Main Streets 2017: Kansas
For two days of the Amelia Earhart Festival held every July, residents of Atchison, Kansas, celebrate the pioneering aviator, their homegrown folk hero. Festival events include a fly-in to Atchison’s Earhart Airport — plus food, crafts, music and children’s activities on the Commercial Street Mall, a three-block stretch of the town’s central avenue that has been converted to a pedestrian-only stretch of retail shops and shady spots. Capping the festival are fireworks and live music at Riverfront Park, where Commercial Street meets the Missouri River.
Founded a few years before the Civil War, Atchison had grown by the late 1800s into an important industrial manufacturing center, with steamboat landings on the Missouri and the eastern terminus of the Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe Railway, a major line during those years. The historic depot building is now home to the Atchison Rail Museum, where train buffs can view vintage railway cars and a steam locomotive. A favorite attraction now is miniature railroad trains that visitors can ride around the grounds.
The depot also houses the Atchison County Historical Society Museum, which features the “World’s Smallest (Unofficial) Presidential Library,” an exhibit telling the story of David Rice Atchison, a Missouri Senator and the city’s namesake. Through an accident of history he became the nation’s temporary chief executive for one day in March 1849.
For those interested in a spookier sort of history, “Haunted Atchison” offers coach and trolley tours to old homes with spooky histories. The town calls itself “The Most Haunted Town in Kansas,” and you can join in paranormal investigations, take a walking cemetery tour, and even sign up for a “Murder Mystery Dinner.”
Atchison’s 14,000 residents have a variety of options when it comes appreciating the arts. Theatre Atchison offers live plays, the Atchison Musical Arts Society organizes concerts, and the Muchnic Art Gallery, inside one of Atchison’s fine Victorian mansions, is an exhibition space for the Atchison Art Association.
You can spend much of the day exploring the retail shops that line the Commercial Street Mall — and you can dine in one of the several Commercial Street restaurants. Along with the Earhart Festival, the mall hosts a number of special events through the year, including A Taste of Atchison in September, Oktoberfest (needless to say, that’s in October), and the annual Christmas Tree Lighting in late November.
Primary photo taken by Tim Kiser
Earhart Festival photos courtesy of Kansas State Tourism