The Old Cowtown Museum in Wichita, Kansas, is a living memorial to what life was like between 1865 and 1880 off the historic Chisholm Trail. The museum’s permanent collection includes over 10,000 artifacts, textiles, furnishings, art pieces, and tools. In addition, an archival collection of photographs, letters, and documents is used for historical research to ensure the authenticity of the museum’s displays and programs. The museum educates guests on the history of an Old West settlement, which became a cattle town and, subsequently, a city of agriculture and manufacturing.
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There are 54 buildings in Old Cowtown, 27 of which are historical and have been brought to the property from other locations throughout Kansas to be preserved by the museum. The site is split into a business district, which includes Main Street, and a residential district, which includes several historical residential homes. A 5-acre period farm and outbuildings are also located within the museum’s 23 acres. Live animals on the farm include milk cows, sheep, goats, and chickens.
The centerpiece of the farm is the Smith House, an 1884 example of National Folk-style architecture. The Buffalo Hunter and Trader Area includes several historical log cabins and demonstrates the history of hunting and trading, the area’s first economic activities. Among the historical buildings is the City Eagle Print Shop, a wood-frame building with glass display windows and a false front that is representative of the iconic architecture of the late 1800s. Prior to serving as a print shop at the museum, the building was a grocery store, and later a jewelry repair shop. A front-gabled frame building, O’Hara’s Barbershop, was originally built in the 1880s as the home of the Wichita Township Hall. At the museum, it serves as a barbershop and teaches of the history of the small shops where men could get a shave and a haircut, and travelers and cowboys could have a bath.
The museum’s jail building is an example of 19th century horizontal plank construction. The small building was purchased by the museum in 1952 for one dollar. The Blood Family Homestead educates guests on the history of Gilman Blood and his descendants, who operated the Blood Orchard in Wichita for over four generations. The “hall and parlor” home is indicative of late 19th century home construction and is filled with artifacts that represent the way it would have looked when Gilman Blood lived there. Costumed interpreters bring the site’s history to life and daily activities take place throughout the museum. Blacksmiths and printers demonstrate their crafts, “gunfights” occur on Main Street in front of the saloon, and wagon rides tour guests aboard horse-drawn carriages.
The Chisholm Trail was a post-Civil War cattle-driving route that brought stock from ranches in Texas to the railroads in Kansas. Jesse Chisholm, for whom the trail was named, established a trading post at what would soon become Wichita. The town incorporated as a city in 1870. Eventually, new cattle-trails to the east and new rail lines would render cattle driving along the Chisholm Trail obsolete, but Wichita continued to thrive as settlers moved to the area in search of opportunity. The Old Cowtown Museum has been acquiring the historical artifacts and buildings in its collection for more than 50 years. While some historical structures were donated as far back as 1949, others were acquired in the 2000s. Old Cowtown Museum is supported by Historic Wichita Cowtown, Inc., a non-profit advisory board that works in partnership with the City of Wichita.
Ongoing Programs and Education
The museum offers both self-guided and guided tours. Costumed interpreters work throughout the museum to interact with guests and answer questions. The History Immersion Experience is a special guided tour in which guests learn about settler’s life through the eyes of three entrepreneurs from the late 1800s. School groups may join a guided tour or make use of the facility for self-guided activities. For example, teachers may use the one-room schoolhouse to lead a classroom as they would have done in the 1800s, with slates and chalk. Old Sedgewick County Fair Education Day takes place each October and allows students to spend time in areas of the museum that are of the most interest to them. A variety of programming is available for scout groups of all ages to earn history badges. Old West Photography works in partnership with the museum to take portraits of visitors in period costumes.
1865 W Museum Blvd, Wichita, KS 67203, Phone: 316-350-3323