Established in 1854, Leavenworth is the first city of Kansas. As you may expect, the town is a history lover’s dream.
The Kansas, Osage and Delaware Indians originally inhabited the land where Leavenworth and Fort Leavenworth are today. Many of the city’s streets are named after these and other local Native American tribes.
A hill at Fort Leavenworth has a permanent indentation from the covered wagons that climbed it after crossing the Missouri River below. In recent years, sections of an underground “city” below Leavenworth’s downtown have been discovered. Candle Queen Candles Gift Boutique hosts tours of its section of the underground city below the store on Shawnee street from time to time.
It is one of many unique downtown businesses that include:
• CJ Gift Co- Jewelry: Home décor and collegiate gifts.
• Dad’s Toys & Trains and Soda Fountain: Toys and trains for all ages. All played out? Try a hot dog, bratwurst or Chocoholic shake — a specialty.
“It’s powerful,” said Thaddeus Moulden, the store’s owner. “It packs a punch of chocolate.”
• First City Photo: Photographer and local historian Debra Bates-Lamborn has a beautiful shop in what was one of the first groceries in Leavenworth. In addition to her work, historic photos of the people and places from the city’s early days are on display. Be sure to ask her about Buffalo Bill Cody’s time in Leavenworth — a mural of him is on the side of building facing City Hall.
• dorMail Gallery: Quality framing, art for sale and printing.
• First Taste Olive Oil & Vinegars: Flavored oils and vinegars (including free samples).
• Kansas Country Store: Farm and home (they have food for every animal imaginable — even rats), boots, riding apparel and equipment, gifts and cake, pie and 12 flavors of homemade fudge.
• Momo’s Knitting Nook and Crochet Emporium: Large selection of yarns and classes in a beautiful interior.
• Picket Fences & Petals: Gifts and home décor.
• The Pot Rack: Bakeware, barware, cookware, gadgets, grilling accessories, gourmet foods, coffee and tea.
• Santa Fe Trails Bicycle & Coffee Shop: Bicycle sales, service, rides and races.
• Z & M Twisted Vines Winery: A vibrant atmosphere where they produce “twisted” wines. Try the samples, tour the cellar and have custom bottle labels made.
Sherry Brown, owner of the Kansas Country Store, was born and raised in Leavenworth and returned after 20 years away to open her business.
“In my opinion, downtown Leavenworth … has the best of both worlds wrapped in a beautiful, walkable site,” she said.
Descriptions of the historic buildings and sites are listed on markers from the Missouri River to Broadway.
“There are mom-and-pop stores spanning over 16 blocks …” Brown said of Leavenworth’s downtown. “We all work very hard to provide an exceptional shopping experience.”
Soul Hardware (a Christian store), Gronis Hardware (a locally owned hardware store), Sadtk’s Furniture Store and the Queen’s Pantry (specializing in tea and British goods) are also must sees, she said.
Brown’s father was involved in the restoration of one of two historic train depots in Leavenworth. It’s on the National Register of Historic Places and is now home to The Depot Restaurant.
“It was in pitiful shape,” Brown said. “(My dad) spent nearly 10 years bringing it to the splendor it is today. It’s a very special building to me and the thousands who pass through her doors annually.”
The restaurant serves breakfast and lunch and has even hosted ghost tours of Kansas for dinner and a taste of the paranormal. The next Psychic Fun and Feast there is Sept. 18.
Other restaurants to try are:
• Ava’s Island Café: Authentic Jamaican fare, ginger cookies.
• Baan Thai: Authentic Thai cuisine.
• Grinders High Noon: A spin-off of the Crossroads location in Kansas City, Grinders offers lunch, dinner, a bar, pool tables, karaoke and live music.
• Karma Cakes: Homemade cupcakes, cookies, salads, sandwiches/wraps.
• Meriwether’s Coffee, Café & Market: Artisan coffees, bakery, salads and sandwiches with a hip vibe. Their doughnuts have become a household name.
• Pullman Place Family Restaurant: Railroad-themed restaurant offering breakfast, lunch and dinner.
• TenPenny Restaurant and Bar: In a beautifully renovated downtown building, TenPenny is known for its homemade chips.
Both First City Photo and Candle Queen Candles Gift Boutique have lofts available through Air BnB.
Lee Stieger operates the Union Park Guest House, a Queen Ann bungalow built in 1900 with ties to hospitality entrepreneur Fred Harvey (Harvey’s home is within walking distance and is being restored to eventually open as a museum).
Lee and his wife, Shirley, bought the home in 2004 and spent more than a year restoring much of the property to its original condition. As a guest there, the entire home is yours, and Lee comes over to make breakfast if you’d like — he lives next door.
He offers waffles bananas Foster, eggs Benedict, French toast with fruit sauces, Union Park quiche, blueberry pancakes and most breakfast standards. Fresh fruit, juice and coffee or tea are always served.
The Union Park quiche and the waffles bananas Foster are guest favorites, Stieger says.
Attractions he recommends to visitors are:
• Carroll Mansion & Museum: Learn about Leavenworth County’s rich history and heritage in a meticulously restored Victorian mansion on the National Historic Register.
• C. W. Parker Carousel and Museum: Take a ride on a fully operational 1913 C.W. Parker Carousel, originally made in Leavenworth by the C.W. Parker Carousel Amusement Company. Also on display is the oldest primitive carousel in the United States and a 1950s aluminum Paul Parker Carousel.
• Fort Leavenworth: Home to one of the most historic military installations in the country, be sure to visit the Buffalo Soldier Monument, the Frontier Army Museum and see the countless historic homes, Fort Leavenworth National Cemetery, Memorial Chapel and the hill carved out by the wagon trains traveling the Santa Fe Trail.
• Richard Allen Cultural Center: Located across the street from the historic Bethel A.M.E. Church (which was part of the Underground Railroad), the museum is dedicated to researching, collecting, preserving and disseminating the history of African Americans locally and nationally.
Moulden, the owner of Dad’s Toys & Trains, recommends visiting Leavenworth’s Riverfront Community Center. The 1880s train station has many of its original features and historic photos are displayed throughout. There’s a pool, fitness center and the indoor walking track allows visitors to stay active despite the weather.
He and Brown also suggest visiting downtown Leavenworth the first Thursday of each month for “Alive After Five.” Shops stay open until 8 p.m. and offer various themed appetizers and drinks.