A little less than 100 miles from my last stop I made a point to visit Nicodemus National Historic Site in Nicodemus Township, Kansas. Why? Nicodemus is the only remaining western town established by African Americans during the Reconstruction period. Quite simply, this is a living & breathing town that irrefutably proves Black lives and history do matter.
To be expected all the buildings including the town hall pictured above are closed due to COVID-19 restrictions right now. Oh well. At least this location is pretty safe to visit because there are zero people around and this place is basically a ghost town.
Possibly the most notable building in town is the St. Francis Hotel. Built in 1881 by Zachary and Thomas Fletcher, the hotel was likely the busiest place in town as lodging was hard to find for homesteaders and travelers heading west. Prior to building the hotel Zachary Fletcher opened the first Black business in 1878. Later, he would become the first postmaster in Nicodemus and the first Black postmaster in a non-slave state. The St. Francis Hotel is the oldest recorded African-American operated post office in the United States.
Next to the town hall stands a small building named Crackerbox School. One sign had a small paragraph that reads “Built in the 1910s this was the county’s Lone Star or “Crackerbox” School, located in the northwest part of Nicodemus Township. The Priscilla Arts Club bought the school after it closed in the 1940s.” The Priscilla Arts Club was noteworthy for providing social enjoyment & enrichment to the members and also contributed to the community by hosting luncheons, making quilts, planning benefits, and holding gift exchanges.
The African Methodist Episcopal Church is about a block over from the hotel. It was originally built in 1885 and appears to be starting a restoration process as it is fenced off with construction trailers nearby.
Moving one block in the opposite direction leads you to the First Baptist Church which was completed in 1907 and build around an earlier, smaller building. In total there were 3 churches in town where people gathered.
Where once the Masonic Hall used to stand, now only a stone plaque remains as dedicated by the Kansas Prince Hall Masons. Taking a quote from Wikipedia “Prince Hall Freemasonry is the oldest and largest (300,000+ initiated members) predominantly African-American fraternity in the nation.”
Several signs are dotted across the township mall detailing it’s status as a National Historic Landmark, Kansas Historical Landmark, and other titles and honors.
And of course there are a multitude of educational signs installed by the National Park Service covering the historical significance of this place. Usually I don’t post these here but in this case I’m making an exception as they would do a much better job telling the story than I can. The most odd/surprising thing to me: Gale Sayers, NFL Hall Of Fame running back for the Chicago Bears, is from this area and it appears his relatives (grandparents? great-grandparents?) were early settlers including G.M. Sayers who ran the general store. Veryl Switzer who played for the Packers is also from this area. [Note: Photos below are best viewed on a large PC screen, click the images for full screen views.]
Lat = 39.3932686 , Long = -99.6146317 -- Show at Google Maps
Author’s Note: Due to my lazy nature and/or busy schedule, I’m posting this from the future in July 2021. Original visit date September 1, 2020 which is during the time that the COVID-19 pandemic was in full swing. I was travelling solo and always masked up when not outdoors and socially distanced. Sadly my trip got derailed due to close contact with infected parties and I had to bail out early (luckily I tested negative upon return). Needless to say this wasn’t my favorite trip and I’ve been putting off posting it. Anyways, enjoy it now, travel safely, and get vaccinated.