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OPINION

Interesting sights to see in Kansas, less than a day's drive away

Jeanette Siemens
Pratt Tribune
Huge boulders worn smooth and etched with lines from ocean waves long ago are accessible at Minneapolis and Rock City, a day trip away from most parts of Kansas.

We found out there is a lot we didn’t know about our home state of Kansas on a recent day trip to Concordia. I knew there was some WWII history there and something connected with the Orphan Trains but had no idea what all.

Heading out with coffee in hand, we arrived at our destination mid-morning. Stopping at the Travel and Tourism office, I ran into an old friend with whom I worked when I was at the Chamber when many of us across the state worked and learned together promoting our areas for tourism.

That was a great surprise and after a short visit, she made an appointment for us to tour what was the WWII Prisoner of War Camp just outside of the town. One building fromconstruction over 300 years ago is still there and used as a museum. Also a guard tower and remnant of the water tower from the camp still stand. 

The camp housed around 5,000 German prisoners of war and was home to over 300 buildings. The WWII prisoners worked at various jobs in the community, mostly in farming. Our guide was well versed in the history and definitely proud of it and the way it has been preserved. Fifteen thousand meals a day were prepared there and prisoners were treated very well. There is a quote from one who said the best two years of his life were in Concordia. 

Obviously life in Germany prior to the war was not pleasant to say the least. Another story is of a former prisoner who, as all did, returned to Germany after the war, and the family for whom he worked in the US, sponsored him to come back, he became a citizen, married the farmer’s daughter; and now the grandson manages the farm. 

Among MANY items housed in the museum, there were also some paintings done by some of the prisoners, displayed along with antiques, vehicles, weapons, your name it and there is a good possibility it is there.

Saying WOW as we left we went for the Orphan Train Museum which was a double WOW. Concordia, through an application process, was selected to be the location of the nation’s Orphan Train Museum.

In the early 1900s when families, particularly immigrants, were struggling to feed and house their families in the cities, may children were abandoned, and/or placed up for adoption with the Childrens Aid Society, put on trains and sent to other states for adoption. Several were placed in Kansas and the Concordia area. 

The museum is housed in the old and restored depot with another building housing one of the train cars that took the children across the US. Heartbreaking pictures and stories abound as well as many stories of success, love and families. Since our trip I have learned that the grandmother of a friend in Texas was on one of the Orphan trains. She says that her grandmother was an ornery redhead and wasn’t chosen until most of the kids were picked and she the only one left.

Those two visits took a majority of the day, and I could go on and on, but yet there is more. The Sisters of St. Joseph Convent is in Concordia, along with a grotto and gardens. Because of the pandemic the buildings were not open to visitors but we could drive around and look at things. The Orphan Train is promoted all through the town with statues of children accompanied by their stories.

Following a mid afternoon lunch at the local Dairy Queen we went back to the Travel and Tourism office to get the low down on the outside of the building approx. a block long, made out of brick into a mural depicting the history of Cloud County. 

The pictures were etched in brick and then assembled on the side of the building forming the large mural. Again a phenomenal story.

Next, time to head home but not without a short side trip to Minneapolis and Rock City. Just off the highway a ways is another amazing display of what the oceans that covered this state hundreds of years ago left behind. Very different from what we saw in Western Kansas around Scott City and Little Jerusalem and Monument Rock and so very fascinating. 

These were more huge mounds of stone etched with lines by the ocean waters and beautifully fascinating. These were lower and available for climbing as we witnessed by several families and kids also visiting. It was a rich and full day full of fun and interesting times.

All right here in our home state, an easy drive from Pratt.