Summer of Fun: Rope your way into the 1800s at Old Cowtown Museum in Wichita

This is one in a series of “Summer of Fun” articles by The Heartlander showcasing fun things to do across Missouri and Kansas.

WICHITA, Ks. – If you’re looking for some summer fun, consider immersing yourself in the late 1800s at Old Cowtown Museum in Wichita and become a part of living history.

The open-air museum, built in 1950, showcases the life of Wichita during its heyday as a vibrant cowtown.

James Quint, executive director at Old Cowtown Museum, tells The Heartlander the museum exhibits the history of Wichita’s early settlers who came to trade with Native American tribes. Following the American Civil War, railroads expanded, resulting in cattle drives from Texas and the sale of cattle and goods in Kansas City and Chicago.

Guests have access to 54 buildings, covering 23 acres, and featuring over 25,000 historical artifacts.

Along the dirt roads, you’ll find various active exhibits such as an old schoolhouse, a church,  general store, saloon, music store, blacksmith shop, railroad depot and more.

Each building is a representation of what it was like to live in the Victorian time period. Interpreters and volunteers don garments from the 1800s as they narrate the tale of the once-lively cowtown, demonstrating carpentry, manufacturing practices and operation of stores.

Stage coaches and an assortment of wagons are among Old Cowtown’s most popular artifacts. More than 12 buildings on the site are historic ones relocated there to avoid demolition.

“We identify buildings that we needed to better complete the story of talking about Wichita in the early years,” Quint said. “We targeted those buildings to come to the site. We work with donors and people who may be interested in donating buildings to the site and then they are moved here.

“The location Old Cowtown is designed to represent is an intersection in downtown Wichita today that is populated by skyscrapers and building offices.”

The buildings are adorned with vintage items such as period-appropriate furniture, toys, teacups and fine China.

Of course, the wild west wouldn’t be complete without an epic shootout. Every day, guests can experience two simulated epic gun battles between good and evil.

The Old Cowtown Museum maintains a high level of safety by regularly inspecting firearms, conducting training for staff and volunteers, and implementing additional safeguards.

The Empire House Players bring theatrical art to the stage at Old Cowtown, offering visitors the chance to experience a melodrama for an extra cost. In an epic tale of love, crisis, deception, sacrifice and redemption, the plays showcase maidens in peril, despicable villains and dapper heroes.

Participation from the audience is always welcomed. 

In the Business District of Old Cowtown Museum, visitors can see Daisy Longstem’s Saloon Girls – a Victorian-era dance troupe – at Fritz Snitzler’s Saloon. Sports enthusiasts can watch the Red Stockings and Bulldozers play old school baseball games near Devore Farm. 

Governed by the Historic Wichita Cowtown Inc. nonprofit advisory board, the museum is owned and operated by the City of Wichita. 

Old Cowtown Museum can be found in the Museums on the River District in the heart of downtown Wichita. The district includes several attractions such as Old Cowtown Museum, Exploration Place, Wichita Art Museum, Wichita Baseball Museum, Botanica Wichita and Mid-America All-Indian Museum.

“The fact that all of these museums are right here together makes it very easy to find your way around,” Quint notes. “There’s something for everybody. You don’t have to spend all day at one museum. If you want to go see a couple of exhibits like the Wichita Art Museum, then come over to Cowtown for a while, you can do all of that because you are right here and don’t have to drive a half hour to another location.”

Old Cowtown Museum is open Wednesday-Sunday, closing on Monday and Tuesday, with free general admission on Sundays from April to October courtesy of a generous donation from Colby Sandlian.

Cowtown participates in the Museums for All initiative, allowing families with an EBT/SNAP card to enter the museum for just $3 per person. Families with one or more children residing in Kansas can receive free admission via the Sunflower Summer program. Find out more about that by clicking here.

Mark your calendars for the Celebrate America event at Old Cowtown Museum this Saturday, July 6. The museum grounds and buildings will be lined with patriotic flags and buntings, while historians will be sharing stories about Fourth of July celebrations in the 1870s, and how American independence was celebrated in nearby towns.

“What you see before isn’t gonna be the same as what you’ve seen in the past if you’ve been 

here before,” Quint says. “If you haven’t been over here, get over here and see what life was like in Kansas in the 1870s.”

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