best Small Arts Towns in America,” due to its large percentage of professional artists in the work force here.
Popping in and out of the many eclectic shops, antique stores, quaint boutiques, beautiful art and photography galleries and culinary stops dotted along the heart and soul of the city–Massachusetts Street between 6th and 12th avenues—is a popular activity here. But for distinctive family and cultural exploration, visit the Prairie Nature Center, an 80-acre nature preserve with a museum, wetlands, woodlands, prairie habitats and a five-acre lake.
The KU Natural History Museum, recognized as one of the state’s top 10 tourist attractions, is brimming with exhibits that help visitors explore the life of the planet, and the Spencer Museum of Art is home to an internationally-known collection of nearly 36,000 artworks and artifacts in all media.
Just north of the bowl formed by Interstates 470 and 70/40, Topeka offers a wealth of unique historic attractions that tell the story of its important role in several of the state’s former eras.
It wasn’t that long ago that the Civil Rights Movement was in its heyday. And to that end, you’ll find the Brown V. Board of Education National Historic Site, designated to commemorate the landmark Supreme Court decision of May 17, 1954, ending segregation in public schools, and the integral role of the Brown decision in the Civil Rights Movement.
Located on a branch of the Oregon Trail, The Kansas Museum of History features interesting history about the indigenous people who once lived in Kansas, its early settlers, and others up to the present day.
And no trip to Topeka would be complete with a visit to the Kansas State Capitol downtown. See government at work up-close and personal (well, not that close) in this structure dating back to 1866 which took 37 years to complete, and encompasses Kansas’ most famous works of art by Kansan artist John Steuart Curry.
Most everyone is familiar with the life, work and legacy of President Harry S. Truman in Independence, about a 25-minute drive east of downtown.
These include the biggest of the attractions here, the Harry S. Truman Library & Museum, Clinton’s Soda Fountain where Harry worked as a teenager Truman, the Harry S. Truman Home Historic Site, and the historic Jackson County Courthouse, where in 1921 he was elected Eastern Judge and later as chief administrator of the county government for two terms.
But did you know about the self-guided Truman Historic Walking Trail? Here you will find 44 bronze sidewalk plaques with interesting historical vignettes scattered throughout the city’s neighborhoods.
Independence is also home to a great deal of African American history. Among the most influential African Americans back in the day was Hiram Young. Born a slave in the early 1800s, Young originally came to the city with his abolitionist master, impressing everyone with his exceptional woodworking and carpentry skills, eventually saving up enough money to purchase his freedom as well as that of his wife.
At what is now East Lexington Avenue on the side of the historic Jackson County Courthouse, Young purchased slaves from the auction block, gave them jobs, taught them new skills and allowed them to also purchase their freedom.
Founded in 1861, Second Baptist Church is the oldest black church in Jackson County and the building, constructed in 1887, is the oldest black church in the Kansas City area.
African American women made their mark on the landscape here as well, including Emily Fisher who donated the first load of bricks for Second Baptist Church. Also a former slave, Fisher obtained her freedom and opened a very successful hotel on the Square, catering to pioneers traveling west. The invention of a special healing salve is another one of her well-known accomplishments.
Sister Mary Jerome Shubrick was not black, but she earned the distinction as “The Prisoner’s Friend,” which is also engraved on her tombstone, because she risked her life to smuggle books, food and other items to black and other prisoners living under deplorable conditions in the 1859 Jail.
To pay homage to Hiram Young, James Boldridge, Emily Fisher, Sister Mary Jerome Shubrick and numerous others, visit Woodlawn Cemetery, located just a few miles from Independence Square.
All of this, all within an hour’s drive of Kansas City? Yep! That’s why they call us the Heartland of America.
Lysa Allman-Baldwin writes passionately about travel, cuisine and all the world has to offer. You can find her regular writing contributions on 435 South Magazine, The New York Amsterdam News, SoulOfAmerica, Examiner and Travel Squire.