MHK News

Posted on: March 18, 2013

Travel the "Road to Oz" in Wamego

Wamego is located on the Kansas River, and is surrounded by the scenic Flint Hills and the glaciated region of Kansas. Native Americans used the Kansas River for transportation long before whites entered the area, and the entire Kansas River Valley was home to the Konza tribe until the 1840's. Beginning in the 1840's major portions of the Pottawatomi Tribe occupied the area just to the east of Wamego, and both Wamego and Pottawatomie County are named for the tribe.

Early European explorers passing through the area included Coronado (1540), Major Long (1819), and Fremont (1842). The Oregon Trail passed a few miles north of Wamego and wagon ruts from that time can still be seen in places. The doomed Donnor Party traveled through the area on May 22, 1846, while Laura Ingalls Wilder and her husband traveled through the area on their journey from the family home in Walnut Grove, Minn. to Southern Missouri. Several other remnants from the trail are also still visible. The Louis Vieux Cemetery and the Cholera Cemetery are located along a stretch of original Oregon Trail northeast of town.

In the early 1860's the discovery of gold near Denver brought many travelers west through Wamego on the Smoky Hill Trail. In 1863 the Kansas Pacific Railroad began building the main line for passengers and freight bound westward across the plains. Seizing this opportunity, The Wamego Town Company founded and laid out a new town site - Wamego - along the proposed rail in 1866.

Working in the rail yard machine shops was a man named Chrysler whose home was nearby. His son, Walter P. Chrysler, the founder of the Chrysler Corporation, was born in Wamego on April 2, 1875.

Today Wamego is quickly becoming known as the "Oz Capital of the World." The OZ Museum opened in 2004 and houses one of the largest collections of Oz memorabilia open to the public. A stretch of K-99 that passes through Wamego is called "The Road to Oz Highway," and every October, Wamego hosts OZtoberFest - a festival dedicated to Oz fans of every age. Special guests at the festival include the actors who played the original Munchkins in The Wizard of Oz movie, starring Judy Garland.

The first weekend in October, the Road to Oz, otherwise known as Highway 99 and Lincoln Avenue, closes down to celebrate one of America's best known fairy tales -- The Wizard of Oz. OZtoberFest activities include Munchkinland kids' play area, Oz collectibles auction, Yellow Brick Road bike ride, food and craft vendors, cameo appearances by some of the original Munchkins, and activities for the entire family. Other special guests are available for book signings and autograph sessions; including the museum collector, Oz and Judy Garland historians and many more. And you won't want to miss the Columbian Theatre's annual live production with an Oz theme.

Wamego is also home to the Columbian Theatre, which was built in 1895 and houses artifacts from the 1893 World's Columbian Exposition, also known as the Chicago World's Fair. The theatre went through a $1.8 million renovation in 1994 and is once again a venue for live theatre and home of the Swogger Galley, which shows rotating art and historic exhibits.

Every spring the Wamego City Park, downtown, and many home gardens throughout town come alive with the vibrant colors of thousands of tulips. Many of the bulbs for these bright, early spring flowers came from Holland and are the backdrop for the 3rd weekend in April festival.

Come join us for the biggest and best 4th of July Celebration in the state at Wamego's celebration. Our small town tradition spans more than 140 years with the largest and longest running Independence Day parade in the state and the largest and most intense fire works display in the Midwest. Independence Day lasts longer than just one day in Wamego.

The town swells to more than triple its normal size during the multi-day celebration, which includes a parade, a carnival, and antique tractor and car shows. The party is capped off with one of the state's largest fireworks displays beginning at 10 pm on the Fourth.

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