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Ten Tiny Kansas Towns with Strange Claims to Fame

by Selme Angulo
fact checked by Darci Heikkinen

Kansas is flat, and straight, and plain, and boring. Or at least that’s what you’ve been told by, well, anyone who has ever driven through Kansas. There are a few major cities, of course, including Wichita and Topeka. There are a couple fun college towns, too—Lawrence, which hosts the University of Kansas, and the so-called “Little Apple” of Manhattan, which hosts Kansas State University. And, of course, Kansas has a sprawling suburban area centered around the border town of Kansas City, Missouri. But beyond that, Kansas is full of lots and lots (and lots and lots) of small farming towns. And for an outsider, those towns might seem kind of boring!

But that’s not true at all. In fact, many of those tiny Kansas towns have weird and wacky claims to fame that simply don’t happen in other places around the country—or the world! In this list, we’ll take a look at ten small towns in Kansas that host strange and funny “once in a lifetime” landmarks and so-called notable sites and things. If it seems like Kansas has more of these than any other state in the nation, well, they do. And it’s time we had some fun with the weirdest ones. You know, to prepare you for your next cross-country trip through the flattest and most bizarre spot in the country!

Related: 10 Famous Frescoes to Add to Your Must-See Travel Bucket List

10 Lucas

The Most Interesting American You’ve Never Heard Of

The small town of Lucas has one of the most robust art collections in the world. But it’s not exactly the stuff you might be thinking of when you think of art. For one, Lucas is known as the “Grassroots Art Capital” of the world thanks to its seemingly endless folk installations of local, handmade, homemade art done by non-professionals.

For decades now, local artists have been making bizarre and quirky sculptures and placing them all around town. And even though Lucas has just over 300 people within the city limits, it has nearly that many art pieces strewn around town, offering a show for locals and visitors alike! There is so much art there that one magazine called Lucas one of the “8 Wonders of Art” in the world. It’s not exactly the Museum of Modern Art or the Guggenheim, but we’ll take it!

You can’t talk about Lucas without talking about the so-called “Garden of Eden,” though. This massive sculpture and diorama complex was first created decades ago by a local man named Samuel P. Dinsmoor. He was fascinated with the biblical story of Adam and Eve. So he let loose on his property in town with a sculpture garden depicting that story and many others from the Bible.

In addition to sculptures and other hand-crafted art pieces with biblical backing, Dinsmoor also put up concrete statues and created various signs and placards with biblical messages and political satire. It’s weird, it’s wacky, it’s memorable, and it is uniquely a small-town Kansas thing. So, if you’re ever near Lucas—which is just off Interstate 70 near the exact middle of the state—it might be worth a trip to see some really strange art.[1]

9 Greensburg

small town, USA // Greensburg, Kansas // population 740

The tiny town of Greensburg, Kansas, was nearly completely destroyed in May 2007 when an EF-5 tornado that was more than a mile wide slammed right into the town. It leveled practically every building in town and ended up killing 13 people, including 11 Greensburg residents. The tragic tornado and its rebuilding aftermath have made Greensburg a national story ever since.

There are some impressive consequences of the disaster, including the fact that Greensburg is now one of the “greenest” cities in America after having been rebuilt specifically to keep the town’s carbon footprint and emissions as low as possible. Resilient, impressive, and progressive! But that’s not the only thing Greensburg is known for. Like many other small towns in Kansas, Greensburg has its “thing.”

And Greensburg’s “thing” is, uh, a hand-dug well. But not just any hand-dug well! The largest hand-dug well in the WORLD! Locals call it the “Big Well,” which is a very appropriate name, and it is indeed the world’s largest hand-dug well. It measures 109 feet (33.2 meters) deep and is just a shade more than 32 feet (9.7 meters) in diameter. In addition, it has a whole museum and visitor center that showcases the history of the well, a massive meteorite held by the town, and the town as a whole. It’s a lot! But at least in that way, Greensburg is making some history. Good for them?

By the way, if you were wondering where the second-largest hand-dug well in the world might be, well, it’s also in Kansas! The tiny town of Westmoreland boasts having the number two well in the entire world with their effort. It’s not nearly as deep as Greensburg’s well, measuring in at only 38 feet (11.6 meters) deep and just a shade above 29 feet (8.8. meters) wide.

But just like the one in Greensburg, it was dug out only by men and not by machine. Shovels, pickaxes, and the like were used to dig the well way back in 1914 with no backhoes or anything stronger than manpower. All in the name of digging out a clean water source for the town and the railroad that passed through![2]

8 Goodland

Goodland is a city in western Kansas that runs along Interstate 70, not too far east of the Colorado border. And while it seems like any other highway town, complete with gas stations, convenience stores, and full neighborhoods a bit off the beaten path of the interstate, it has something that no other town has: the World’s Largest Easel. Yes, Lucas isn’t the only Kansas town that can appreciate some art!

Just off the highway, Goodland erected an 80-foot (24.4-meter) tall easel near the center of town. And on that easel stands a 32-by-24-foot (9.8-by-7.3-meter) reproduction of Vincent Van Gogh’s famous “Sunflower” painting. Of course, Kansas is the Sunflower State. Thus, Goodland wanted to make it seem obvious to drivers coming into town from Colorado that they were entering the sunflower capital of the world. So, instead of just putting sunflowers everywhere (which, to be fair, already happens in Kansas), they erected an easel!

The easel was first pitched to the city of Goodland through the trade group Sunflowers USA, which represents the local sunflower industry. A Canadian artist named Cameron Cross was the one who got the easel idea, and he and the trade group then raised the $150,000 necessary to build the sculpture. Eventually, it premiered and was officially dedicated during Goodland’s famed Sunflower Festival in August 2001. Ever since, the giant easel and its less-giant-but-still-giant painting have been sitting high and proud right along the interstate for millions upon millions of drivers to see and enjoy!

For what it’s worth, that’s not the only strange thing that Goodland hosts. Even weirder (but less publicly visible) is a replica of the World’s First Patented Helicopter. Sadly, it is only a replica and not the real deal, though. That’s because the actual world’s first patented helicopter crashed on its maiden voyage.

Then, the shards of the helicopter’s broken and battered metal were sold for scrap before the patent arrived in the mail. Once they got the patent, Goodland officials realized they should memorialize the technological innovation (even if it failed in its very first flight). So they made a replica, and now they display it in town. Only in Kansas…[3]

7 Pratt

Pratt is a very small town in a rural part of south-central Kansas that hosts the Miss Kansas Pageant every single year. It has for decades, and as such, it is very proud of being the town in which the most beautiful and capable Kansas woman is crowned annually. The Pratt County Historical Museum also has quite a display on hand about the town’s pageant history. The museum honors all the pageant winners from 1955, with portraits of each woman and mannequins that wear many of the gowns they wore at the time.

But that’s not the best part! The funniest part of Pratt’s pageant museum is an old road sign they picked up from Kansas’s northern border with Nebraska. The sign, from the late 1960s, reads “Kansas: Home of Beautiful Women.” It was meant to taunt Nebraskans coming into Kansas after the Sunflower State’s women were awarded Mrs. America and the Homemaker of Tomorrow in 1967 and Miss America in 1968. Pretty funny stuff. We kind of wish they’d left the sign up on the side of the road near Nebraska just to keep needling those driving into Kansas from the Cornhusker State!

Pratt has one other claim to fame, too: “hot” and “cold” water towers. Like a great many Kansas cities, Pratt holds their municipal water up in a tower—or, in this town’s case, two. Well, very late one night in 1956, a prankster managed to climb up the water towers. Once they got there, they painted “hot” on one tower and “cold” on the other. It’s a mild joke, sure, but it’s a very funny one. Funny enough that Pratt city officials saw the humor and decided to leave the graffiti up there!

Now, nearly 70 years later, Pratt still proudly displays its “hot” and “cold” water towers right in the center of town for everybody to see. A handful of other towns have since painted (or been vandalized with) similar things on their water towns, including Hubbard (Iowa), Garrison (North Dakota), and Marion (Virginia). But Pratt was the first, and they are darn proud of it![4]

6 Cawker City

Visiting the Worlds Largest Ball of Twine – Cawker City Kansas

The tiny town of Cawker City, Kansas, is home to the World’s Largest Ball of Twine. The ball itself weighs in right now at 17,320 pounds (7,856.2 kilograms), and it is more than 40 feet (12.2 meters) in circumference. It comprises nearly 8 million individual sisals of twine—7,938,709, to be exact. And it continues to grow every single year, too!

That’s because every year, Cawker City hosts their annual picnic and parade. As part of that event, they also hold what they call a “twine-a-thon.” During that twine-a-thon, Cawker City residents come out to help add to the ball of twine to ensure that it continues to go up in size, and that it remains the largest ball of twine anywhere in the world. Honestly, we’re not sure who would be competing for that honor, but Cawker City wants to keep it for themselves very badly.

The ball of twine has the kind of backstory that you would probably expect, to be honest. Way back in 1953, a man named Frank Stoeber began to roll up a ball of twine on his farm. Over the next four years, he rolled and rolled and rolled and rolled. After four long years of adding sisal after sisal of twine, in 1957, he donated the ball to Cawker City. By then, it weighed in at nearly 5,000 pounds (2,268 kilograms).

Over the last seven decades, it’s added another six tons of mass and grown to become the massive behemoth it is today. Now, it lives under an awning that is there to protect it from the elements. And it has put Cawker City on the map! What map, we’re not sure. But we’re writing about the place now, so it counts for something, doesn’t it?[5]

5 Mt. Sunflower

Highpointing: Mount Sunflower, the highest point in Kansas – Rooftops of America

The highest point in all of Kansas sits right on the Colorado border. That shouldn’t really come as a surprise to anybody who has ever been to Kansas before. To say that the state is flat is an understatement. And even though there are some very slight (and small) hills in the far southeastern section of the state, they are at a low enough elevation that they don’t compare to the topography out west.

See, as you travel westward through Kansas and toward Colorado, the land ever so slightly inclines underneath your feet. Colorado is, of course, a state of high mountains and high altitudes. And the terrain doesn’t only rise there, but (very subtly) in Kansas, too. Of course, Kansas doesn’t have any mountains—not in the sense that we recognize them as mountains, anyway. But it does have Mount Sunflower!

Outside of the tiny village of Weskan, just a few hundred feet away from the Colorado state line, sits the so-called Mount Sunflower. It’s not a mountain so much as it is the pathetic pinnacle of a (very, very) small hill. But it is technically the highest point in Kansas at 4,039 feet (1,231 meters). So Kansans celebrate it with a small, homemade monument and a few other ceremonial offerings at the site itself.

The actual location of Mount Sunflower is way off the beaten path and far down an old dirt road out in the country. It is actually on private property, too, but the property owners have been kind enough for years to allow tourists to visit and take pictures. Today. Mount Sunflower boasts a bizarre statue, a mailbox, a guestbook in which you can sign your name, and a Little Free Library where you can take a book and leave a book for the next person to come through! That’s fun. And the “hike” to the top involves walking along just a few yards of flat ground after you park your car. Even we can handle exercise like that![6]

4 Lebanon

Lebanon KS. The Geographic Center of the United States

The tiny village of Lebanon in north-central Kansas is known to be the spot of the exact center of the contiguous (aka the “lower 48”) United States. So, when you are in Lebanon, you are in the exact dead center of America. If you were to put America on the head of a pin with Lebanon being the focal point, you could (theoretically) balance the entire land mass of the nation out with ease.

Of course, that doesn’t include Alaska or Hawaii—just the lower 48 states. Lebanon only got the go-ahead to call themselves the center-point of America after several other nearby Kansas cities vied for the prize and were eventually denied. The U.S. Geological Survey determined the exact coordinates of the midpoint lie just outside Lebanon, so there they go!

When you travel out to the geographical center of the contiguous United States, you have to take a very small, very short two-lane highway, which is actually the shortest highway in all of Kansas. Then, you come up to a stone monument that proclaims Lebanon as being the center of it all. Along with the monument is a map proclaiming the distances (in miles) between Lebanon and major cities like Seattle, Los Angeles, New Orleans, New York, Chicago, and more.

There is also a now-defunct old motel near the center point, as well as a very tiny chapel meant for prayer. The chapel is itself an interesting place. Not only is it extremely small, but it is open 24 hours a day! So, no matter what time you reach Lebanon, day or night, you can always get right with your maker in the tiny, never-closing chapel at the center of the country.[7]

3 Nicodemus

How a Kansas town became one of the nation’s first majority-Black farming communities

The tiny town of Nicodemus is out in the middle of a ton of wheat fields and wide-open spaces high up in the very rural northwest plains of Kansas. If you go through the town today, you’ll see a few rundown houses, a few very old and long-since-abandoned buildings, and about two dozen people who currently call the place home. It doesn’t seem like much is there, and it’s very nearly a ghost town altogether.

However, way back when, after the Civil War, it was the first and only predominantly Black community to be settled out west following the fight for slavery in America. In fact, it’s the only predominantly Black community in that area that still stands today. And even though there’s not much there in the modern age, just the fact that it’s still around is a stunning testament to the resilience of its residents.

Nicodemus was first founded by freed slaves in 1877. Back then, those former slaves were seeking a space where they could live safely and freely to do as they pleased. They knew the Reconstruction-era South wasn’t for them, and like many other freed slaves, they migrated north and west after the Civil War. Soon, a group settled in the area, and they called their town Nicodemus. They hoped to turn it into a thriving farming community. And for a while, it did pretty well.

They grew wheat, corn, barley, and other products way out in those high Kansas plains. But in the 20th century, the town slowly faltered and died as more and more people either passed away or moved away. Today, Nicodemus has just a few residents left, and not much goes on in that tiny town. Amazingly, though, many century-old (and even older) buildings still stand, even if haphazardly. You can visit them today and imagine what Nicodemus must have been like so many decades ago.[8]

2 Scott City

Monument Rocks aka Chalk Pyramids | Gove County, Kansas | Exploring Kansas

Just outside the small town of Scott City is a grouping of tall rocks that are some of the most interesting and unique natural formations in all of Kansas. They are known as the Chalk Pyramids and, on occasion, the Little Pyramids, in reference to their fellow limestone formations found in the nearby small town of Oakley.

The Scott City ones are particularly fascinating, though, because they pop up out of nowhere and rise high up off the ground. The tallest of these ancient limestone statue-like natural rocky outcroppings shoots more than 50 feet (15 meters) up into the air! The limestone rocks that are found just outside Scott City are made out of Niobrara Chalk. They were created during the Cretaceous Period, too, with the most recent “young” ones having formed in the Mesozoic Era. That puts them at about 80 million years old.

At the time, that whole area was part of a massive inland sea. Because of that, when you go to the Scott City rocks today, if you’re lucky, you can still find shark teeth as fossils from that time millions and millions of years ago. Hard to imagine it, but Kansas used to be a massive, sweeping ocean!

The Chalk Pyramids are on private property, just like Mount Sunflower, but the owners of the land are gracious enough to allow people to come by and visit. You can’t climb on the rocks, but you can visit every day of the year, from sun up to sun down. And it’s totally free! So, while Scott City may not be on your travel itinerary, if you ever find yourself in that part of west-central Kansas, at least you have something you can go see that is unlike anything anywhere else on the continent.[9]

1 Concordia

The Orphan Trains

Our final Kansas journey ends on kind of a somber note. We find ourselves in Concordia for this, a tiny town in the north-central part of the state. There sits the National Orphan Train Complex. The Orphan Train Movement was a phenomenon in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Seemingly endless immigration came to the United States East Coast, and countless families and people arrived to start their lives in the country.

Unfortunately, inevitably, there were many orphaned children of very poor immigrants. When those children couldn’t find homes in the East with new families, or when organizations like the Children’s Aid Society of New York were overwhelmed with children and had nowhere to put them, they shipped the kids out west on trains headed into the frontier. The last stop on many of those trains was in Concordia, Kansas.

There, people from all over Kansas who wanted children but couldn’t have them naturally, who wanted to expand their family, or who were simply hoping to help ease the burden of these orphaned children would come to the station and wait for the train cars. Today, the National Orphan Train Complex commemorates this unsettling part of American history with a museum dedicated to the children who passed through Concordia and other stops on the train. They have tried to accumulate records on the matter, too. However, in some cases, records of orphans coming from the East Coast in the late 19th century have been very hard to find.

Regardless, the National Orphan Train Complex serves a vital role in documenting one aspect of history that many Americans might soon rather forget. And that’s not the only weird and interesting thing about Concordia, either. Its train station was also home to the terminus for a large group of German prisoners of war during World War II.

In the city of Concordia, American military officials built POW Camp Concordia. And in July 1943, they opened it to hold more than 4,000 Nazis who were captured as prisoners of war during various battles on the Eastern Front of the war. We often think of Japanese internment on the West Coast during World War II, but German POWs were very much a thing in various parts of the Midwest, too—and most especially in Concordia.[10]

fact checked by Darci Heikkinen