While we are on the theme of remote national park units, here’s another one: Nicodemus National Historic Site in Kansas. This tiny settlement in the middle of the great plains remembers a time when newly emancipated African Americans moved west.
Established by a white town developer and a handful of black ministers, Nicodemus was the first western town to be built by and for black settlers. In September 1877 the first settlers made the long journey from Kentucky; arriving to find nothing – no town, no stores, no church – nothing but the vast open plains.
Many turned around and left, but the ones that stayed carved out a community.
At the visitor center – housed in the “township hall” – we learned how hard life was for these settlers; like other early pioneers, dwelling in primitive conditions and trying to earn a living in an area not easily farmed, miles from the nearest community.
They tried, but most towns of the time could only succeed if they were near a railway (which Nicodemus was not). And like other settlements in the mid-west, Nicodemus was hit hard by the depression and “dust bowl” of the 30’s.
Today there are only a couple dozen inhabitants of Nicodemus, most descendants of the original settlers. Each year in July there is a reunion that celebrates the history of the town and emancipation; attracting hundreds of families with roots in this tiny town.
Town residents work closely with the National Park Service to preserve their history. Along with some exhibits at the visitor center, there are five structures you can walk around. The oldest is the St. Francis Hotel, built in 1881. There are also a couple churches and a school; all that remains of the only African American settlement west of the Mississippi.
There isn’t much there to attract visitors, but it is pretty interesting history if you are passing by.
Other Roadside Attractions
As we have travelled across the country with the goal of visiting every national park unit, not only have we learned about our country’s history, we have stumbled upon all sorts of interesting “roadside attractions”.
Take the US-36 across northern Kansas and you will pass through Lebanon – the geographic center of the United States (lower 48).
Take the US-24 and not only will you pass by Nicodemus National Historic Site, you’ll go through Cawker City, Kansas – the home of the World’s Largest Ball of Twine!
There are all sorts of fun things to see and do in this amazing country. We encourage you to get off the Interstate highway and take the time to meander a bit. You’ll be amazed at how much you will learn and experience.