Only a bridge separates Kansas from Missouri, but on the Kansas side of this blue bridge lies the city of Leavenworth. More specifically, historic downtown Leavenworth. Leavenworth is not only the first established city in Kansas, but it’s also the boyhood hometown of Buffalo Bill Cody. Besides this very cool historical fact, Downtown Leavenworth, which is what this post is all about, turned out to be much more than we thought. It’s not large, but it’s big on charm and simply driving through it won’t do it justice. We found a love for a town we might have otherwise overlooked.
Haymarket Square, pictured below, was given to the city of Leavenworth in 1866 to be used by farmers to sell their products including hay, wood, live poultry, eggs, ham and bacon, and seasonal fruits and vegetables. Horses and mules were traded as well. Eventually, the farmers market (Haymarket Square) was abandoned and in 1949 became nothing more than a parking lot, which we parked in during our two trips to Meriwether’s located right across the street. Displayed right there, in the now Haymarket Square parking lot, is a picture of William Frederick Cody aka “Buffalo Bill”
The Best Doughnuts Ever
Meriwether’s is now our favorite coffee-house in Kansas. It, like everything else in this post, is located in historic downtown Leavenworth. It’s adorable inside and out and just happens to serve some of the best doughnuts we’ve ever eaten. And we’re former cops, so you know we’ve eaten our fare share. It also serves up a good cup of coffee. Meriwether’s serves breakfast and lunch dishes including breakfast burritos, bagels, a wide variety of classic and artisan doughnuts, salads and sandwiches, and of course… all kinds of hot, iced, frothy and creamy coffees and teas! Everything we ate and drank was delicious! This adorable cafe also doubles as a market and sells candies, chocolates, spices, housewares, apparel and much more. You can do some shopping downstairs before or after you eat and then head upstairs for even more.
The Former Union Pacific Railroad Station
There are a few things to definitely check out in historic downtown Leavenworth, and one of them is the former Union Pacific railroad station, also known as the Old Union Depot, built in the 1880’s. It was restored in the 1980’s and is now the Riverfront Community Center. Inside is a walking track, weight and cardio room, gymnasium, pool, and various specialized fitness classes are offered. This historic building also serves as a unique venue for all sorts of special events including weddings, seminars and meetings. But even with all the modern conveniences added to the building, which was listed on the National Register of Historic Places, by the way, its historic beauty was preserved. This piece of history sits on the banks of the Missouri River and the railroad tracks located behind it are still active.
The below pictures depict the entrance of the building, the ticket box, and two archways (doorways); one labeled “Men” and the other “Women.” These doorways lead to rooms now used for various events, but in the 1880’s they served as separate waiting rooms for men and women. When the train arrived, the men and women would take the stairs down a level to board the train.
Behind the ticket booth (at some point over the last 130 years, the “L” in Leavenworth has gone missing)
A shot of the stair case from the bottom
The rear of the building and active railroad tracks
Between the tracks and the Missouri River is Leavenworth Landing; a small park with picnic tables, walking paths and benches.
Historic Downtown Leavenworth
Historic downtown Leavenworth has much more to offer than at first glance. The town still holds on to its old vibe and history, which we loved, but its done a great job with accommodating those who prefer a modern experience as well. There are a few blocks with the continuous rows of historic buildings now occupied by boutiques, shops, restaurants, and much more, which makes for a great browsing/shopping experience and could keep you busy all day, but there’s a lot more to see off the beaten path, too. It’s best to walk the streets for this very reason. Exploring downtown Leavenworth was so much fun – with the co-mingling of past and present, old and new, antique and modern, every corner we turned presented something different, fun and surprising. We especially admired the murals on the fronts and sides of buildings depicting the history of the city, street art, old architecture, and how every block honored military members with their pictures and very own flags.
Modern strips of shops are mixed in with the old along with a movie theater (with a bar!) and a vintage building converted into lofts apartments.
Old buildings, artwork, and unique shops are everywhere!
C.W. Parker Museum of Carousels
A fun thing to do, regardless of your age, is to go to the C.W. Parker Museum and ride the carousel! We were the oldest people on it, but we didn’t care. The carousel we rode was made in 1913, in Leavenworth, KS, and is still in operation.
Sitting directly next to the very old carousel we went on, is an even older carousel that’s for display only. This carousel is believed to have been made in the 1850 -1860 time-frame, and it was hand-cranked by two men when it was in operation. It calls the CW Parker Carousel Museum its permanent home.
Honoring Military Veterans
Leavenworth is commited to honoring the military and all who serve, have served, and have made the ultimate sacrifice. Below is just a fraction of the number of military members honored with their pictures and personal flags respectfully displayed on classic light poles for everyone to see, but more importantly… for everyone to remember. Every light pole, on every block in downtown Leavenworth, is dedicated to honoring a veteran.
Our last visit to historic downtown Leavenworth ended near the same blue bridge it all started. The established neighborhood of North Esplanade is filled with mature trees, gorgeous historic homes and mansions, and expansive views of the Missouri River and autumn landscape.
Meeting up With Old Friends
But even with all the sightseeing and fun we had, the best part about our trip to Leavenworth, Kansas, was spending time with our family and meeting up with our friends, Jack and Mickie (also family). Several months had passed since we last saw them, so it was a wonderful surprise when Jack told us he would be making a stop on his drive through the state. Mickie and Richey went nuts when they saw each other and picked up right where they left off in Florida. They stuck together like glue for the entire three days she and Jack visited, and we all explored some of downtown Leavenworth together. It was sad to see them leave again, but we always feel so lucky whenever we get to spend time with them. Jack and Mickie… our friends.
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