Flint Hills Drive

For years I have talked about going to Volland, a tiny town in the Flint Hills of Wabaunsee County. There wasn’t supposed to be anything much there but an old store supposedly still intact. I wasn’t sure if that store was still there, but the drive would only be about an hour so finally on Monday afternoon my Mom, our friend Dorothy and I took off in search of Volland.

At Wamego, we turned left on K-99 highway, over the Kansas River and south about 15 miles to Alma. Dorothy grew up here and we’d been here many times before. The best cheese in Kansas, if not North America, comes from the Alma Creamery in this little town. But cheese was not our mission today. However, we saw an old gas station at a corner in town that had a sign saying “Chunky’s Snack Shack” and our quest for ice cream began. Unfortunately, Chunky’s wasn’t yet open for business so we decided to try our luck in Alta Vista, the town at the end of the road to Volland.

Leaving the “City of Native Stone” empty-handed, we were surprised to find that the curvy road marked on my old map had now been paved and even marked as a “scenic drive” by a sign near the edge of town. The car was happy about this and we continued along its winding path through rolling green hills. I wasn’t sure if Volland would be marked, since few places in Kansas are, so when I thought we’d approached it, I turned down a rocky path into a clearing littered with all sorts of debris around a functioning house. There were also a couple ruins of buildings, so it made sense to me that this could be the town. When a dog came barking and it really felt as if we were trespassing, we decided to turn around. The driveway hadn’t even been marked with a roadsign, so that should have been my first clue.

About two miles down the road, we did come upon a little green sign pointing to the left indicating Volland. The short drive down the single street passed three houses in succession on the right side of the street. A large red brick building stood in the weeds to the right and the old Kratzer general store lie in ruins on the left. In front of us the train tracks with a rapidly moving train heading north. In 1907 a violent trainwreck occurred near here that left nearly 50 dead, most of whom were Mexican laborers. This I did not know when we approached the crossing, although we had no intention of getting to the other side because we’d already reached the end of the town.

Dorothy said that the general store used to be stocked with products even after it closed, and I’d read about this in one of Daniel Fitzgerald‘s Ghost Towns of Kansas books. I didn’t see much inside now, but shelves were still there. The brick building was more impressive. Even though the roof had collapsed and the windows were shattered, the brickwork looked almost new. I wondered if it had been repointed. It would appear that the building could have been another store, or maybe a school. Our sightseeing took all of five minutes and that was Volland. A ranch on the main road also had the name Volland, and this completed our tour. Now our secondary mission resumed top position: find ice cream.

Before reaching Alta Vista, we stumbled across two cemeteries in what used to be the village of Templin. Perhaps not as much a village as a rural community a century ago, only the cemeteries and an old rock school now used as a barn remained. One of the roads is also called Templin Road, so the name lives on. The old railroad stop of Celia remained anonymous and could not be located.

We pulled into Alta Vista in search of sweet frozen delight, and had it not been so late in the afternoon we might have struck gold. Side by side taunting us were two places that would have served refreshments: Sunflowers & Sodas with its old fashioned soda fountain and the Barnyard Cafe advertising “frozen Coke” for 50 cents. Neither was open so we had to leave town unsatisfied yet again.

I hadn’t brought a state map, but I knew Kansas pretty well and figured the most logical place for ice cream would be either Junction City, Council Grove or Manhattan unless we just went back to Wamego. My companions were up for more adventure, so we continued south. Out of curiosity, we took a little detour to Dwight, about six miles off the road. I was pretty sure we wouldn’t find ice cream here, but thought it would be worth investigating what might exist in the small town.

Dwight really had less than Alta Vista, but I decided to confirm any potential ice cream sightings with the postmaster. She said our best luck would be Council Grove since most things anywhere else would be closed at this time on a Monday afternoon. After assessing the demise of downtown Dwight, we turned back around to K-177 and headed south for the Morris County seat of government and historical town of Council Grove. We almost continued on through White City for a roundabout way there, but recalling the county’s geography, I decided against it due to the time it would take.

Our first stop in Council Grove was the Dairy Queen and directly in front of the parking space was an ad for their Midnight Truffle Blizzard. Dorothy and I were sold. Mom went for a cherry shake. After scarfing down the treats, we drove around the city looking for a place to get food to take home for dinner. We wanted to go to the historic and relatively famous Hays House, but they were closed on Mondays so we looked for something else. The only thing we saw was a bar/deli that didn’t look exceptional, so we decided to just head home and have leftovers. But first we drove a bit more through the town, making a note to come back with more time and on a day that isn’t Monday.

A short drive up one of the streets in town revealed an old bell that someone used to ring to warn of approaching Indian raiders. There were several old homes and other historic points of interest around town. The person Mom had talked to on the phone said that Council Grove’s population was 2,300 but had 20 eating places. Judging from the looks of it, the city did appear larger than that but I checked and indeed the population is in that range. Dorothy and Mom surmised it would have five or six thousand.

After our drive around the town, we headed home by way of K-177 to I-70 to K-99 back through Wamego. It had been a beautiful day and while relatively short, the drive was pretty and in the end we did get our ice cream. I guess we proved that we’ll travel far for it!

Note: this content was originally posted on my old Blogger site “The Nystagmus Zone, Volume 3.”

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