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BEYOND THE GATES - Whoa, Nelly! Mosey up to Marysville

By Julie Fiedler | 1ST INF. DIV. POST | June 10, 2014

Editor’s note: This is a monthly commentary column by staff writer Julie Fiedler called, Beyond the Gates. In Beyond the Gates, Julie helps Soldiers, family members, civilians and retirees discover Kansas by highlighting local destinations, fun and easy day trips, as well as quirky Kansas attractions.

Marysville is a charming little Kansas town located about an hour-and-a-half’s drive north of Fort Riley. Along the way, you’ll pass rolling landscapes, cross rivers and go by an abandoned stone farmhouse that is so picturesque, I had to pull over.

Marysville’s foremost claim to fame is the Pony Express Home Station No. 1. The station, a stone barn built in the 1850s, is the only home station still on its original site. Today, the structure features the historic station, along with a museum.

I’m not much of a video-watcher at museums, but the introductory video – despite making me chuckle at its 1980s-style production value – was worth watching. Because of its legendary status in American history, I simply had not realized what a short-lived, spectacular business failure the Pony Express was.

In addition to the original barn, the museum houses a variety of artifacts making it seem like several small museums in one. From minerals to dolls to military uniforms to guns to trains, the artifacts on display include more than just the Pony Express and its place in postal history.

While at the museum, someone recommended we have lunch at The Wagon Wheel, and described it as “the” place where locals go for a good burger. I had the tri-tip sandwich, which was nice and smoky, along with well-seasoned curly fries. Alas, I did not save room for homemade pie.

Across the street from The Wagon Wheel, you’ll see the “lifetiles” murals. The mosaic holograms appear to move when you walk by them. They are pretty neat, although there aren’t many.

As you drive around town, see if you can spot some of the area’s black squirrels. While we have a handful here at Fort Riley, the population in Marysville is more substantial. And, they’re pretty cute.

On Broadway, you’ll find two gold lions guarding the entry to The Koester House Museum and Sculpture Garden. The building dates back to the 1870s and is appointed with period furnishings. The lush grounds boast a number of statues, including animals and figures, as well as several charming outbuildings, like a garden shed and detached kitchen.

Driving into Marysville, you probably saw the top of the Historic Marshall County Courthouse. Its majestic red brick spire juts above the tree line. Definitely head a few blocks further along Broadway to visit this beautiful building, which has been reconfigured as a museum.

The museum preserved several original courthouse rooms and created themed rooms showcasing the area’s history. Displays, including war artifacts, women’s fashion, a kitchen area, agricultural tools and more, are set up in some of the smaller rooms.

Given that I work for a newspaper, I was especially intrigued by the printing press area. Another room depicting a doctor’s office, including a very intimidating looking basal metabolism machine, made me especially grateful for the advances of modern medicine. In the gypsum mining display, a photo depicting two men checking a mine for falling rock also struck me. The caption read they were testing for safety, and that one man died from falling rock two days after that photo was taken. What lousy luck!

Those little glimpses into history are what make small towns like Marysville so appealing to me. There may not have been major wars waged or discoveries made there, but such slices of the everyday get me mentally traveling back in time.

Speaking of traveling back, as you head home consider stopping at the old steam engine, school house and sod house. All three are located side-by-side along City Park and are worth taking a quick peek at.

About a mile outside of town, the Historic Trails Park boasts a replica of a rope ferry. In the mid-1800s, a rope ferry was used for people crossing the Big Blue River. The park includes information about eight historic trails in the area, however, they are not meant for hiking.  

If you’re interested in going on a hike, head to Alcove Spring in Blue Rapids. The short walk takes visitors to a site along the Oregon Trail where pioneers passed through.

Another brief detour at Blue Rapids – to the town’s round square – is worth the extra five minutes or so. Located on a roundabout at Sixth Street is a monument to the Ice Age and historic Holm Cabin.

Coming across a monument to the Ice Age in the middle of Kansas seemed a bit odd at first. But in a land rich with frontier history, learning fossils of extinct animals and deposits of a 1.5 billion-year-old mineral have been discovered nearby added a new, or old, perspective to the area’s history.

Read about the mammoths, glaciers and more at the small display. If you’re tempted to press the button for the audio presentation, I highly recommend it. It’s only a few minutes long and includes some fun facts and sound effects that really make the experience unique.

Just across the street, Holm Cabin, built in the 1870s, depicts one family’s frontier experience. The log cabin, which measures 12 by 26 feet, includes two rooms and a loft, which once housed the Swedish family of 10. Step inside and marvel at the Spartan living quarters.

Each attraction can be enjoyed in a fairly short amount of time. Visiting all of them made for a relaxed, yet interesting day trip. 
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