Discover Your Town's Story

Many rural communities squirm when asked, "What does your community have that could be put in a guidebook--for free?" The answer (given too often) is, "We don't have anything in this town." The truth is every town has a story to tell and offer explorer-types but it is sometimes hard to see what is right under your nose.

To help a community see what they have and who they are, the Kansas Sampler Foundation came up with a formula: the eight rural culture elements. Using these elements as a guide could help your community see itself with new eyes and spur interest and energy for developing some Explorer Tourism experiences.

The eight elements are:

Assess your town using the eight Rural Culture Elements
Everything in a town fits into one of these elements and every town, even a ghost town, has a story, if not physical evidence, to tell about each element.

Engage every age to be rural culture element detectives. Develop lists of items found for each element including address or location, contact information, historical information, public accessibility, hours. Research as much information as possible through print or online sources, visiting with people, double-checking facts. Take photos when possible.

If the assessment is done right, you will turn up all sorts of fascinating facts and unique places. You might find intriguing places, natural landmarks, or architectural nuances that people either couldn't see because they were right under their nose or were too far off-the-beaten track to remember.

After The Assessment

The information gathered will be useful in many ways. It will help assess how you are different or similar to neighboring towns and places around the state. For instance, the assessment may help you realize that you have, for example, a good number of historic churches in your town and that you could develop a brochure with the other towns in your county.
  1. Determine Goals: It might be helpful to wait until after the assessment to determine goals and a mission statement. The assessment may help you see your community in such a way that it will lead to new perspectives of how to proceed. What were the highlights and strong points of the assessment? Do you want to use the assessment to:
    • educate local citizens?
    • develop a strategy to bring visitors to your town?
    • develop economic and community development plans?

  2. Plan How You'll Tell Your Story. Which of these options works for your town?
    1. Create a Facebook page, maybe a web site.
    2. Develop self-guided driving or walking tours.
    3. Erect plaques or signs that interpret a site.
    4. Write a play or compose a song about your town.
    5. Educate your own community through newspaper articles, window displays, and presentations at civic groups.
    6. Create a booth to display at trade shows.
    7. Use your assessments to stimulate community project ideas.
    8. Collaborate with local or regional tourism groups, historical societies, art councils, schools, and chambers of commerce.
    9. Put together a power point or You Tube Video to educate locals and inform other groups about the story of your town and what it has to offer.
    10. Visit other towns to see what they have done.



To assess the architecture in your town look at such structures as residential homes, downtown buildings, churches, barns, the courthouse, post office, library, bridges, and mills.
Ask these questions to help see the story of architecture in your town. The answers may lead you to interesting findings!
  1. What building materials were used and where did they come from?
  2. Are these materials unique to the area?
  3. What year or era was the structure built?
  4. Who was the architect or contractor?
  5. What was the original use of the structure?
  6. Does the structure have a well-known nickname?
  7. How is the building used now?
  8. Is there a connection to similar structures around the state?
Here are some examples of how some towns have used architecture to preserve and tell the story of their town:

Building Preservation

Ness City's 1890s bank, the "Skyscraper of the Plains", has been restored and serves as a meeting place for groups, as an attraction, and has a Kansas products store in the basement.

Historic Places

Most of the 41 buildings on Yates Center's courthouse square are listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

Theatre Restoration

There is a movement to restore historic theatres in Kansas towns of every size. The Brown Grand Theatre, built in the early 1900s led the restoration movement in the 1970s.

Church Tours

The Cathedral of the Plains, Victoria, is the most famous church in Ellis County but because almost every town in the county has a historic Catholic church the driving tour has become known as the "Circle of Churches".


HOW TO USE THE RURAL CULTURE ELEMENT OF ART to see your community with new eyes:

Kansas' long tradition of art, dating back to Indian petroglyphs, can be an important source of local pride.
  1. Do you have sculptures, murals, or grassroots art?
  2. Do you have a performing center, coffeehouse, art gallery, or art museum?
  3. Is there a place where you can see an area artist at work?
  4. Is there ethnic art displayed in the community?
  5. Think about people, places, or events to find music, fine art, drama, literature, or dance in your town.
Here are some examples of how some towns have used art resources:

Art Tours

The Coutts Museum in El Dorado celebrated its 30th anniversary with an Art Tour. Visitors were guided to all of the galleries in town, and concluded with a reception at the Coutts. Prizes were given in drawings from entries that had been submitted at the various galleries on the tour. This tour brought hundreds of people into local galleries, many for the first time.

Famous Local Artists

 Protection is justly proud of Stan Herd, a local boy, who went on to become a famous muralist and field crop artist.

There's a gallery downtown to display some of his work that reinforces local pride in Stan Herd.

Oskaloosa's Old Jefferson Town includes the home of Jefferson County native John Steuart Curry, most famous for his murals in the state capitol.

Specialized Museums

 Locals shook their heads in disapproval when Samuel P. Dinsmoor was creating his concrete sculptures, but now people come from all over to see the Garden of Eden and the town of Lucas has been officially designated as the Grassroots Art Capital of Kansas. Abandoned buildings were transformed into the Grassroots Art Center.


Assess Commerce in your own community.  

Ask these questions:

What is the story of businesses past or present in your town? Here are some questions that will help you answer that question.
  1. The town was probably founded due to a certain business. What was it in your area?
  2. What were some of the other early businesses?
  3. Is your town known for a certain kind of business, i.e. agriculture, manufacturing, cottage industries, etc.?
  4. What are your specialty shops?
  5. What retail shops are located in historic or unique buildings?
  6. What is the lineage of businesses in each building?
  7. Is there a story to tell about the economic drama of your town -- past or present?
Here are some ideas on how to view commerce, past and present.


Towns can work with local businesses to help organize tours. Some interesting tours in the state include those at 
  • Henry's Candies, Dexter;
  • Karg Art Glass, Kechi;
  • LCL Buffalo Ranch, Clifton.
In your brochures or on your web site, let the public know what kind of specialty shops you have or what kind of Kansas products are made in your town and available in retail shops.

Maybe feature the product; maybe feature the building the store is housed in. People love to shop!

Specialty Products

People are always surprised to find a product that doesn't match their image of a state or region. Did you know Kansas has seven wineries? High-dollar kaleidoscopes are made in Johnson City. Dulcimers are made in Burns.


We have some fascinating museums in the state that help tell the story of commerce in an area. A 16-story electric coal shovel, Big Brutus, helps tell the story of strip-mining in southeast Kansas. It's now a museum. The Finney County Museum in Garden City uses photos to help tell the early story of cattle feedlots.


Kansas is more than beef! From Vietnamese entrees in Garden City to Croatian in Kansas City, our cuisine is definitely diverse. What's the story of cuisine in your town?

Here are some questions to direct your search.
  1. What are the ethnic or specialty foods served in your restaurants?
  2. What kind of food is served at church suppers or other food events?
  3. Are you famous for a certain kind of food that is produced in your town?
  4. Do you have a local cafe or unique restaurant?
  5. Do you have ethnic or local traditions about certain foods, mealtimes, how you eat?

Here are some examples of how cuisine helps tell the story of a town:

 Ethnic Cuisine

Ethnic groups settled many Kansas towns and the food still reflects those origins. You might find the food on a local cafe menu or still being sold in the grocery store.

Old-style sausage is still sold at Shaw's grocery in Wilson or Brant's Meat Market in Lucas. You'll find a Low German dish, verenike, on the menu in Mennonite towns such as Newton, Hillsboro, Inman, and Moundridge.

Special Events

Each fall, Ulysses holds the Grant County Home Products Dinner to celebrate the bounty of the county, including milo doughnuts! The event attracts approximately 2,000 hungry people each year.

Community Cafes

Much of small town life centers around the local cafe. Spending time in a cafe and rubbing elbows with the locals, listening to their conversations, seeing what they wear, and eating the daily specials can sometimes tell you as much about the town as the local museum!


Customs are the daily or annual traditions in your area usually shaped by the influence of ethnicity, geography, or commerce in a town. Customs are the hardest element to detect but they are the glue to your entire rural culture element story.

Here are some questions to help you discover the customs of your town:

  1. What annual events do you have? Are they unique to the area?
  2. What are things that people do every day? What do they wear, what kind of vehicles do they drive, what do they talk about, what are some quirky things that happen regularly in your town?
  3. Do you have a soda fountain?
  4. Do you park in the middle of the street?
  5. What do people do for recreation?
  6. Does your town have a nickname or special phrase? (Ie., are you a "capital?")

Here are some ideas on to help you assess your customs.

 Special Attractions & Festivals

Local customs can grow into well-known festivals and attractions.

The custom of adding twine to the giant ball in Cawker City grew into the "Twine-a-thon" and helped put Cawker City on the map.

Similarly, the WaKeeney custom of elaborately decorating the downtown area has grown the image of the town into "The Christmas City of the High Plains."

Local Cafes

Much of the social life of small towns takes place in small-town cafes. Farmers meet to swap favorite stories over their morning coffee. Local citizens often meet as committees to plan the next civic activity. New babies get introduced to the entire community over breakfast.


What are some natural aspects of your area that make it unique? Here are some questions to help you assess the Geography of your area:

Consider these categories:
  1. Natural landmarks
  2. Physiographic region(s)
  3. Hiking, biking, or equestrian trails
  4. Lakes and rivers
  5. The sky
  6. Trees, shrubs, grasses, wildflowers, gardens, and arboretums
  7. Wildlife and birds
  8. Scenic drives - scenic byways

Physiographic Regions

Kansas has eleven physiographic regions.
People might assume the High Plains region is flat but the Arikaree Breaks, one of the most canyon-like areas of the state, is located in Cheyenne County, the most northwestern county in Kansas.
The community of St. Francis has an online tour guide to help visitors explore the Breaks.


Towns in the Solomon River Valley along U.S. 24 have formed an alliance to interpret the heritage of this area in a manner that will encourage visitation and appreciation of the area.

Scenic Highways

In cooperative efforts, communities apply to become a Kansas Scenic Byway. Some communities such as Strong City, Medicine Lodge, and Lucas have incorporated references to these alluring roads in their brochures and web sites.


Kansas has a rich and colorful history that ranges from the Bleeding Kansas days of Territorial Kansas to the drama of early settlement to the rugged days of the cattle towns.

Outline the history of your town and look for significant details that might add spice to the story!

The first step in assessing the history of your town is to develop a timeline from the founding of your town to present-day. Here are some questions to help with the timeline:
  1. What significant events surrounded the founding of your town?
  2. What significant or infamous events made an impact upon your town?
  3. What present-day physical evidence helps tell the story of your town?
  4. Peruse old newspapers and genealogical records, and go though the local museum as if for the first time.
  5. Use each of the rural culture elements to help you think of every aspect of your town's story.

Historical interpretation through signage and walking tours

There are about 16 historical markers in downtown Caldwell that tell about the time period when Caldwell was a wild and wooly cowtown. They provide a self-guided cemetery tour brochure. Also, see their Ghostriders of the Chisholm Trail silhouette's on south U.S. 81.

Hays has developed a walking tour brochure that guides a person to the 25 bronze plaques that mark historic places throughout the downtown.

Historical interpretation through museums

The professionally-designed displays in the Adobe Museum in Grant County do an excellent job of telling the story of the county from the early days through present-day.

Some museums feature a historical theme. The Santa Fe Trail Center in Larned tells the story of the Santa Fe Trail.

Historical interpretation through events

Every three years Medicine Lodge commemorates the signing of the 1867 peace treaty with a dramatic pageant. Humboldt has an event that recognizes its role during the Civil War.
The people of Kansas are the state's greatest asset. From well-known names like President Dwight Eisenhower and Walter Chrysler to the man who invented the flyswatter, Dr. Samuel Crumbine, and the inventor of the Icee, Omar Knedlik, many fascinating people have come from Kansas.

Here are some questions to help assess the influence of people in your town:
  1. Who are the historically significant people from your town?
  2. Who are the present-day characters or contributors?
    Note: Use all the rural culture elements to help think of people. For instance, considering commerce might help you think of inventors from your town.
  3. Which ethnic groups contributed to the formation of the town and still have an influence?
  4. What is the story of the population of your town?

Here are some examples of how towns have emphasized the story of people:


Abilene honors native son Dwight Eisenhower with a Presidential library and historical complex that includes his boyhood home. Atchison has renovated the girlhood home of Amelia Earhart and she is featured in several museums and galleries in town. The Ottawa County Museum in Minneapolis features the story of scientist George Washington Carver.  A most unusual museum in Norton, the Also Ran Gallery, features all the presidential candidates who came in second!


The Lincoln Reenactment Day celebrates the birthday of Abraham Lincoln in the town of Lincoln. Ellsworth has cowboy gatherings that celebrate the cowboy lifestyle. Iola hosts the Buster Keaton Festival. 

Ethnic Celebrations

Eastern European immigrants are honored at Little Balkan Days in Pittsburg; Svensk Hyllningsfest celebrates the Swedish heritage in Lindsborg; and the Czech Festival in Wilson recognizes that dominant ethnic influence of northwestern Ellsworth County.

Historical Markers and Statues

Garden City, Florence, Wichita, Beeler, Burdett, and countless other towns honor their city founders or famous citizens with historical markers and statues.

For instance, a plaque in downtown Delphos shares letters exchanged between Grace Bedell and Abe Lincoln regarding Bedell's recommendation that Lincoln grow a beard so her brothers would vote for him.