BEYOND THE GATES - Exploring picturesque Alma
A sign welcomes visitors to Alma, city of native stone, located about 30 minutes east of Fort Riley. Photo by: Julie Fiedler, POST.
Story by: Julie Fiedler
1ST INF. DIV. POST
Editor's Note: This is the fourth article in a 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.
Alma, which is located about 30 minutes east of Fort Riley, just off of Interstate 70, is a picturesque town in Wabaunsee County. Known as the "City of Native Stone," Alma boasts historic stone structures and deposits of native limestone that dot the landscape along Kansas Highway 99 to the south of town. Take Exit 324 next to the barn with "No God, no peace; Know God, know peace" painted on its side and head south to take a turn around this quaint Kansas town.
THE WABAUNSEE COUNTY HISTORICAL MUSEUM
Step back in time as you explore the crown jewel of the Wabaunsee County Historical Society: its museum. Located on Missouri Avenue, Alma's main strip, the museum is chock full of interesting artifacts.
The museum is a collage of personal items collected from members of the community over the years. From household items, like tea sets, thimbles, Confederate money, war ration books and eyeglasses, to larger pieces, like a vintage Philco television and an old bank safe, the collection gives a glimpse into the past.
The museum's annex boasts antique cars, Indian artifacts and miniature storefronts, including a telegraph office, general store, blacksmith and dentist's office. Each storefront houses themed antiques. Typewriters, vacuums, harnesses, leather goods, barbwire, meat grinders and agricultural equipment also are on display.
The museum's curator, Alan Winkler, said he became interested in Alma's history while working on a book for the McFarland Centennial in 1987.
"I had to go through microfilm of Alma papers, which contains McFarland news," Winkler recalled. "Here, I'm going through these newspapers, and it almost seemed like I knew what was going on in these communities at that time. I did this for about six months. That's what started my interest in local history."
Winkler said he strives to keep the museum fresh with new acquisitions and features, like panels of Family histories.
"Every day I come to work, there's something new that comes in," said Linda Maas, a museum employee who seemed eager to share the town's history.
The museum also stays relevant by hosting various groups, like the Quilting Circle, that happened to be gathering the day I visited.
The museum is open from 10 a.m. to 12 p.m. and 1 to 4 p.m., Tuesday to Saturday. Admission is free, but a $2 donation is suggested. For more information, visit www.wabaunsee.org.
Alma is home to the Alma Creamery, known locally for its cheeses. While you can purchase Alma cheeses at a variety of area shops, I always enjoy visiting the mother ship when possible. The creamery offers free samples for tasting and offers cheeses, sausages and other local items for sale. Although the creamery no longer gives tours of the operation, the shop features a photo tour with labeled pictures from every step of the cheese-making process, including my favorite: "cutting cheese." Friendly staff will explain what, exactly, a cheese curd is to uninitiated folks like me and are glad to talk more about the aging processes for various cheeses.
At the end of Missouri Avenue sits Railroad Park, a small park featuring several historic structures. It's worth the quick drive down to snap a few photos. Consider bringing a snack because there is a picnic table in the park.
While Alma's antique scene is not quite as robust as Paxico's or Abilene's, Alma does have a well-appointed and decently sized antique shop called, Antique Emporium. After strolling through the museum, your appetite might be whet for some vintage treasures of your own. Stop by the emporium for a look around. Even if you don't buy anything, it can feel like a museum in its own right.
One of the pleasures of a visit to Alma is driving around and looking at the buildings. Many of the charming cottages were built using native limestone that was once quarried in the area. The town's main strip isn't very long, so diversions onto side streets aren't too time-consuming and won't get you lost. Some stretches will take you past row houses with festively painted polychrome doors, Victorian homes and a charming stone house in City Park. Quaint bungalows and churches also pepper the town's community.
The Native Stone Scenic Byway offers vistas of the rolling Flint Hills landscape. As its name would suggest, you also can see limestone bridges, walls and other limestone structures along the nearly 50-mile route between Alma and Dover, which is just west of Topeka. The route runs along portions of Kansas Highway 4 and Kansas Highway 99.
In the opposite direction is Old Kansas Highway 10, which will take you along rolling hills and ranches delineated with limestone fences. Layers of limestone also are visible at points along the nearly 20-mile drive to neighboring Alta Vista.
Even driving just a few miles along the byways will give you a taste of the scenic landscape.
For more information about Alma, visit www.cityofalmakansas.net.