Two or three of my special interests tend to rise to the surface when I write. Food, for instance, occupies a lot of my brain space. I study restaurant reviews in great detail, carefully plan my excursions into the food scene, and try to pass along my observations to my readers. Architecture is another favorite subject. I like good floor plans and structural details for their own sake, which explains my fascination with the Symphony Designer Showhouse. Add to the list a love of American history, and we can begin to understand how I choose my field trip destinations.
Food is what drew me to Paola Kansas. Paola, a modest county seat 30 miles south of Overland Park, will never make anyone’s listicle of the Top 10 Winter Destinations (Number 3 left me speechless!). But I’d seen rave reviews of a restaurant called Beethoven’s #9, which was reputed to serve wonderful German food, and I talked two friends into making the trip to find out what a bierock is.
We still don’t know. Beethoven’s #9 was closed, a fact I learned by checking the website about ten minutes before we left home. Nobody could accuse me of being too detail-oriented when I plan trips.
Our time in Paola was not wasted, though. Far from it.
Armed with a brochure from the Chamber of Commerce website, we started our day with a walking tour of the work of architect George P. Washburn. Best known for designing county courthouses, Washburn’s talent was quite versatile.
In one block we found the Paola Free Library (left) and three houses, all Washburn designs. Sorry about the pictures–I was fascinated by the round details in each structure.
Walking tours can’t last all day in January. When the winter chill got to us, we ended our walk at the Miami County Historical Museum. For me, this well-staffed museum was the highlight of the trip. The four volunteers who made time to speak with us were knowledgeable, interesting, and excited about everything the museum has to offer.
One exhibit showed us Bleeding Kansas from the perspective of Paola citizens. Abraham “Bullet Hole” Ellis was our favorite. After taking a bullet in the forehead from Quantrill’s raiders, this stalwart pioneer just kept on living. He probably couldn’t shake his nickname, though.
We read up on the Patterson Circus, Headquartered in Paola from 1912-1925. The circus occupied a 100-acre tract near the railroad tracks, and several of their buildings were designed by—wait for it—George P. Washburn. (Later in the day we went hunting for the Patterson Circus House. Our GPS led us through a sad neighborhood of non-Washburn houses, to the gates of a large industrial plant. As we hadn’t packed our hard hats, we gave up the chase.)
The museum’s latest addition is a room devoted to the history of Indians in Miami County. The sad facts of the forced Indian relocation often go unremarked in small history museums, so I was doubly impressed with the exhibit. An extensive collection of artifacts represents both the Indian tribes and the first Christian missions to come to the area, a treasure trove for any serious researcher.
My thanks to Pat, Luanne, Larry and Rob for all their help at the historical museum. Special thanks to Pat, who steered us toward Café Latte for lunch. The soup, sandwiches, and specialty coffee drinks refueled us for the short ride home.