Turning onto Broadway Street in Cottonwood Falls is a little like stepping back in time.
As your eyes take in the two-block business district, which includes the Emma Chase Café (famous for homemade pies and corn fries) and Jim Bell and Sons western apparel, your mind expects to see a gunfight between ruthless cowboy outlaws and Wyatt Earp. Your imagination transports you to a post-Civil War cow town turned boomtown where cattle drives, prospectors and ruthless gangs were all staples of the explosive Western migration.
The scene-stealer of this nostalgic stage, nestled in the heart of the Flint Hills, is the majestic Chase County Courthouse, the crown jewel that bookends the town at the intersection of Broadway and Pearl. Famed architect John Haskell designed this French Renaissance, Louis XIII-style beauty, built in 1873 of native white limestone and featuring a mansard red-tiled roof and regal clock tower. The oldest operating courthouse in the state, it allows a lucky public access to its three-story black walnut staircase, its hallowed courtroom and its yesteryear jail cells.
Named one of the Eight Wonders of Kansas Architecture and patterned after Napoleon’s remake of Paris, how did an elegant structure like this find a home in the Midwest prairie?
“I think this building proves what a hopeful place this was back then,” says Deb Zeiner, city clerk, in explaining how, in the late 1800s, 600 citizens voted to appropriate $40,000 to erect the courthouse.
“I’m amazed at their vision, how hopeful they were for the future of Kansas, to invest in bringing something this beautiful here.”
Cottonwood Falls is also home to the state’s only AAA Four Diamond Historic Country Inn/Restaurant, The Grand Central Hotel. Built in 1884, it features 10 oversized guest rooms each “branded” for a Chase County ranch. Reservations are recommended for dinner in the Grand Central Restaurant, and my taste buds can testify to the mouth-watering, premium quality of their Sterling Silver steaks.
More eclectic accommodations can be found at the Millstream Motel. Perched on the banks of the Cottonwood River and constructed, ahead of its time, with repurposed and recycled materials, it boasts fantastic views and an extensive folk art collection.
Some of the most interesting episodes of “Home and Away” are the result of viewer referrals. To the many who recommended our trip to Cottonwood Falls, we are genuinely grateful.
“Home and Away” premieres at 6:30 p.m. today on Sunflower Broadband Channel 6 and replays throughout the week.