Late last summer, my son and I took a trip to Lawrence, Kansas to mostly go to the KU Natural History Museum, and decided to look for additional stops to flesh the trip out into more of an all-day thing. There are quite a few museums in the area, but one in particular caught my eye. The Wakarusa Valley Heritage Museum is a small museum located in the town of Clinton, Kansas, which is approximately 10 miles southwest of Lawrence, Kansas. The museum is dedicated to preserving the history of the Wakarusa Valley region, which includes the towns of Clinton, Big Springs, Globe, Stull, and Worden, among others. A lot the old towns in the area were sadly bought by developers and removed to make way for the freshwater beach, Clinton Lake, and the museum is the only way to learn about their past.
Wakarusa Valley Heritage Museum; Clinton, Kansas
The museum is housed in what was the original milk barn of the J.C. Steele property on the banks of Clinton Lake, and has since been expanded a few times to make way for modern amenities. The building was previously used as a community center before being converted into a museum in 1994. Currently a fundraising effort is going to further expand the property to make it ADA compliant. The museum features exhibits on the history of the region, including displays on the area’s Native American heritage, underground railroad, abolitionism, the Santa Fe Trail, and the development of the towns in the valley.
Some of the items on display at the museum include old photographs, maps, tools, and other artifacts that help tell the story of the Wakarusa Valley region. The museum also hosts special events and programs throughout the year, including lectures, book signings, and demonstrations of traditional crafts and skills. If you are interested in learning more about the history of the Wakarusa Valley region, the Wakarusa Valley Heritage Museum is definitely worth a visit. It is a small, but well-curated museum that provides a fascinating glimpse into the area’s past.
From their website
“The Kansas-Nebraska Act of 1854 brought settlers to the Wakarusa River Valley, where fertile land stretched west of Lawrence and east of Topeka. The Oregon and Santa Fe Trails were the “highway” thoroughfares. Many communities were established in those early days and usually with a strong point-of-view on pro or anti-slavery beliefs. The Wakarusa River Valley Heritage Museum pays tribute to the communities and the founding settlers for their perseverance of defending their staunch beliefs in difficult times.”
As always, I bought some stuff in the giftshop, this time a book by Martha J. Parker and edited by Christine Reinhard called Angels of Freedom. This is a self-published publication from the local historical society from 1999, which details the history of the area during the notorious chapter in American History dubbed “Bleeding Kansas”.
“Families of both races lived in the valley of the Wakarusa River and its tributaries of Rock Creek, Deer Creek and Washington Creek. Although as a child I was oblivious to its importance I now realize that I was born in an area known as “Bleeding Kansas,” the home of the Bloomington Guards, a haven for freed slaves and their “angels of freedom.””
There are surprisingly a LOT of things to do in this area despite the relative small size of the museum. families can help their kids do a scavenger hunt which helps keep them engaged in what they are looking at.
Remnants of the original farmstead are still visible on the property:
The permanent gallery contains a pictorial history of the area with a smattering of significant artifacts.
When we were there, the museum had a ton of artifacts from a now long gone and submerged town called Richland, KS.
There is a nearby sculpture called “Freedom Rings” by Stephen Johnson.
If you want, a trip to Clinton Lake could top off your evening, it’s interesting to find something that looks almost like an ocean beach here in the middle of Kansas!
The Wakarusa Valley Heritage Museum definitely offers a unique perspective on the history of the region, and its location in the small town of Clinton adds to its charm. The museum’s proximity to Lawrence, which is a vibrant college town with a rich cultural and historical heritage of its own, makes it a great stop for those exploring the area. Whether you’re a history buff or just looking for a quick and informative stop on your travels, the Wakarusa Valley Heritage Museum is definitely worth a visit.
Preview for the museums 2023 exhibit
For more content like this, check out my History Tour page HERE