Hiawathans embrace their history
Hiawatha Kansas is set in the northeast corner of the state. ‘Tis a sojourn along my “Jacquée T. Writer in Residence” expedition. Hiawatha is celebrated as the “City of Beautiful Maples.” So far, I have gotten a glimpse of reasons behind that moniker.
I have also learned that Hiawatha has a rich history that is engrained in buildings that line downtown streets, and is prized in the hearts of the locals.
Location and history
Hiawatha was incorporated into township in 1857, and awarded to be the Brown County Seat in 1858.
The Hiawatha settlement proved in an ideal location. The Oregon Trail ran through a portion of what is now the city proper. The Trail was laid in 1811-1840, and was a paved path for folks migrating west via wagon trains. The Pony Express route ran about 15 miles southeast of Hiawatha, passing between St. Joseph Missouri to Sacramento California. The Pony Express was famous when it ran 1860-61, as an innovative system that shortened mail delivery by several days.
St. Joseph and Grand Island Railroad lay track through downtown Hiawatha in 1879. The Oregon Trail and the Pony Express service fell out of use, and trains proved even faster transferring mail, and transferring folks who migrated west.
Hotels accommodated visitors stepping off the train platform, as well as those arriving via horse transport.
In the 1950s, train passenger service ended. Today, freight trains still run along the tracks. Now travelers may access Hiawatha via US Highway 73, and via Highway 36 that runs along parts of the historic Oregon Trail and Pony Express routes.
The city thrives with agricultural businesses. Hiawatha has a quiet atmosphere. Downtown you may find boutique shops, novelty shops, salons and barber shops. Also find museums and famous historical houses.
“City of Beautiful Maples”
A maple tree at the corner of Second and Miami Streets is credited as the inspiration — and the parent — to maples trees throughout Hiawatha today. In 1918, T.H. Korthanke [KOR-hane-kee] and his wife Emma moved to this property where a grand maple tree stood. Mr. Korthanke shared seedlings with citizens who agreed to plant and nurture them.
Today, backyards and front yards burgeon with hard maple trees, that quietly produce sap in the spring and that boast brilliant colors in autumn. I am told that I need to behold the colors to believe them. Locals tell me that no camera fully captures the splendor.
Everyday celebration of history
Hiawatha streets are named local history, and downtown public buildings maintain historical integrity.
The endeared “main street” is named Oregon after the Oregon Trail. Downtown Oregon Street runs East-West. Streets that run parallel north are named for Indian tribes north of the Trail; streets that run parallel south represent Indian tribes south of the Trail.
Around the town square, streets remain paved with brick that was laid in 1910. The Brown County Courthouse was built in 1925, of local limestone with classic Greek columns at the entrances. Across the street stands the Clock Tower building that was built in 1891, recently renovated to its original integrity. Both are on the National Register of Landmarks.
— Maple Leaf Festival is held the first Saturday of October. Festivities include an Art Fair on the Courthouse square and Agricultural Museum “Pioneer Days” celebrations.
— Halloween Frolic, every Halloween Day, started in 1914. It includes a parade and festivities so honored the local kids get the day off school.
Stay tuned, I’ll share more information and experiences. I’ll add the respective links to this page. Meanwhile, you may also refer to the City Hall web site.
***photos by Jacquee T.