“Heel and toe and away we go”, the silent rhythm of polka music and dance, invades the senses as you amble along the streets of this small, colorful community of Wilson. It identifies its residents as preservers of their Czechoslovakian heritage.
Of all the dances originating in the nineteenth-century, the only one that has survived is the polka, one that is very much alive and well in Wilson. Colorful costumes, polka music, ethnic food and traditional themes weave throughout Wilson, the “Czech Capital of Kansas”. Visitors experience the flavor of the cultural influences that prevail in this central Kansas town, population 800. Some older citizens still speak the traditional language of their homeland.
Located at the southern end of the Rock Post Scenic Byway, off I-70 exit 206, Wilson is host to the annual Czech Festival the last weekend in July. Thousands gather from far and wide to celebrate the occasion with food, dancing, contests, carnival rides and to view one of the longest parades in rural Kansas. German bratwurst smothered in kraut held in one hand and ice cold beer in the other help keep the summer heat at bay.
Locally mined post rock limestone is represented in many historic downtown buildings as well as the recently renovated Midland Hotel, Das Borell Haus B & B and Stone Cottage Farm located just north of Wilson Lake.
Wilson is an inspiration to struggling small towns everywhere with its strong volunteer force, fund-raising projects, downtown development and renovation of the old grade school into an assisted living apartment complex. Straw bale constructed, low-income duplexes are across the street from the senior citizens center. The locally-owned bank serves the community. Educational programs for students are conducted in new facilities.
Wilson is also home to the Sportsman’s Lodge, Sincerely Yours Gifts, Kansas Originals and historic structures like the Wilson Opera House, the round stone jail and wooden water tower.
Wilson can be a tourist destination, a small conference locale, an ethnic experience and a place to browse and shop. There are several places to eat: Made from Scratch, the Snack Shack and the Midland Hotel
When citizens work hard to make our towns better places, as residents in Wilson have done, each stop along roads and highways of Kansas can turn out to be an oasis offering tourists a sample of their unique cultural heritage.
Exploring Wilson with “new eyes” while searching for its Czech history, customs, architecture, cuisine and art, can be a rewarding experience. Wilson can also exceed your expectations as a secluded hide-away for that special occasion.
Linda Denning wrote the following:
According to information provided by the Wilson Czech Opera House Corporation, which also owns the museum.In 1865, the Butterfield Overland Dispatch route was established to Denver. The clear springs found a short distance to the southeast became a stage stop called “Swing Station.”
According to legend, a horse trader named “Wilson” set up business there.
In 1868, the Union Pacific Railroad advanced west, opening the area to settlement. Residents called their new town Wilson. In 1871, the U.S. Postal Department named the small community “Attica.” Several months later, residents changed the name to “Bosland,” which means “Cowland.”
“The settlers were so happy to have land and cows of their own,” corporation officers wrote in a brief his history of Wilson.
In 1873, the postal department officially named the town Wilson, thus giving the stagecoach station, train station and city hall the same name.
The first citizens were railroad workers. They were French, English, Irish, and Italian. The first homesteader was J.T. McKittrick. In 1872, 20 Pennsylvania Dutch German families arrived there.
In 1874, Francis Swehla, accompanied by others, became the first Bohemian to settle Central Kansas.
“These immigrants brought many talents—different trades and wisdom. With their hard work and determination, dreams came true.” According to the corporation history.
“They organized city officials with a mayor, officers, banks, schools, churches, and merchants of different kinds.”
Today, Wilson looks to its past with dreams for the future.
The Opera House was built in 1901. After being restored, it continues to be the place in Wilson for dances, pageants, and other public events.
The opera house, like many other buildings in Wilson, is made of native limestone. The museum has clothing from Czechoslovakia and other reminders of the town’s Czech heritage. There also is a hair wreath; quilts devoted to the family histories of a woman who was reared at Lucas. Her grandparents lived south of Wilson. The museum also has a collection of tramp art made from the wooden boxes that used to contain cheese.
Wilson is part of the famous Post Rock Country, which stretches through Central Kansas.
Another attraction is the Midland Hotel, a handsome example of this region’s limestone construction.
The Midland is owned by the Wilson Foundation, which operates as part of the Opera House Corporation. The foundation has its own set of trustees.
The Kansas Department of Transportation, through the historic category of the Transportation Enhancement Program, has given the foundation a grant to restore the hotel, which was built in 1899 north of the Union Pacific Railroad tracks near the center of town.
When finished the hotel will have a restaurant, visitor’s center, lounge and modern rooms with the latest in technology for the traveler with a computer.