OPINION

Kansas and its bounty of hidden beauty

Jeanette Siemens, Pratt city commissioner
Pratt Tribune
Remains of a distillery near the town of Doniphan.

Don't ever let anyone tell you there is nothing to see and do in Kansas. My husband, Jerry, and I have been on all the Kansas Sampler Foundation Big Kansas Road Trips to this point and really enjoyed them, including our recent jaunt to northeastern Kansas. 

Each year since 2019, for the BKRT, three counties are identified and focused on during the first weekend of May, and during that time showcase their attractions, history, food and all those good and fun things. 

The first one took place in Kiowa, Comanche and Barber counties. The next was in northwest Kansas in Wallace, Sherman and Cheyenne counties. This year's BKRT was in Doniphan, Brown and Nemaha counties in the far northeastern part of Kansas. 

We have always enjoyed the BKRTs in the past, so even though we had other commitments, we decided we would take at least one day to go on the trip. We started in the most eastern county of Doniphan and visited the town of Troy. We found a very pretty and active community as we drove around and stopped at the beautiful old courthouse and went inside. 

From there we headed to the remains of a winery that was established in the 1800s near the town of Doniphan. We didn't realize Doniphan was basically a ghost town now, so went past where we should have gone and ended back up in Atchison, from where our trip began. Sooooo, we backtracked, this time ending up where we intended. 

At the winery, we were able to go into the cellar where the wine aged. The remains of a stone building that was the distillery is standing, sort of, as is the building where the initial steps of wine making too place. The guide told us the winery operated into the early 1900s which were a very strong Prohibitionist time, but they were able to stay in business under the guise of making wine with medicinal and sacramental purposes. 

In very close proximity was an old, very beautiful church which is still operational and owned by the Benedictine College in Atchison. St. John's, beautifully perched on the top of a hill, was built in the 1800s and has been renovated and maintained beautifully over the years. Our guide there told us the students at Benedictine are very fond of the church and there have been many weddings and other celebrations there. She also shared a story with us that had happened just in the last few weeks. 

She said she does a lot of things at the church and was taking some items to put away one weekday afternoon. She unlocked the door as usual, went inside and began doing whatever it was she came for. Then out of the shadows and quietness of the church she heard, "I'm up here." 

Obviously very startled and a bit shaken, and after hearing "I'm up here" again, she finally saw a gentleman with a camera up in the choir loft. He was hiding, waiting for a student from the college to bring his girlfriend to the church to propose. The photographer was going to take photos of the momentous occasion happening. The guide said when she returned home there was a message alerting her not to go to the church that day until after such a certain time. 

We saw and visited several other old churches in the counties; all very beautiful and well kept. 

When we reached Seneca, among other things, we toured a museum that once was the jail. The building had been added too, going up rather than out. The jail had been located on the ground floor which was sand, and the prisoners found a way to dig themselves out, so the "upward" renovations took place forming sort of a tower. The second floor then housed the cells which were very tiny but would hold four prisoners. The sheriff had living quarters in the facility and was the jail keeper. His wife cooked for the prisoners and did their laundry. In 1977, the jail was moved to another place to comply with new requirements. The local historical society renovated the sheriff's residence and rest of the building to return it to its 20th century style. 

Also in Seneca was a hand dug well. Being familiar with that sort of thing we decided we should visit it as well. Located in one of the very nice parks in Seneca, the well is housed in a small building allowing people to go inside and view the well. Of course, I could not leave without mentioned the largest hand-dug well in Greensburg. The guide grinned and said this one was the widest. 

All in all, the countryside was beautiful on our trip; we ate well and had a great time. We will probably have to return and see the many things we missed because of time constraints. 

Next year's road trip will be in southeast Kansas involving Bourbon, Cherokee and Crawford counties. If the Lord is willing, I am sure we will try to make that one as well.