Exploring lesser-known areas is a great way to find some hidden gems and enjoy unique attractions that might otherwise be missed. I had the pleasure of discovering bunches of them around Nemaha, Doniphan, and Brown Counties on a rural road trip around Kansas thanks to the Big Kansas Road Trip 21.
Keep in mind as you are reading this article that some of the things were especially for the Big Kansas Road Trip. As always, call or look online to make sure the place you want to visit is open during these strange times in which we live.
The biggest town in Nemaha County is Seneca, a charming town with a Route 66 feeling Starlite Motel and an adorable, historic downtown. The Starlite Motel is much more than a fantastic neon sign (yes, you will want pictures), so consider turning your road trip into a weekend adventure. Rooms are clean, affordable, comfortable, and there is free parking, snacks, adorable patio, and Wifi.
Things to do in Seneca include visiting the Pony Express Museum (113 North 6th St), a well done exhibition with historical data, plaques, and a friendly staff. Don’t miss the “upstairs” portion of the museum.
A picturesque hand dug well sits at 301 North 11th Street, great for photo ops, as well as the Fire Department Museum on 6th and Main Street. Strolling through the Seneca Main Street Historic District, you’ll find a beautiful nostalgic theatre, an excellent free library, and the Nemaha Co. Museum. Painted ladies dot the landscape around the historic downtown, offering more great photo ops.
Centralia is a unique town in Nemaha County. Centralia’s most famous resident was John Riggins, a HOF running back for the Washington Redskins and NY Jets and MVP of Super Bowl XVII. See his boyhood home at 512 John Riggins.
A short distance away is Skeezix’s Toy Museum in Goff with thousands of collectible toys. My granddaughter would have loved this stop.
Meanwhile, in Baileyville, browse the memorabilia at Koch’s Service Station. Owner Beaver is glad to share a look at his awesome collection and you can also enjoy the retro Conoco gas station pictures. I was lucky to land a ride through town in his antique 1965 Plymouth Fury 3 along with some girlfriends who were road tripping with me. That was fun!
Dining in Nemaha County
The food game is strong in Seneca, Kansas. For breakfast, Lori’s Cafe offers home cooking at its finest, and you will want to have a piece of pie to finish off your breakfast. Yes, I know it is still breakfast time, but the raisin cream pie is so good, I wouldn’t want you to miss it. For your coffee and pastries needs, Sweet Pea’s Bakery is easily the best in town. The strawberry cream cheese rolls are amazing.
For lunch, the Log Cabin Cafe is a local favorite. You’ll find this no-frills establishment inside a gas station, but will enjoy everything on the menu. I didn’t have room for the homemade pies, but they all looked amazing. I can vouch for the omelet, toast, biscuits and hash browns. Yum!
For dinner, get off the beaten path and go to Spring Creek Golf Course, about three minutes outside of town. I recommend the quesadillas or burgers, which you can feast on as you watch the sun set over the pristine golf course. If you forgot any essentials along the way, Ray’s Apple Market has everything you need. Another good dinner choice would be Willows Restaurant & Bar, serving sandwiches, burgers, pasta, and a salad bar.
In Centralia, enjoy an upscale meal from GK’s Steak and Spirits, a new restaurant with live music, craft cocktails, and a terrific menu. I tasted the soup-of-the-day and Caesar salad, as well as a perfectly cooked cheeseburger with fries. How lucky is this tiny town to get a restaurant this awesome?
Brick Street Furniture Co & Wine Lounge in Sabetha, the largest town in Nemaha County, is a sophisticated space that is a furniture and home decor shop with a restaurant and wine bar inside. Don’t miss it, you’ll be impressed with the self-serve wine taps on the wall and yummy menu.
I tried the Garlic Cheese Curds and Pimento Cheese Bagel Knots, both of which were very tasty. I was disappointed that I couldn’t feast on the fantastic looking prime rib plates that were going out left and right as I had other dinner plans.
Downtown Coffee Co. is another Sabetha favorite serving burgers, sandwiches, coffee drinks, ice cream, and pizza. My food was quite tasty, and from the crowd gathered, it looked like a good time was had by all.
A Most Unique Find
Slightly outside town in St. Benedict is St. Mary’s Church, easily confused with the massive and elegant churches of Europe. It is a beauty. Light a candle (switch on the light) for a loved one while you are there. There is even a grotto out back of the church, inspired by our Lady of Lourdes in France.
The Shoe Tree in Wetmore officially bit the dust this summer after some unsettling weather went through. RIP Shoe Tree—the most asked about nd liked part of the BKRT21 on my social channels. Still, it was a pleasure to see and learn about. The Shoe Tree had 100’s of shoes nailed to it for nearly 40 years. A guest book, nails, a hammer, and other fun stuff was in the nearby mailbox. I contributed a pink pair of Vera Bradley flip-flops.
Wetmore also has the Spring Creek Classic Car and Truck Museum.
Route Signs of Interest
This road trip (and Big Kansas Road Trip) will put you on the same roads that many famous and historical people took back in the day. The original route of the California Trail, Pony Express, and Lewis & Clark Expedition.
Doniphan County is full of hills and valleys, defying those myths about Kansas being flat. The drives are lovely and you will feel in touch with nature as you soak up the scenery along the Glacial Hills Scenic Byway.
Doniphan County was the first named county in Kansas and is located in the northeastern corner of the state. It was a thriving community years ago due to steamboat travel on the Missouri River. Today, Doniphan’s White Cloud, a historic district, is slowly sprucing itself up and I can feel this is going to be a town you will hear lots more about in the future. Shop at the White Cloud Flea Market, an adorable store with one-of-a-kind finds…I could have spent hours there.
Visit Ma-Hush-Kah Museum in old White Cloud School building, circa 1871. You’ll find many artifacts, memorabilia, furniture, and clothing at this place listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
White Cloud also has a really cool Four-State Lookout, where you can see Kansas, Nebraska, Iowa, and Missouri from that point.
In Highland, population 1008, drive along the “Kansas is not so Flat” scenic drive, have a look at the A.L. Wynkoop Home, and Boone Statue, while in Troy, walk the Courthouse Square Historic District and maybe have a meal at Feed Store Cafe, raved about by the locals.
One of the most famous Doniphan events was not taking place on my visit, but had just happened. Flea market and antique enthusiasts will want to check out the Flea Market Grounds in the town of Sparks, where one of the biggest flea markets takes place over Labor Day weekend and the first weekend of May.
A few other points of interest are:
- Boder-Strong Mansion
- Historic barns and churches
- Wathena Fall Festival
- Lewis and lClark Pavilion
- Wilbur Chapman Monument (creator of the piggy bank…lay a penny on it)
- Nelson Rogers House
- Doniphan County Courthouse
- Peter Toth Indian Monument “Tall Oak”
- Iowa, Sac & Fox Mission Historic Site
Dining in Donephan County
El Canelo Mexican Restaurant is a local chain that offers delicious fajitas, tacos, burritos, and margaritas. The menu is huge and the service is attentive and quick. I ate at the Elwood location.
Hiawatha was my favorite town in Brown County—mostly for the food and shopping. In downtown Hiawatha, explore a treasure trove of antiques and fun nostalgic collectibles at Wright’s Eclectibles. Other points of interest are the Brown County Ag Museum, Historical Museum, Courthouse, Clock Tower Building, and Crossdale Barn.
Brown County is home to the Kickapoo Indian Reservation, much of the Sac and Fox Reservation, and a big part of the Iowa Reservation. Other towns of interest include Everest, with a Norwegian Cemetery (I’m a fan of cemetery exploring and admiring the headstones), Fairview (treat yourself to the Cozy Cafe), Powhattan (tour the Kickapoo Nation School in a town of 78), Morrill (photograph the pretty City Hall), and Horton.
One of our favorite BKRT stops was at Van’s Train Memorabilia in Fairview. You will know you are there when you see the red caboose beside the road. The museum is comprised of several rooms, all filled with model and working trains with multiple electric train cars. There is so much intricate detail in these pieces that it is absolutely fascinating.
Dining in Brown County
Feast on a tasty breakfast at Grandma’s Depot Cafe in Horton. I had a fantastic omelet with brie cheese and bacon. My friend Sara had biscuits and gravy. Grandma’s has a family-friendly vibe and cute little gift shop at the entrance.
Lunch is a must at The Bread Bowl, serving creative sandwiches, soup in homemade bread bowls, amazing side dishes, and an arsenal of sweet treats. Check the chalkboard for today’s specials and available pies and cakes. I had the Smoky Blackberry Chicken sandwich with smoked gouda, bacon, onion, and a lip-smacking good blackberry cream cheese sauce. All this on homemade birdseed bread—be still my beating heart.
For side items, choose the Mac & cheese and Broccoli Salad if they are available. You will thank me later. The Snickers Cake was “all that and a bag of chips”, too.
For dinner, Country Cabin Restaurant is the closest we found to fine dining in all three counties. This beautiful restaurant has indoor and outdoor seating, a high end menu, but a casual atmosphere. I ate the Chicken Fried Chicken, which came with a side of your choice and soup or salad. Save room for the bread pudding, though it is doubtful after eating the delicious complimentary bread with honey butter.
In Horton, a most interesting business is Werner Wagon Works. Don, the owner, is a wainwright, wheelwright, and blacksmith who makes custom wagons for customers all over the nation. There are only a handful of these master tradesmen around. After looking around his shop and seeing a flier of his beautiful creations on the wall, I’m almost positive I rode in one during a trip to the Phoenician in Scottsdale, Arizona. Wow, what an impressive trade and product.
Bonus BKRT21 Photos
Thanks to the BKRT and Doniphan/Brown/Nemaha Counties for bringing me to Kansas to participate in all the fun. My lodging and some meals were comped. As always, opinions and reviews are 100% my own and unbiased.
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