We spent the morning at Manhattan’s Flint Hills Discovery Center, and by 2 pm we had exhausted this town’s opened attractions. We had seen the subjects that brought us to Kansas but still craved a final local attraction. The Flint Hills where the The South meets the Midwest in a place where hundreds of plant and animal species still live together in uneasy harmony with every type of weather had been worth coming to. This was a place where drought made farming difficult but abundant grasshoppers fattened bison and cattle each spring. There was only one place still opened, the Riley County Historical Museum. We reluctantly headed there and found an unbeatable local museum.
Our exploration began with some very early TVs that must have been donated because they stopped working to become instant historical artifacts. But after seeing them the Riley County Historical Museum got far more interesting. I became fascinated by a handsome piece of furniture built by a man In Ohio who moved to Manhattan in 1867. Used by only one family before it was donated to this museum, this gorgeous hand-built cherry wardrobe was so beloved that it was taken apart and shipped to Kansas in sections. This must have happened to many family furniture treasures.
I found myself looking with wonder at strictly local artifacts like a hog oiler. This unusual, locally patented piece of farm equipment was a one-of-a-kind device that protected pigs from insects. It solved the problem of how to protect your investment from lice while keeping them from getting cholera. Two local brothers invented it slightly more than 100 years ago. I studied a steam engine that looked like a child’s toy and real toys that were once beloved corn husk dolls. I found a steamboat bell from a ship that ran aground locally and was used by a local Methodist church for many years, a tribute to the inventor of bloomers in the form of a woman who advanced women’s rights and made waves in Seneca Falls, New York, the early capital of the Women’s Movement, and I saw some seats from an early Manhattan opera house that still survives in downtown Manhattan and is called the Wareham.
Yesterday’s treasures become today’s strange survivors and the Riley County Historical Museum has lots of them. It truly earns its motto “Celebrating a century of history and heritage” and is definitely worth seeing.