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Hays is a best place in so many ways

By Larry Dreiling

From its 1867 founding by "Buffalo" Bill Cody as a town built to service a nearby military outpost, to its time as a haven for German-Russian immigrants seeking freedom from oppression, Hays has grown to be a center of commerce, education, agriculture, the arts and medicine for northwest Kansas.

It's also where this reporter calls home.

Over the last few years, Hays has won the title of All America City and been named a top five small college town and one of the best places to live in rural America.

Settled about halfway between Denver and Kansas City on Interstate 70, Hays is more than just a place to spend the night in flyover country. It's also a great place to linger and enjoy an extended visit.

Hays has museums to delight young and old; special events that bring thousands of people together; great niche shopping; places to inspire the eye, heart and soul; and distinctive restaurants to please the palate.

First Stop

Hays is on the confluence of Interstate 70 and U.S. 183. Head one mile south on 183 (now called Vine Street) into town. At the northeast corner of 27th and Vine is the multi-million dollar Hays Welcome Center.

The center not only houses the Hays Convention and Visitors Bureau, but the local chamber of commerce as well as county and state economic development offices. Not only can the people there help you plan a vacation, they can help you relocate or start a business, too.

www.discoverhays.com (For general information).

www.haysusa.com/html/visitor_info.html (For a downloadable visitors guide)

http://calendar.playhays.com/events/index.php (For a calendar of events).


Historic Old Fort Hays

Probably the first attraction visitors to Hays should make is Historic Old Fort Hays. It is the reason the city exists in the first place.

Fort Hays was home to the 7th U.S. Cavalry, commanded by Lt. Col. George A. Custer, the 5th U.S. Infantry, commanded by Col. Nelson Miles, and the 9th and 10th U.S. Cavalries, better known as the "Buffalo Soldiers."

The public park, officially named Frontier Historical Park, was platted to include the remaining buildings at Fort Hays. Four of the original structures, the stone blockhouse, guardhouse and two frame officers' quarters, survive today. The Kansas State Historical Society administers the visitor's center. Check out the buffalo herd across U.S. 183, too.


Ellis County Historical Museum

Located at the corner of 7th and Main in downtown Hays, the Ellis County Historical Society Museum exists to preserve and showcase the county's colorful history.

Yearly events include Pioneer Day in May and the Annual Christmas Open House, the first weekend in December. A complete calendar of events is available on the museum website.


Chestnut Street District

The main road in downtown Hays, now known as Main Street, was originally called Chestnut Street in the late 1800s and early 1900s. By 1930, the streets were renamed at the request of the postal service for a more orderly naming scheme. Chestnut Street was renamed "Main Street." The historic markers, buildings and streets in the Chestnut Street District provide visitors the opportunity to step back in time and relive the history of downtown Hays.

Today the Chestnut Street District has become a great place to meet with friends, dine, shop and enjoy entertainment opportunities. Downtown Hays is undergoing a process of restoration driven by the desire to preserve the history and community pride while creating the excitement of the old fashioned Main Street area.


Fort Hays State University

For fans of great architecture, the campus of Fort Hays State University is quite a site--and sight. The uniform look of the native limestone buildings built into a mass of tall shade trees into the primary academic quad has created a campus universally accepted by academics and government officials as the prettiest in Kansas.

While the main campus is primarily in the southwest part of town, the Sternberg Museum of Natural History, at FHSU's East Campus near 27th St. and Canterbury Drive, ranks among the best natural history museums. No other state university the size of Fort Hays State University has a natural history museum comparable in size and scientific importance to this museum's holdings.



The agritourism industry around Hays has grown in recent years to include a variety of interesting places. You can start with the local farmers' market that operates Wednesday evenings and Saturday mornings in season at the parking lot of the former Kansas Department of Transportation yard at 22nd and Vine Streets.

The best way to contact the agritourism operation is to use the web address below and then contact the site from there. For safety and time reasons, all require either a reservation or some sort of appointment.

Hays area agritourism sites include two pumpkin patches, several ranches with overnight accommodations that offer great hunting and fishing opportunities and great places to take the kids, such as Blue Sky Miniature Horse Farm. For more details, check the website below.


The arts

If there's anything that rating organizations consistently praise about Hays, it's about the lively arts community that permeates the area. From art, music, dance, and theater, there really is something for everyone in Hays.

The first place to learn more about the arts is the Hays Arts Center in the Chestnut Street District. The Center is the home of the Hays Arts Council, Kansas' first such organization. Director Brenda Meder and her talented staff can offer you lots of details about arts happenings in the community.

The Hays Arts Council also can direct you to the large number of galleries open to the public at various times during the week. A gift shop features art from local and regional artists and other items available to purchase. Visit their website for a tentative listing of exhibits for the Gallery Walk.


Fun festivals

There are three big festivals that draw large crowds to Hays each year. The Wild West Fest is held close to the July 4th holiday. It features a carnival, a parade, fireworks and usually three concerts, ranging from rising country stars to acts from the recent past playing their golden oldies.

Because of the large Volga German influence, the Hays area wants to party twice for Oktoberfest. The newer of the two is the Midwest Deutsche Oktoberfest, which holds their party the third weekend of September. It draws crowds for traditional foods and a series of polka acts for your dancing pleasure.

FHSU holds its annual Oktoberfest during homecoming weekend, usually the last weekend in September or first weekend in October. This annual celebration of the Volga German culture has been a part of the area calendar for more than 35 years. You'll love all the great foods served up by area groups and enjoy this great mingling of town and gown. Check out the calendar of events, listed above, for specific dates.

Buildings of faith

Finally, a word about how the Roman Catholic faith is so much a part of the lives of people in the area. The first Volga Germans arrived in the Hays area in early 1876, settling along Big Creek south of Hays. The first permanent settlement was established February 22, 1876 in Rush County, at Liebenthal. Subsequently, the other communities of Catharine, Herzog (now Victoria), Pfeifer, Munjor and Schoenchen in Ellis County were settled by that summer.

In each community, churches were built. The most special church of all, and I say that because of family ties, is St. Fidelis Church in Victoria. It wasn't until 1908 that construction was begun on the church known as "The Cathedral of the Plains," the St. Fidelis Church we know today. Families such as the Dreilings, who lived just west of the St. Fidelis Cemetery, pledged money or labor to the building of the church.

Most of the churches are open during daylight hours. Modest dress (no tank tops) is preferred. Tours of these historic churches are available by calling 785-625-5394 or 785-625-7356. A donation to the churches and the tour guides is recommended. St. Fidelis also has a small gift shop across the street to the north of the church, featuring self-guided tour pamphlets, history books and other items.

Larry Dreiling can be reached by phone at 785-628-1117, or by e-mail at ldreiling@aol.com.

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