Circus Trip 2018: Nicodemus NHS


Day 77, Sunday, September 30, 2018
Nicodemus National Historic Site, Nicodemus, Kansas

Sunday morning I woke up in Ellis, Kansas, with a plan for making my way west.  It was raining, foggy and cold, not a very pleasant morning. 

But first, I checked out Ellis a little bit.  Ellis has about 2,000 people, and was the boyhood home of Walter P. Chrysler, the founder of the automotive giant, Chrysler Corporation.  They call it the Chrysler Boyhood home, but it was built in 1889 when Chrysler was 14 years old (Chrysler is a really tough name to type, by the way…). Unfortunately for me, the home wasn’t open on Sundays, so I took a photo outside and headed out. 

I also stopped to get a photo of St. Mary’s Church, an enormous Catholic Church for such a small town.  The sound of the bells was beautiful! 

After leaving Ellis, I drove up to Nicodemus National Historic Site.  This is a very rural area, and there wasn’t much to pass by except farmland on the way.  The residents of Damar, Kansas have a good sense of humor though!

I arrived at Nicodemus, after driving quite a while in the mucky weather, to find it… CLOSED…  I should have checked online, but most historic sites are open seven days a week so I didn’t even think about it.  THWARTED!  Good thing gas prices were a lot cheaper in 2018 than they are today.  I wandered around the town for a few minutes and took some photos, but there wasn’t much to see. 

Nicodemus was a black community, founded in 1877.  It was a planned community, with six black men and one white man coming together to form the Nicodemus Town Company.  They traveled to Kentucky churches and encouraged people to move to Kansas, advertising it as a place for “African Americans to establish a black self-government.”  Kansas had been a free state during the Civil War, with abolitionists fighting aggressively in the days before it came into the union in 1861. 

Nicodemus had a modest early boom, and grew to a town with a small hotel, three churches, and two newspapers, but unfortunately they were never able to entice the railroad, and the population fell to only about 50 people in the 1880s.  The Great Depression and the Dust Bowl storms of the 1930s contributed to the further decline.  The Works Progress Administration did some work in Nicodemus, building the Town Hall in 1939, which is the Visitor’s Center for the Historic Site now.  In the 1970s, Nicodemus was designated as a National Historic Landmark, and donations from former residents helped to preserve and rehabilitate some of the historic structures. 

It was designated a National Historic Site on November 10, 1996, and has an annual visitation of about 28,000 people per year.  Despite all this, the town’s population is only 14 people.  The day I visited, I didn’t see another soul.  I will have to go back someday to get my passport stamp.

After leaving Nicodemus, I learned that the road I wanted to take was closed…  This left me taking a dirt road with caution signs, I’m sure due to the fact that it was raining and there was a risk of the road turning to mud.  Plus no cell service!  I managed fine and after some bumps and some photos of birds that didn’t seem like they belonged in Kansas, I made it back to pavement. 

It was certainly an interesting detour and I wish Nicodemus had been open! 

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