Commercial Street 1

Atchison, Kansas – Commercial Street Mall

Main Streets 2017: Kansas

Commercial Street 1
2 EARHART FESTIVAL Kansas City Tourism
3 EARHART FESTIVAL Kansas City Tourism
Commercial Street 1 2 EARHART FESTIVAL Kansas City Tourism 3 EARHART FESTIVAL Kansas City Tourism

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

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Topeka, Kansas – South Kansas Avenue

Main Streets 2016: Kansas

As the capital of its state, Topeka is a center for civic and cultural life, and South Kansas Avenue is where a whole lot of it happens. This thoroughfare stretches from the Kansas Turnpike to the Kansas River, and in the city’s downtown, it’s home to a lively arts and dining scene, interspersed with local nonprofits and businesses.

With the capitol building just steps away, South Kansas Avenue is close to a number of government agencies and landmarks, including the Brown v. Board of Education National Historical Site, which commemorates the landmark Supreme Court decision that ended legal public-school segregation in 1954. In 2016, adrenaline enthusiasts can look forward to the opening of the Evel Knievel Museum, one block over on SW Topeka Avenue, which will boast the world’s largest collection of the legendary daredevil’s stunt bikes and memorabilia.

South Kansas Avenue also stands out for its vibrant, eclectic arts scene. On the first Friday of each month, more than a dozen local galleries and studios open their doors to residents and tourists for a night of art crawling. The Topeka Performing Arts Center, a nonprofit organization, puts on a wide variety of musical and theatrical productions each year. Nearby, guests can enjoy dinner and a performance at local dinner theater, The Break Room.

Like most art-rich neighborhoods, South Kansas Avenue is also known for its diverse and delicious dining options. Locals catch up over a cup of joe at Classic Bean, Topeka’s first espresso coffee house and deli, and indulge at HHB BBQ, a smokehouse specializing in brisket and pulled pork. South Kansas Avenue also hosts a weekly farmers’ market offering the region’s best produce.

Several of Topeka’s favorite festivals take place on South Kansas Avenue. At Tap That, locals and visitors spend the weekend tasting craft beers, learning about the art of brewing and kicking back with other beer enthusiasts. In November, The Miracle on Kansas Avenue Lighted Parade brings the town together for a day of shopping, dining and music, topped off by a light parade of floats, marching bands, military vehicles and antique and classic cars.

Street photo courtesy of Chris Neal –  The Capital-Journal
All other photos courtesy of Stephen Smith – Downtown Topeka Inc.

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