In 1857, the founder of Olathe, Kansas, Dr. John T. Barton, gave his city its name by asking a Shawnee interpreter to tell him the word for "beautiful." Today, the city has grown to become Kansas' fifth-largest city, with a population of 126,000 and abundant attractions.
Besides being one of the fastest-growing suburban towns in America, Olathe has deep roots in American history. Kansas was the starting point for expeditions heading westward: Olathe's Lone Elm Park state historic site was where the Santa Fe, Oregon, and California trails met, and western legend Kit Carson once camped here. Visitors to Olathe can do the same, and almost entirely free of charge.
Several free Olathe attractions provide a look at the city's past, present, and future. One must-see sight is Ensor Farm Site and Museum, set in a home built by Marshall Ensor, an Olathe teacher and pioneer in amateur radio. You'll tour Ensor's 1892 farm house and adjacent barn, which offer a look at 1890s clothing, furnishings, utensils, farm tools, and early ham radio equipment.
To discover more of the city's 19th-century roots, take a tour of the Mahaffie Stage Coach Stop and Farm Historic Site. During the 1800s, this 40-acre site was a stagecoach stop along the Oregon and California trails, and today it is a popular local museum where staff dress in period costumes, and the Museum often hosts Civil War reenactments.
A special focus of this museum is on the state's fractious history, particularly "Bleeding Kansas." This term was coined by the press to describe the violence that erupted during the 1850s over whether Kansas would enter the union as a free state or as a slave state. Even later, Kansas had similar conflicts over the nature of its state constitution.
Olathe is also home to the Kansas School for the Deaf, which encompasses the William Marra Museum of Deaf History and Deaf Culture; here you can take an interactive tutorial on American Sign Language and watch videos on the history of the school. The only museum of its kind in the U.S., the Marra is full of little-known insights; for instance, the football huddle began in Olathe at the Kansas City School for the Deaf. The coach of the football team created it to prevent the defensive team from reading the lips or signing of the offensive team as it discussed its play tactics.
Visitors to Olathe can also take in the Ernie Miller Nature Center and Museum, which is open six days a week. Take a walk through the 116-acre preserve on its three hiking trails. The indoor nature center offers a 500-gallon aquarium, a wildlife viewing room, and nature displays.
Special events take place throughout the year here at the outdoor amphitheater. Altogether, these offerings make Olathe Nature Center an attraction you'll visit whenever you're in this part of America's heartland.