Fort Scott Kansas may never be known as one of America’s ten most popular travel sites but for visitors who are interested in exploring nature, history, and a bit Americana, Fort Scott is the perfect trip of exploration and discovery.
Fort Scott Fort and National Cemetery
Fort Scott was built in 1842 as an outpost for troops who were charged with enforcing the peace between settlers who were moving into Western territories and the Osage Indians. The fort served as the last stop for travelers who could load up on provisions in preparation for their expedition on the Santa Fe Trail. When Kansas was declared a state in 1854 tensions rose over whether Kansas would be a free state or a slave state and the Fort Scott troops were charged with keeping the peace between pro-slavery and “free state” supporters.
The fort was abandoned in the late 1850s but was rebuilt during the Civil War where it served as a Quartermaster Supply Depot. The First Kansas Colored Infantry was trained at Fort Scott — this unit took part in multiple engagements and suffered more casualties than any other Kansas regiment. Today you can visit the Fort Scott National Historic Site and explore the original buildings of the early days of Fort Scott settlement. The National Parks Service operates Fort Scott. During the summer months guided tours are conducted twice daily (11:00a.m. and 1:00p.m). by costumed guides but if you arrive at other times you can take an independent tour using the numerous signs which provide explanations of the site. The fort is located on Market Street, south of I54, near the city center. (620) 223-0310
The Fort Scott National Cemetery is listed in the National Registry of Historic Sites. It is located on the eastern outskirts of Fort Scott along the road which is historically known as the Military Road. The troops of Fort Scott saw action during bloody skirmishes that erupted before the Civil War and participated in many battles of the war. Casualties of those battles were the first to be laid in the cemetery. These included black Union soldiers of the First Colored Infantry. In addition to Union soldiers the cemetery holds the remains of 13 Confederate soldiers and 16 Indian troops as well as soldiers who were re-interred from burial locations throughout Kansas and Missouri after the war . Abraham Lincoln named the Fort Scott cemetery a National American cemetery in 1865. In the northeast corner of the cemetery you will see memorial markers which honor soldiers whose remains have not been recovered or identified. These remains include WWII flight crews.
Gordon Parks Museum
Gordon Parks was a native of Fort Scott. He may be best remembered by some as the director of the movie “Shaft” but most Americans recognize him as a talented photographer. Parks created a number of photographic essays for Life magazine and also photographed celebrities and fashion models. The Gordon Parks Museum is located in Fort Scott where many of the pictures that showcase Park’s legend as a humanitarian photojournalist are exhibited. Parks’ photographs depict the poverty of southern black urban life alongside the racism of the American South of Parks’ childhood. He is known as the individual who brought the pre-Civil Rights reality of the black American experience to the public’s conscious and his pictures are a reminder of important elements of our nation’s history. The Gordon Parks Museum is located in the Mercy Health Center which is situated at the southern edge of Fort Scott just off US Highway 69. The museum is open daily from 7:00a.m. – 8:00p.m. Entrance is free. 620-223-7036
Rock Creek Lake Waterfalls
For a quiet step into nature visitors can head about three miles west of Fort Scott to the Rock Creek Lake Waterfalls. The site involves a series of three waterfalls which are the result of an outflow from the Rock Creek Lake. To access the waterfalls, drive westward out of Fort Scott on 19th Street. The road name changes to Kansas Road and then again to 195th Street and runs along the eastern edge of the Rock Creek Lake. Pull into the parking lot at the northern end of the lake and walk along the narrow gravel trail which crosses the dam and brings you to the falls. You’ll first see the first falls and then, after a short walk, two others. These falls have a 5 foot vertical drop and the water empties into the Marmaton River. When the water’s low you can cross the stream below the bottom waterfall.
Photo by Laurie Rappeport
Lowell Milken Center
The Lowell Milken Center is located on South Main Street in central Fort Scott. The center was established in 2007 and pays homage to unsung heroes — individuals who acted above and beyond normal expectations in their drive to assist others, yet remained unnoticed by historians. The center grew out of a 1999 assignment in which a group of Uniontown schoolgirls identified and researched Irena Sendler, an unsung hero of the Holocaust who had rescued over 2500 children from the Warsaw ghetto. The girls’ research lead to a book, a website and a performance about Sendler’s actions. The project also inspired educator Norman Conrad and founder Lowell Milken to develop the Center where similar projects could be promoted. Today the Lowell Milken Center supports hundreds of students throughout the nation as they undertake a serious work of scholarship in identifying and telling the story of an unsung hero. The center is open daily where you can view all of the submitted projects including the projects which have received the Center’s annual Discovery Award. (620) 223-9991
Fort Scott’s Good Old Days
If you plan to visit Fort Scott in the early summer you can schedule your trip to coincide with Fort Scott’s yearly Good Old Days festival. The three-day Festival includes a crafts street, a Dock Dogs competition (dogs jump off a dock into a pool of water while trying to catch a toy in the air. The dog that jumps the farthest wins), carnival food and drinks, street dances, live entertainment, rides and more.
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