A Stroll Through Historic Atchison, Kansas

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Photographed and Written By Ingrid Keizer

It had been over a decade since I’d visited the sleepy town of Atchison, Kansas and my memory of that visit was vague. When a friend insisted that I’d be enamored with its bricked streets, historical homes, small town charm and overall history I grabbed my camera and made the beautifully scenic drive.

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From downtown Kansas City, Atchison is an easy drive north through Platte, City and Weston where the scenery takes hold of ones attention and captivates. The lazy rolling hills dotted with tobacco barns through the agriculturally lush region make it nearly impossible not to imagine the area during the early 1800’s when tobacco provided a cash crop to its residents. In Weston, a turn north on 49 highway  led me through lowland pastures, with swampy fields aside dramatic, tall, tree covered hills. The straight highway runs alongside railroad tracks and tiny towns like Iatin, Missouri with a population of 45. The village of Iatin was named for an Otoe Tribal Chief who was acclaimed for his battles with the Comanche. The town of Iatin was once a major trading post but lost its traffic after Weston, Missouri became established. Today Iatin is best known for the location of KCPL’s coal-fired power plant.

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A turn onto 59 highway led to Atchison where I was greeted by the Amelia Earhart Memorial Bridge that crosses the Missouri River. Each time that I’ve returned the river seems to welcome me with its  outstretched arms. It seems to whisper, “Breath deeply, slow down, relax. Enjoy a slower pace of life”. These are welcome words to a stressed, single mom.

This western section of the Missouri River was once inhabited by the Kanza Indians and served as a stopping point for the Lewis and Clark expedition. The River represented a passageway  to escaped slaves seeking freedom in Kansas. Later Atchison became a major trade center and  the river served as as avenue to boats headed to the west. It seems that the river has taken on a life of its own, having adopted little pieces of the lives that it has supported.

AK 9 North Terrace Street in Atchison runs along the ridge of the river bluff and offer stunning views of the Missouri River. Though the timing of my visits to Atchison have not yet allowed me to visit with historians, I would guess that some of the homes overlooking the river served as “lookout” points for riverboat traffic as well as for confederate soldiers during the civil war.

AK 11Atchison’s numerous bricked streets are attributed to the labors of “Deafy” Boular who at age four survived spinal meningitis only to be left deaf and mute. As an adolecent, unable to hear the oncoming train while paying on the railroad tracks, Deafy again succumbed to tragedy, losing the lower part of both legs. In spite of what many might consider “physical limitations” Deafy laid many of the brick streets found in the historical areas of Atchison. Deafy is featured in a 1933 edition of Ripley’s Believe it or Not for laying 46,000 bricks in less than eight hours. Deafy’s achievements won’t soon be forgotten as his image has been memorialized in the form of a bronze statue as well as the highly prided remaining streets.

AK 38While many nationwide may never have visited Atchison, few have never heard of the Atchison, Topeka and Sante Fe Railroad. As the development of movement towards the west increased, the demand for goods also grew. It was that demand that gave birth to the need to develop a railway system that would transport those goods and connect emerging cities with larger more established cities across the nation. A railroad company was incorporated through an act of legislation under the name Atchison, Topeka and Sante Fe Company because Kansas was still a territory and had no incorporation laws in place. It is no stretch to attribute the Atchison, Topeka and Sante Fe Railroad for major contributions to the expansion west.

AK 37Along with painstakingly maintained historical homes, are many meticulously groomed gardens and yards. Hydrangeas seem to thrive in Atchison soil and can be found everywhere. Hydrangeas do best in nutrient rich, loose soil and require a lot of moisture. The loamy soil found in Atchison is highly desired agriculturally. It is coveted for its ability to retain water and nutrients while allowing excess water to drain away.

AK 35Atchison gardens have the sweet quality of complimenting the vintage architecture with older variety plantings like Rose of Sharon and Hollyhocks along with plant varieties and methods used to create sustainability and that make environmental sense.

AK 5Atchison’s community is deeply entrenched in its Catholic beginnings. The mid 1800s brought a very large influx of German speaking people to Kansas. Interestingly, these immigrants were actually Russians who in the 18th century were recruited from Germany to  immigrate and live in the fertile land in the Volga River Valley in Russia. They were allowed to maintain their language and culture. During the mid 19th and early 20th century these German Russians journeyed to Kansas in search of new opportunities.

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St. Benedict was a born in about 460 AD in Norcia, Italy. He is known as the founder of western monasticism. It is only fitting that St Benidict’s Abbey founded in 1857 in Atchison is so named.  The Abbey was founded to educate the sons of settlers. The St. Benedictine Monks of Atchison live in observance of a vow of Stability, Conversastio Morum (Conversion of Life) and of  ObedienceThough the abbey is founded in the early traditions of St. Benedict’s teachings their use of technology has evolved nicely in creating a beautiful website and developing a good following on social networking.

AK 3Atchison is also home to Mount Saint Scholastica the home of the Benedictine Sisters. Scholastica is actually the name of the female twin of Saint Benedict. Mount Saint Scholastica was founded in 1877 in order to open a school for girls. The extensive complex which includes sprawling grounds, gorgeous landscaping  and tidy well kept vegetable gardens.

Today’s coed Benedictine College in Atchison is the result of the melding of the schools founded by the Benedictine Monks and the Benedictine Sisters. Benedictine College of Atchison is endorsed by the Newman Guide to Choosing a Catholic College.

AK 34As with many small rural towns throughout the nation, Atchison has struggled to support the small independently owned businesses that have defined Main Street USA. Mom and Pop shops have given way to large corporate retailers who offer pricing that can’t be beat by small business owners. It is a plague that has robbed small towns of their unique culture and frankly left them sterile and lacking character. While larger cities have began embracing the importance of supporting local business whose money goes back into the community, smaller rural towns are left with barely any small local businesses to support. This however, is all the more reason to support those remaining businesses avidly.

For those who live in Atchison’s historic neighborhood, Van Dyke’s Grocery is just a sweet little walk away. The tiny grocer has all the basic staples, a selection of produce, a fabulous meat market and deli and a friendly staff that will most likely remember your face the next time you come in. Van Dyke’s has been owned by the same family for over 113 years.

AK 14The Gateway to Kansas Old Fashioned Soda Fountain and Grill offers a step back in time. Along with it’s signature counter and bar stools and the price of a burger and a milk shake won’t break the bank. After working up an appetite shopping the numerous booths of used books, kitschy goods and local memorabilia, relaxing over some comfort food is certainly in order. I hear the burgers are delicious.

AK 20Daisy House Atlantic is a darling cafe serving made from scratch baked goods, coffee and lunch specialties. Housed in a renovated industrial building built in 1912 Daisy bakes and serves customers while daughter “Junebug” draws on the chalkboard below the counter and offers tours to her Grandmother’s neighboring business, Backroad Atlas where she sells re-purposed furniture, resale home goods and custom decor made by area artists. Daisy’s House Atlantic features a “Jam Night” every Wednesday at 7:00 pm.

AK 24In all I’ve spent several days strolling through the historic district of Atchsion and have taken hundreds of photographs. I feel certain that I’ve not even begun to discover everything I want to see and learn. I’ve not visited the Amelia Earhart home, not met with local historians or delved into the history of the homes that I’ve admired so intently. I hope to return to visit the yoga class that takes place in the beautiful historic Muchnic Art Gallery, tour the Cray Historical Museum, write about Atchison’s B&Bs and locally owned restaurants. In time I hope that I will.

sweetFortunately for me my generous host welcomes me back to Atchison frequently. Together we prepare an evening meal in the renovated 1920’s era home and dine outdoors with wine, laughter and conversation. The evening progresses and darkness gives way to dancing fireflies, quiet smiles and genuine sweetness. It is the perfect way to end the perfect day of walking and photo taking.  Mornings offer quiet cups of coffee on a sprawling porch, a concert of birdsong and a little more time to relax, breath deep and simply enjoy a slower pace of life before I cross back over the Missouri River.

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Comments

  1. Stephanie Wolters

    Let us know next time you are coming to Atchison. I have lived here most of my life and we would love to show you around our 1890 victorian house. With our renovations we think it is in that top list of best preserved historical homes. Thanks for the great pix and wonderful article on our little town.

    1. Author
      kcikeizer

      Hi Stephanie! Thank you so much. I’m in Atchison frequently these days and would love to tour your home sometime. If you know of other home owners that would consider having photos taken to share on the GKC, Id be very interested in speaking to them!

      Thank you so much,

      Ingrid

  2. Stan

    Daisy House Atlantic is the bomb. If you haven’t been there you need to get yourself down there. Try some of her wonderful pastry items, plus other lunch items & sandwiches & special coffees & drinks.

    1. Author
      kcikeizer

      Thank you, Stan. Isn’t Daisy a doll? Everyone should flock in to see her.

      Ingrid

  3. Marjean Rickert

    Thank you for your beautiful description of my beloved home town.
    Marjean Knight Rickert

    1. Author
      kcikeizer

      Thank you, Marjean. Let me know if you have stories that you’d like to share. I’m interested in learning more about Atchsion from a personal perspective. kcikeizer@gmail.com

      Thanks,

      Ingrid

  4. Terry Haines

    In the later days of my mother’s life, (Gertrude C Wyatt Haines) she was unable to go about shopping. Van Dykes would accept her order over the phone. They then would deliver the needed food. Of course, I paid for it. But the amount of comfort form their assistance is something I will never, ever, forget. This is what you get in a small town. I remember the small community very well. I have friends that still live there. When I visit. I am treated as if I never left. I will never forget the Van Dykes since they were out neighbors. The small town that I now live in went from 12,000 to now over 130,000. I sure do miss Atchison, KS.

    1. Author
      kcikeizer

      Hi Terry, I love to hear those stories, what a wonderful way to have lived. I’d love to hear more about your mom and her life in Atchison if you’d like to share. Let me know and thank you for commenting.

      Ingrid kcikeizer@gmail.com

  5. Justin West

    We live in a home who’s Foundation was a part of the original Law Firm that chartered the Atchison Topeka and Santa Fe Railroad.

    1. Author
      kcikeizer

      Hi Justin! Let me know if you have some history to share on the home and the family that lived there originally. I’d love to learn more. kcikeizer@gmail.com.

      Ingrid

  6. Giff Dunn

    You are more than welcome to visit our 1881 Victorian at 516 Kearney St. My wife is a master gardener so there are always flowers blooming!

    1. Author
      kcikeizer

      Hi Giff! Thank you so much for that nice offer. I will definitely be taking you up on that offer after I organize some more visits. I might just stroll by in the morning with my camera to get some shots of the flowers while they are in their prime!

      Thank you again,

      Ingrid

    2. Alison

      Mr. Dunn; I’m a resident of Atchison and an admirer of fine homes. I’ve gone by your house several times and must say you and your spouse certainly keep it well maintained and landscaped beautifully! Thank you.

  7. Carol Pennington

    Love your article. So nice to see one center on Atchison as a town and not the most haunted. I have lived in the Atchison community all my life.

    1. Author
      kcikeizer

      Thank you Carol, The hauntings have their place and appeal to many. Atchison just has so much more to offer than that one element. In truth I’m just too much of a scardicat to even venture into that realm! I’d love to hear any ideas that you might have regarding future stories. Don’t hesitate to make suggestions.

      Thanks Again,

      Ingrid

  8. Lois Schiavone

    You could write a book about Atchison! I so loved your brief visit to the town where I was born. Though I haven’t been back in years, I had a fleeting moment of reunion while reading your comments and lingering over your beautiful pictures. They inspired so many memories of my childhood visits to Grandma’s house, to the homes of my aunts, uncles, and cousins. For such a small town, there is so much to see! And so much to miss. Thank you for opening a window to the past for me to recall the memories of my home town of Atchison and the people who live there now.

    1. Author
      kcikeizer

      Oh Lois, What a very, very generous comment thank you so much. I would love to hear more about those experiences growing up. Please feel free to share! I love it.

      Thanks Again,

      Ingrid

  9. Sara Allison Farrington

    Thank you for this wonderful article of my home town. Reading your description of entering town over the bridge, just brought me back and the photos were spectacular. I grew up there, leaving when I was in 6th grade, but it is and always will be “Home”. Both my grand parents lived there and the entire town holds a special place in my heart.

    1. Author
      kcikeizer

      Hi Sara, Thank you so much for your thoughtful comments. It’s so nice to hear from people who have shared that experience. It’s clear that Atchison is a special place for so many who began their lives there.

      Thank you for taking the time to comment. It means so much!

      Ingrid

  10. Susan Billings

    The photo of the Hollyhocks is my house! What an awesome job. Beautifully done. I am so honored!

    1. Author
      kcikeizer

      Hi Susan,

      I have more shots of the Hollyhocks. I think I can find you on Facebook. I’ll try to send them your way.

      Ingrid

  11. Linda Clements

    Hello,
    You printed an amazing story about Atchison. I am not a native but have lived here for 40 years. And seeing it through the eyes of another has made it more special. We all tend to take things for granted when we see them on a daily basis. Thank you.
    We are organizing a Christmas Homes Tour.. Please come- November 19. A fundraiser for St. Benedict’s Catholic School.

    1. Author
      kcikeizer

      I will put the homes tour on my list. I’d love to see Atchison at Christmas!

      Thank you so much, Linda. I hope to cross paths in the winter!

      Ingrid

  12. Sandy mcKenzie

    Thank you for this beautiful walk-about. We lived in Atchison for 30 years and have been gone for 20. Wish this could remain on my Facebook forever so I could meander back . Beautiful !

    1. Author
      kcikeizer

      Hi Sandy! Thank you so much! Save this in your favorites and it will always be available to you! http://thegreaterkansascity.org/?p=3718. Also please follow us so that you get our feeds on your facebook feeds. The traffic keeps us alive. I really appreciate your kind words. It means more than you might imagine!!

      Thank you,

      Ingrid

  13. David Foster - Butterfly House on the Prairie

    Atchison is a fun and unique place to visit. While in the area….just eight miles west of Atchison on Hwy 59 is (The Little) Butterfly House on the Prairie. It is housed in a former elementary school right on the hwy. It features a live walk-in butterfly exhibit. We also have some lizards, Madagascar Hissing Cockroaches and other fun creatures to show you and tell you about. This is also the home of the world’s most unique jewelry. It is handmade jewelry using the real wings of expired butterflies. Lots to see and learn….check out our Facebook page or website or give us a call at: 913-333-1850 Thanks….see you at “Butterfly House on the Prairie”

    1. Author
      kcikeizer

      Hi David, What a great idea! I will be in touch. Don’t think I’ve forgotten if it takes a while and don’t hesitate to let me know if you have a special event that you want to share. I’ll do my best to get there!

      Thanks,

      Ingrid

  14. Patti Dailey

    I was born in Atchison,as were all four of my children at the Atchison Hospital which has been razed and relocated across town. I still live here as does my oldest child. I grew up in south Atchison stomping through the bluffs along the Missouri River, ice skating and picknicking in Jackson Park (which is still in its glorious existsance. I now live in north Atchison near another park which in its day was busy with children playing, riding bikes, playing tennis and catching .craw dads in the meandering creek.It has lost the charm that my children remember but we still take walks there with our grandchildren.Atchison is unique with all of its history and old beauty and I feel lucky to have been able to live here all my life.

    1. Author
      kcikeizer

      Hi Patti! I love hearing those stories. Thank you so much for sharing. It’s a marvelous thing to have those memories and to make new ones in the same place with kids and now grandkids.

      Thank you,

      Ingrid

  15. Margie Begley

    I truly enjoyed seeing Atchison through your eyes! My family has Paolucci’s deli, restaurant & lounge. It was started as a fruit market in 1894. My son, Eddie is the 4th generation in the business. The next time you are in town, I would love for you to drop in, you can’t miss us at 3rd and Main.

    1. Author
      kcikeizer

      Hi Margie, I would love to visit Paolucci’s. It was on my radar! I’m hoping to write a piece on locally owned restaurants in Atchison. I will be in touch! Thank you so much.

      Ingrid

    1. Author
      kcikeizer

      Hi Dave! Thank you for the FB Page! I’m eager to spend time looking at it. Is it yours? It appears that I can learn a lot from you!!

      Thanks,

      Ingrid

  16. Carolyn Van Dyke O'Neill

    My hometown is Atchison. I am part of the Van Dyke family. My brother Kevin and nephew Kyle run it now. Have a million stories about Atchison. Your pictures are wonderful.

    1. Author
      kcikeizer

      Carolyn,

      What a great little market. I’m envious. I’d love to have it in my neighborhood. Are you still in Atchison? I’d love to hear your stories!

      Ingrid

  17. Gregg

    My son CJ just finished up at Benedictine . He wrestled there and would always buy his fresh chicken breast at Van Dykes which he lived across the street from! They are some of the nicest people and I to would love to have them in my neighborhood!
    Carolyn if you see this tell your brother thank you! We checked out the store the day we moved CJ in and introduced ourselves to your brother . I fell in love with store that day.

    1. Author
      kcikeizer

      Hi Gregg, The people at Van Dykes are great. You just can’t get that kind of experience at big retail. Glad that your son had such a fine experience in Atchison.

      Thanks for Writing,

      Ingrid

  18. Robin

    Lovely article. I have lived here for 53 of my 56 years. I love it here. One small point, it’s St. Benedict’s not Benidicts. I love the pictures of the homes and businesses I see daily. Please keep them coming!!

    1. Author
      kcikeizer

      Thank you, Robin! I will make corrections. 🙂

      Ingrid

      Robin, I went back to make a correction as I run out the door and couldn’t find the mispelling. (they become invisible after a while) Please let me know where it occurs and I will make a correction this evening. Thanks again.

  19. Mary Ann Piper

    I was born and raised in Atchison, moved in 1988, because of my husband Dave’s job. This article you wrote and the pictures you took are the best I’ve seen for a long time. I was so happy to see this on Facebook, that’s how I keep up on happenings in Atchison, since I now live here in Ohio.
    My dad had one of those family owned grocery stores, that I got to grow up and work in when I was a kid, called Miller’s Food Market, we learned a lot working there.
    Thanks again,
    Mary Ann Miller Piper.

    1. Author
      kcikeizer

      Thank you Mary Ann, It was a wonderful treat to spend time in Atchison. If you’d like to share stories of your childhood, please let me know I think it would be nice to hear those stories and connection them with photos =of childhood homes.

      Yours Sincerely,

      Ingrid

  20. Mike

    My wife and I spent 4 years in Atchison from 65 to 69. I went to St Benedict’s and she went to Mount St Scholastica. We enjoy going back at least once a year and more often if we can. Love the town and love the photos you posted. Thanks!

    1. Author
      kcikeizer

      Thank you so much, Mike. Your comments bring about a sweet vision of courtship! What a dear time that must have been!

      Warmly,

      Ingrid

  21. Gina Hart

    Ingrid,

    I enjoyed reading your article about Atchison. My husband and I chose to live in Atchison after a 24 year military career of moving and living in many places. There is so much to love here between the gorgeous homes, our bridge lit up at night, trolly tours, live theater shows, the distinguished history of this town, and the charming people. We are very happy to call this special place home and feel that we have been welcomed and appreciated in our permanent duty station (haha). We have the honor of living in one of the older homes and hope that you will be able to come back for our Christmas tour November 19 and say hello. Whether you are just visiting, or living here Atchison is a special place.

    Warm regards,

    Gina

    1. Author
      kcikeizer

      Hi Gina! I love the phrase “permanent duty station” it is the perfect term. It’s interesting that several military families who have lived all over the world have chosen Atchison as their home. Clearly you have good taste! It’s no secret that I am smitten with Atchison and have started to visit frequently. The Saturday morning Farmer’s Market has become a favorite and you know I’m getting to be a regular when the vendors know me by name! Thank you for commenting and I certainly hope to meet you one day!

      Truly,

      Ingrid

  22. Anna Weaver

    Hi Ingrid,

    I work in my yard practically every day but it has never looked better than it looks in the two photos you posted at the beginning of your article. So honored to take care of a great old historic home in the best town ever. Thanks for a wonderful article!

    Sincerely,

    Anna

    1. Author
      kcikeizer

      Hi Anna, I’m glad that you saw it!! Your yard and home are simply gorgeous. I’m glad that we had an opportunity to meet! I hope to see you again soon.

      Ingrid

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