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Finding the Old Frontier in Wichita


It's easy to travel back 150 years when you enter the Old Cowtown Museum in Wichita, Kansas.

When I left the modern Visitor Center, I walked along a dirt path past a trading post and a scattering of Native American tipis.

Before me is a wide dirt road lined with boardwalks and the commercial district of an 1865-1880 town just off the Chisholm Trail.

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It's quiet. No school children or families this weekday. My friend and I are opening doors and exploring each business and building, including Finlay Ross Furniture Shop, Baldwin Photographic Gallery & Library, Klentz Dressmaking and Millinery, First Arkansas Valley Bank, jail, and the general store.

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According to one costumed interpreter, there are more than 10,000 antiques in Cowtown's permanent collection, including textiles, furnishings, furniture, tools, and art. The buildings and furnishings help tell the story of Wichita's transformation from a frontier settlement to a cattle town to an agricultural and manufacturing area.

This living history museum reflects life on the frontier in the late 1800s. An archival collection of photographs, letters, and documents provides primary source material for historical research.

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There are 54 historic and recreated buildings at Cowtown located along the banks of the Arkansas River that are open to visitors all year long. Twenty-seven of the buildings are original and relocated to the grounds from Wichita and other sites in Kansas. Relocation of these structures protected them from demolition and preserved them for the future.

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As we enter Wichita City Eagle Print Shop, a docent greets us and explains the long-ago era's printing business.

He explains that although a newspaper was published, the real bread and butter of the business was the printing side. People needed business cards, wedding invitations, and sale flyers. He even let us print a card on an antique printing press.

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From the business district, we head for 1880 DeVore Farm. A cow, two vocal sheep, and a beautifully furnished farmhouse greet us here. We return to town and stop at the saloon for a soft drink before heading for the residential street.

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Along with the One-Room School and First Presbyterian Church are McKenzie House, a Story-and-a-Half House, Murdock House, and Hodge House - each filled with furnishings and decor relevant to the time they represent.

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We spent almost three hours in the 1800s learning about living on the frontier, how men and women made their livings, where they shopped, and the importance of the trains and the grain elevator.

For anyone who appreciates history and wants to learn it in a fun and interactive way, a trip to Old Cowtown Museum should be high on your list if you visit Wichita.

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If you go:

The museum is at 1865 West Museum Blvd, Wichita; for more information, call (316) 219-1871 or click here.

An excellent hotel located centrally in the city is the Fairfield Inn & Suites Wichita Downtown, 525 South Main Street, Wichita. For more information, click here.

For information on all the other attractions, hotels, restaurants, and shopping opportunities, go to Visit Wichita by clicking here.


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