If you love American history, then you’ll love exploring the museums and restaurants in Osawatomie.
This town is rich in pre-Civil War stories and Victorian architecture. Visitors travel here daily from across the United States to learn about John Brown and the history of the American railroad.
The Adair cabin at the John Brown Museum was a station on the Underground Railroad and used by John Brown as his headquarters. This amazing historic cabin survived the Battle of Osawatomie, where Brown and his 30 Free-State defenders fought 250 proslavery militia. Learn about the life and struggles of these brave, early pioneers. It is located in beautiful John Brown Park.
If you’re a railroad buff, you can learn all about Osawatomie’s deep railroad history at the Osawatomie Railroad Museum. The St. Louis-Kansas-Arizona rail line reached town in 1879 and later became Union Pacific. In fact, Union Pacific became a major employer here for years and still operates a large switching operation in Osawatomie. It’s filled with lots of early artifacts for railroad buffs and newbies alike.
The Osawatomie History Museum houses exhibits on the Osawatomie State Hospital, pre-Civil War life in Kansas and the railroads. Stop by and see the replica of the old train depot, added in 2002.
Osawatomie’s historic downtown hosts several second-hand stores and flea markets tucked in with the 19th century buildings in the downtown business district. All are located within perfect walking distance, only one block from each other, around Main Street.
For a good spot for a picnic lunch, stop by John Brown Memorial Park. Dedicated in 1910 by President Teddy Roosevelt, the park has playground equipment, shelters, grills, picnic tables and restrooms, as well as 35 camping spots, 10 with electrical hookups. This is also where the John Brown Museum is located.
Osawatomie City Lake has a 75-acre recreational area complete with camping hook-ups and is regularly stocked for fishing. It is open to small craft boaters. The town also hosts paddlefish snagging season on the Marais des Cygnes River (March 15 through May 15).
The Osawatomie Municipal Golf Course has 18 holes of excellent play, along with a fully outfitted pro shop, snack bar, driving range and practice greens. Free youth lessons are available in June and July.
Osawatomie is also an access point to the Flint Hills Nature Trail. This 120-mile rail-trail crosses seven counties and is currently the seventh longest nature trail in the United States, according to the Rails to Trails Conservancy in Washington, D.C.
The family-owned Midway Drive-In is one of the smallest drive-in movie theaters in the state of Kansas. This venue routinely runs double features of recently released films, typically rated PG-13 and under. There is also a concession stand, playground and in-car audio broadcasts. (May-Labor Day)
Osawatomie hosts several festivals throughout the year. The John Brown Jamboree in June is a popular music festival with headline acts, along with a car show and fishing derby. The Freedom Festival & Civil War Re-enactment happens in September and features live re-enactments of the Battle of Osawatomie in John Brown Park. The Border War BBQ contest in October features some of the region’s best barbecue teams at John Brown Memorial Park. Kick off the holiday season by attending the Christmas Festival in November. Held the Friday and Saturday before Thanksgiving, this event features an arts and crafts fair, free horse-drawn sleigh rides, photos with Santa and a downtown lighting ceremony.
Tastes of the Past
When you finish touring the museums and shopping on Main Street, keep history alive by dining at the Whistle Stop Café. Owned by a retired railroad engineer and his wife, it is fully decked out in genuine railroad memorabilia, including a model train track in the ceiling and tracks on the floor. Try the hand-breaded tenderloins.
Chris’ Café serves breakfast and lunch, all with genuine, homemade baked treats. Even the sandwiches are served on homemade bread. The café is popular for its homemade, hearty mac ‘n cheese, cinnamon rolls and open-faced roast beef sandwich. Even the salad dressing is homemade.
La Hacienda offers authentic Mexican food with excellent service and a festive interior. Don’t forget to sample the Queso Dip, a favorite of locals, or the Burrito Sancho, stuffed with shrimp, bacon, pico and lime sauce.
The historic Country Vintage Inn has been operating continuously as a hotel for almost 100 years. Each of the 24 rooms is decorated in a different theme, from railroads, to golf, to Coca Cola. The suites are ideal for families who need a little more space.