Steve and I spent some of our Sunday in Council Grove, doing what I like to call “adventurekking”. That is where we combine going somewhere new as an adventure and trekking around to see what’s there.
Adventurekking is something Steve and I have committed to do more and more of since the boys left home. It is our way of getting out of the house. Exploring, and becoming both more engaged in and more aware of our local area. We started the practice in Arizona. And we have just been waiting for Spring to arrive in Kansas before continuing the practice here.
Kansas Spring brought us 80° F on Friday. Later that night the winds abruptly shifted from the South to the North. The winds, gusting to well over 50 mph, plunged us into freezing temps.
The changing weather did make for a dramatic sunset, as seen Friday from our back patio, which faces West.
The cold and wind lasted throughout the weekend. We saw sleet and some snow flurries on Saturday, so we decided to stay home. By Sunday morning, we were ready to go out and explore. So, I asked Steve to get “the book” and pick a place to go.
“The book” is the “Wonders of Kansas Guide Book” that we purchased at the Water’s Edge Restaurant in Hesston, KS about a month ago. The guide book includes 216 great places to explore in Kansas, so I thought it would be a great resource for our adventurekking.
Because we decided to look at “the book” well into Sunday morning, we ended up with a late start to our destination. Given the time, we decided to pick a place no more than an hour from home. Also, the destination needed to include a local restaurant attraction so that we could grab a late lunch. We decided on Hays House, in Council Grove.
So, despite the heavy gray skies and the occasional light snow flurry, we set out for Council Grove.
Kansas Flint Hills
Council Grove is located in the Flint Hills area of Kansas.
According to Wiki, The Flint Hills, historically known as Bluestem Pastures or Blue Stem Hills, is a region in eastern Kansas and north-central Oklahoma named for the abundant residual flint eroded from the bedrock that lies near or at the surface. It has the densest coverage of intact tallgrass prairie in North America, making the Flint Hills Ecoregion a distinct region.
The early settlers were unable to plow the area, due to its rocky soil. For this reason, this is cattle ranch country because they benefit from the expanses of tallgrass areas.
These pictures really show, from both sides of the highway, as far as the eye can see, that the area lives up to its name. Remove the highway, the power lines and the fencing, and you can just picture what the settlers would have seen.
Highway 177 dips down a hill into the bit of valley where Council Grove is located, and where the Neosho River flows.
The Neosho River is a tributary of the Arkansas River in eastern Kansas and northeastern Oklahoma. Its tributaries also drain portions of Missouri and Arkansas. The Neosho has been dammed at several points along its course, in most cases by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.
Our first stop was Hays House, because we were really hungry by the time we reached Council Grove. Hays House is a restaurant and tavern, established in 1857. It is listed as the oldest continuing operating restaurant west of the Mississippi.
According to “the book”, Seth Hays, founder of Council Grove and a great-grandson of Daniel Boone, built a log store on this site in 1847, and a decade later built the structure that partially remains today. It served as a gathering place for meals, but had many other purposes including a mail stop and district court.
The interior boasts a rustic atmosphere, with exposed wood beams and supports, and a limestone fireplace.
Hays House is known for its skillet fried chicken, Angus beef offerings, house dill or blue cheese salad dressing, and fresh pies.
I had a truly yummy, perfectly seared 6-oz ribeye with seasonal vegetables. The seasonal vegetables turned out to be fresh carrots and snow peas liberally seasoned with garlic, butter, salt and black pepper.
Steve on other hand, chose something a little more decadent. You can just make out his plate in the background of my nice little ribeye.
Steve ordered the chicken fried steak, for which he immediately requested additional chicken gravy so that he could smother the steak. And he ordered the chicken fried steak with a side of mashed potatoes. Which he also smothered in chicken gravy. Steve thoroughly enjoyed his smothered meal as I looked on in dismay and a bit of concern at the amount of fat and the number of calories he consumed. He, however, was a happy camper.
The wait staff at the restaurant often describe the history of the place. They encouraged the diners to visit both the basement and the second floor of the historic building.
The basement housed additional dining space and contained the original bar that had once been upstairs.
The upstairs also housed additional dining areas, as well as some historical touches original to the space.
A second story balcony allows for outdoor eating (when the weather becomes more favorable) …
…as well as a great view of the quaint Main Street below.
After lunch we decided to see some of the local historical sights, such as the Cottage House, which is now a hotel/motel. Built in 1867, it originally served as a boarding house. Cottage House has been serving guests for over a hundred years.
Then there were the beautiful historic bank buildings
And the Post Office Oak. Travelers left their mail in this designated tree to be picked up by others going in the right direction.
Also in Council Grove, you can find a Madonna of the Trail statue. It is one in a series of 12 monuments dedicated to the spirit of pioneer women in the United States. The monuments were commissioned by the National Society of Daughters of the American Revolution. They were installed in each of the 12 states along the National Old Trails Road, which extended from Cumberland, Maryland, to Upland, California
According to Kansas Travels, Abraham and Mary Rawlinson built the Rawlinson Terlwinger home in 1860-61. This stone home was the last house freighters passed going west when leaving Council Grove as late as 1863. From their home on the edge of the frontier, the Rawlinsons witnessed long trains of freight wagons loaded with goods, heading to or from Santa Fe. This home was a welcome sight to the freighters, as it signaled their return to civilization.
All too soon, it was time to head back home. So, I took a picture of Main Street from a different perspective as we headed out of town.
Stopping only once more at Custer Elm. General Custer of the United States Army slept under this tree with his troops during the American Civil War.
Another view of the prairie tallgrass and we were once again leaving Highway 177 to take Highway 50 back home. I couldn’t resist another shot of the grain mill. For some reason, these structures really appealed to me.
The closer Steve and I got to home, the more prairie gave way to farmland. With winter wheat making its beautiful green presence known.
Council Grove and Hays House were well worth our trip Sunday. If you ever come through this part of Kansas, I suggest you make a stop and experience some of the history and the beauty of the Flint Hills. Steve and I know it was definitely worth our time.