Cottonwood Falls, Kansas

From the intersection of US 50/KS Rte. 150: drive north on US 50 for one mile, to the town of Elmdale (just a few businesses on the right side of the road).  You’ll see a sign that says something like “County Road to Cottonwood Falls”.  This is Elmdale’s Main Street, which turns into Lake Road.  Lake Road travels through some nice countryside (including a taste of the Flint Hills) for six miles, until arriving in downtown Cottonwood Falls.

You’re looking at the center of Chase County, Kansas’ biggest town.  Broadway Street is just a few blocks long, but the wide brick street provides a dramatic approach to the Chase County Courthouse.

The Chase County Courthouse has earned the distinction of being the oldest continually-functioning courthouse in Kansas (and by some accounts, the entire Midwest).  Construction on the building was completed in 1873, using limestone quarried within ten miles of Cottonwood Falls.  During business hours, you can walk inside, climb the staircase, and peer out one of those upper windows onto downtown Cottonwood Falls.

I think downtown Cottonwood Falls still has some life in it, even though all was quiet during my visit on a Sunday afternoon.

There are actually three historic items in this picture: the courthouse, the rusty 60’s hippie van, and the artillery cannon.  I don’t think the van is of any historical significance, but the cannon holds one of Cottonwood Falls’ biggest mysteries.  It’s actually a piece of Japanese weaponry, and no one seems to know how it ended up here.  As the story goes, just a few years after the end of World War II, a truck pulled up and unloaded the cannon, without a word about who sent it, or why.  Of course, I’d imagine it’s also a mystery how that van ended up there, since there’s no way it still runs.

Yes, there is a waterfall in Cottonwood Falls.  You can enjoy this view of Cottonwood River by walking across the footbridge (recently restored, formerly a vehicle bridge) at the north end of Broadway Street.

The last thing you might expect in quiet downtown Cottonwood Falls is a 4-star hotel, but there is one!  Grand Central Hotel is located in a restored 1884 building on Broadway Street, just up from the courthouse.  Rooms are pricey (starting at around $150).  There’s a restaurant, too (with similar prices).  Check the hotel’s website for more information.

The main road in and out of town is KS Rte. 177, which runs parallel to Broadway St., just one block to the east.  When you’re ready to leave Cottonwood Falls, head north, crossing the Cottonwood River.

Note: This trip was first published in 2008.

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