If you close your eyes and imagine Kansas, you might conjure up images of farmhouses, windmills open fields, or spine-chilling tornadoes. You might even summon up the iconic, sepia-colored scene from the classic 1939 film, the Wizard of Oz, wherein a tornado swallows up Dorothy and Toto in a whirl of chaos. You will likely not, however, think of castles or architectural design. However, in reality, Kansas is much more diverse than wide-open spaces and twister-filled storms. From robust agriculture to mesmerizing buildings and structures, the Sunflower state has a rich and engaging history worth exploring.
There is no doubt that Kansas is an agricultural wonder. Excelling in producing wheat, corn, soybeans, and sorghum, Kansas offers substantial contributions to the nation’s food supply. As most people know already, it is an integral part of the “Breadbasket of America,” after all. And its abundant grain production, along with that other states in the region, fortifies (pun intended) food security in the United States and across the globe. But what else does Kansas have to offer?
Kansas’s Rich History
Kansas has a rich and riveting history. Bordering Nebraska, Missouri, Oklahoma, and Colorado, Kansas played a pivotal role in the westward expansion throughout the 19th century. Additionally, Kansas boasts a vibrant Wild West heritage – intertwined with legendary figures like Wyatt Earp – and plethora of colorful folklore that revolves around the mystique of cowboy culture. Moreover, this state boasts a strong aviation presence, having been the birthplace of aviation pioneers like Amelia Earhart and the home of aircraft manufacturing companies like Boeing and Cessna. Finally, Kansas likewise performed a vital role in the abolitionist movement. In short, this state is rife with rich engineering, cultural, and agricultural history.
And while it may not be famous for its castles or architecture in general, Kansas still has two notable edifices worth exploring. Here’s a short but fascinating history of 2 gorgeous castles in Kansas.
1. Campbell Castle
B. H. Campbell House or Castle is an historic mansion located in Wichita, Kansas. Opulent and iconic, this now private residence flaunts an enchanting blend of architectural styles, incorporating elements of both Victorian and French Renaissance Revival styles. However, its design and limestone facade primarily reflect Richardsonian Romanesque Scottish Castles – popular during the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Emulating Architect Henry Hobson Richardson, Architect Alfred Gould helped Colonel Burton Harvey Campbell and his wife, Ellen, bring their vision for their posh home to light.
Today, this palatial edifice still features a 5-story turret, rounded arches, ornate carvings, rich and luxurious woods – including cherry, walnut, and mahogany. Stained glass windows, delicately imported from Germany, add radiant pops of color and artistry – casting a brilliant kaleidoscopic refraction of light across the interior spaces. And let’s not forget about the 300 year old grand staircase and arched dining room window – both of which came from London!
Naturally, the National Register of Historic Places recognizes the importance of this historic home. Unfortunately, we won’t be visiting anytime soon. In the past, the public was able to enjoy this majestic dwelling as a bed and breakfast. Currently, however, this magnificent home is no longer open for public use. Nestled on the opposite side of the serene Little Arkansas River, the exterior of the B. H. Campbell House is as picturesque and the interior is awe-inspiring.
2. Nichols Hall, Kansas State University
Nichols Hall – with its castle-like features, including crenelations (battlements), towers, and turrets – beautifully graces the Kansas State University (KSU) campus. Originally, it housed the physical education and military science departments. The grandiosity of the building was meant to imbue the military training facilities with a sense of authority. During that era, architects often designed buildings with ROTC programs to resemble medieval castles – a popular motif symbolizing strength, honor, and nobility. If knights and medieval castles connote disciple and valor, Nichols Hall exemplified the ethos of military education.
It was also a thriving cultural center and gymnasium. Amenities included a basement swimming pool, a top-floor radio broadcasting studio, and dedicated accommodations for the Department of Music.
Tragedy struck in 1968 when a massive fire – started by two students from the Department of Music – engulfed the building. As a result, its interior was decimated. In response to advocates’ concerns, the state legislature allocated $5.5 million for the reconstruction of Nichols Hall. Completed in 1985, KSU named the new structure after Dr. Ernest R. Nichols. An esteemed figure, he had served as the head of the Department of Physics and as the university president in the early 20th century.
The Nichols fire had a devastating impact on the building itself. Worse, it also ravaged invaluable collections in the Department of Music. It burned up the university’s expensive radio station equipment and instruments, and destroyed irreplaceable recordings from the Landon Lectures series. It also scorched all of the sheet music. The only exception was the beloved Wabash Cannonball. By a miracle, the band director had taken it home the day of the fire, right before it broke out. Now a staple at athletics events, and pep rallies, this fight song represents the strong and enduring school spirit at KSU.
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