Smithsonian helps make culture, history vital in rural Kansas
The Smithsonian Institution is helping to showcase the rural Kansas heritage. Through a series of in-person events, they are helping six Kansas communities showcase their people and culture.
The traveling Smithsonian exhibition, "Crossroads: Change in Rural America," has its next stop at the Volland Store in Alma.
Small towns are overcoming challenges through innovative solutions. Volland's "Deep Roots and New Growth in Wabaunsee County," offers a reflection on how this rural community has responded to change. In conjunction with the in-person display, this Alma location will offer creative, historical information about the Flint Hills, which has one of the largest surviving areas of native tallgrass prairie in North America, as well as the immigrants who settled in Wabaunsee County.
When settlers headed west looking for cropland, the Flint Hills proved too rocky to plow, but it became an ideal pasture for raising cattle. The lack of trees and abundance of native limestone was perfect for stone fences, buildings and bridges. These natural characteristics of the Flint Hills impacted early homesteaders and left lasting effects that can be seen today in the ranching industry and historic stone buildings throughout Wabaunsee County.
"We get to tell our story which revolves around cattle, but really revolves around grass," said Marci Spaw, the grant writer for the Volland Foundation. "Grass, community, history values and culture are important to us. Those are the deep roots."
Many of the immigrants to the community came from Germany during the 1800s. During this same time period, others came from Sweden and Prussia. Often families stayed, and it is not unusual to see a sixth generation rancher.
"The ranchers will be the first to tell you that they are stewards of the land," said Patty Reece, chair and founder of the Volland Foundation and The Volland Store. "They are preserving it."
Volland and the surrounding community was expressly chosen by Humanities Kansas to host Crossroads as part of the Museum on Main Street project, a partnership to bring exhibitions and programs to rural cultural organizations. Reservations begin on March 1, and follow the link to the reservation system. Tours are available at 1, 2 and 3 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays, March 13 through April 25. Reservations are required.
After Volland, an exhibit will take place at the Norton County Arts Council. "Norton
Breaking Ground: Tales of Norton County Fireballs" will be open from
May 1 to June 13.
Other exhibits included Iola, Greensburg, North Newton and Independence. Each exhibit explored each community's heritage. Allen County looked at the community's trains, Greensburg and North Newton saw themselves at the crossroads and Independence's exhibit focused on initiative and innovation. All of these exhibits are able to be viewed online.