6 Top Things to Do in Fort Scott, Kansas
Fort Scott, Kansas has a long way to go before making it to the list of America’s 10 most popular travel destinations but if you’re interested in exploring history, nature and a bit of Americana it’s a wonderful place to enjoy a day or two of exploration.
6 Top Things to Do in Fort Scott, Kansas
1. Fort Scott Fort
Fort Scott was established in 1842 as an outpost for troops who were charged with enforcing the peace between the Osage Indians and western settlers. West-bound expeditions often stopped in Fort Scott to load up on provisions in preparation for their westward travel along the Santa Fe Trail. When Kansas became a state (in 1854), tensions rose over whether Kansas would enter the Union as a free or slave state and the troops were also charged with keeping the peace between pro-slavery and free state advocates.
The fort was abandoned in the late 1850s, but rebuilt during the Civil War where it served as a Quartermasters Supply Depot. The 1st Kansas Colored Infantry was trained at Fort Scott and the fort served as their base. The Kansas Colored Infantry took part in multiple engagements and suffered more casualties than any other Kansas regiment.
Today, travelers can visit the Fort Scott National Historic Site where both reconstructed and original buildings from the early days of Fort Scott settlement are on display. Fort Scott’s fort is operated by the National Parks Service where, periodically, costumed interpreters appear to provide explanations of the site.
There are also numerous signs, which make it easy to take an independent hour-long self-guided tour. The fort is located on Market Street near the city center, west of I69 and south of I54.
2. Fort Scott National Cemetery
The Fort Scott National Cemetery is listed in the National Registry of Historic Places. It’s located on the eastern outskirts of the city along the route historically known as the Military Road. The troops of Fort Scott saw action during the bloody skirmishes that erupted before and during the Civil War and the casualties of those battles, as well as those during the Civil War, were the first to be laid in the cemetery. Many black Union soldiers were buried at the Fort Scott National Cemetery.
In addition to Union soldiers, 13 Confederate soldiers and 16 Indian troops were also laid to rest at the Fort Scott National Cemetery. While others were reinterred from burial locations throughout Kansas and Missouri. The cemetery was named a National American cemetery by Abraham Lincoln in 1865. In the northeast corner of the cemetery, visitors can see memorial markers. There markers honor veterans whose remains have not been recovered or identified including WWII flight crews whose remains could not be identified.
3. Gordon Parks Museum
Gordon Parks may be best remembered by some as the director of the movie “Shaft” but others remember him as a talented photographer, musician and writer. Parks created a number of photographic essays for Life magazine about a variety of subjects but he was best known for his photography of the pre-civil rights black American experience. Fort Scott, Parks’ hometown, hosts the Gordon Parks Museum where many of the pictures that showcase Parks’ legend as a humanitarian photojournalist are displayed.
Parks’ photographs depict poverty, black urban life and the racism of his childhood. The museum also includes memorabilia, such as his writing desk, his clothing, cameras and more; and photos of fashion models and celebrities, which illustrate his eye for elegance and style. The Gordon Parks Museum is located at the Fort Scott Community College Ellis Fine Arts Center on the FSCC campus, which is located at 2108 S. Horton Street (take 23rd Street west off of Highway 69). Entrance is free.
4. Rock Creek Lake Waterfalls
Rock Creek Lake Waterfalls is located right outside Fort Scott. The site is easily accessible and actually involves a series of three waterfalls. The falls which were created by the outflow from the Rock Creek Lake and empty into the Marmaton River. Rock Creek Lake Waterfalls are located about three miles west of Fort Scott. To access the waterfalls, drive on 19th street westward out of Fort Scott.
The road becomes Kansas Road and then changes its name to 195th Street. The route runs along the eastern edge of Rock Creek Lake. At the northern end of Rock Creek Lake, pull into a parking lot and walk along the narrow gravel trail across the dam to reach the falls. Walk past the first falls and you’ll see two others, each with a five-foot vertical drop. When the water’s low you can cross the stream below the bottom waterfall.
5. Lowell Milken Center
The Lowell Milken Center is located in Central Fort Scott on 4 South Main Street. The center was established in 2007 to pay homage to unsung heroes–individuals whose actions went unnoticed as they acted above and beyond normal expectations in their drive to assist others. The center grew out of a 1999 project-based assignment in which a group of schoolgirls from Uniontown Kansas identified and researched an unsung hero of the Holocaust.
Their investigations and the resulting book and performance were based on the incredible story of Irena Sendler, a Polish woman who saved over 3,000 Jewish individuals during the Holocaust. The success of the initial project inspired Center-director Lowell Milken and educator Norman Conrad to develop a center where other such projects would be promoted.
Today the Lowell Milken Center supports hundreds of students throughout the United States who undertake a serious work of scholarship in identifying and relating the story an unsung hero. The center is open daily to enable visitors. You can view all of the submitted projects including the projects, which have received the Center’s annual Discovery Award.
6. Fort Scott’s Good Ol’ Days
If you plan to visit Fort Scott in June, you can schedule your trip to coincide with the Fort Scott yearly Good Ol’ Days festival. The Festival includes a crafts show, a Dock Dogs competition, live entertainment, carnival food and drinks, street dances and rides.