A Look Back in Southeast Kansas

Back in October of 2014, I took a little roadtrip into southeast Kansas.  I had never visited the town where my father was born and it sounded like as good a destination as any.  I was reminiscing a bit tonight and noticed I never shared the experience here.  My writing was a lot different back in 2014.  So, please join me on this trip down Memory Lane…

It was a Monday; Samantha and I had the day off.  The skies were cloudy, but the forecast gave the false promise of latter-day sunshine.  Although Winfield KS was the reason for the road trip it wasn’t the final destination of the day; by the time we hit the road, it was but one of a series of the stops on my map.  Our first stop was just outside of the community of Cedar Vale.


Kansas has several Marsh Arch style bridges, most famously the Brush Creek bridge on Route 66 in the far southeast corner of the state.  I wanted to see more of these beautiful concrete constructions, and old Highway 166 east of Cedar Vale is home to a wonderful double-arch bridge.  It was built in 1930 and is still in use today, probably thanks to being on the old alignment and not subject to heavy truck traffic.


Onward to Winfield.  Although Dad was born in the town, he didn’t grow up there.  Pawhuska, Oklahoma is absolutely his home town.  However, it’s interesting to think about the series of events that lead from him first drawing breath in the Sunflower State and eventually meeting my mother in the Sooner State.  I didn’t know if the historic hospital still stood (I didn’t see it anywhere) but I took some time to walk around downtown.  They had some nice frontier architecture and a few neon signs that captured my attention.  All in all, though, I didn’t stay in Winfield long before hitting the road again.


Heading east, I drove through a series of small towns.  I was amused by the town of Burden (what fun I would have as their head of tourism!) and marveled at the cornstalks lining the two-lane blacktop.  I diverted a few times to slowly coast through faded business districts.  Many buildings were abandoned; those that weren’t were in dire need of structural attention.  I was happy to see that an old garage in Grenola still had lettering stenciled on the brick, though it looked like it’d been empty for a great while.


As we weaved through Moline, a discovery begged closer inspection.  Only 371 souls call Moline home, but this unassuming town is also home to the oldest Swinging Bridge in the state.  The pedestrian crossing seemed to be well-maintained, so I ventured across without fear.  Samantha giggled nervously and held her arms out to each side as she crossed…just in case.  Hard to believe it had been standing for 110 years.  Well, the main supports anyway.  The rest of it looked relatively new.  The construction reminded me a lot of the WPA architecture that started springing up during the Great Depression.

Elk Falls-2

Eight miles east, we stopped in another town.  Elk Falls bills itself inexplicably as the “World’s Largest Living Ghost Town” and also contains a historic bridge.  The iron truss over the Elk River was built in 1893 and is open to pedestrians.  It overlooks the titular falls and is quite a serene place, though a sign on the east end warns visitors not to discharge firearms within 300 feet.  The water below wasn’t very active, but the leaves were a beautiful mix of green and yellow that signaled autumn’s arrival.

Old 160

The afternoon was beginning to stretch late, so we picked up the pace and headed straight to Independence afterwards.  I’d driven through town dozens of times in 2000-2001 on my journeys from Topeka to Tulsa, but I’d never stopped to appreciate it.  In addition to a great collection of buildings downtown, they had another Marsh Arch Bridge – four spans – on an old highway alignment just east of town.  I was pleased as punch!


From Independence, we veered south towards home.  On those many drives I mentioned earlier, I had also never taken heed of the signs pointing the way to the Little House on the Prairie.  This time, however, I took the detour.  Samantha’s best friend Tiffany loves Laura Ingalls Wilder and I figured if there were markers along the highway it had to be somewhat significant.  Indeed, a few miles off the main highway, a small homestead sits.  The Ingalls family lived there for about a year in 1869 before returning to Wisconsin; even though Laura was only three years old at the time, she based Little House on the Kansas memories of her elders.  Among several buildings, there’s a small cabin on-site as a recreation based on the book description.  It’s a fun stop and home to a festival every summer.


It was a lovely day full of interesting sights to see.  In 2017, I look back and want to take the same trip again to see these places with new eyes. It’s amazing how much my photography has changed in such a short time; there’s so much I didn’t appreciate.  But, I suppose you can say that with many things in life.  Looking back is a great way to ignite a spark for forward movement.

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