Nicodemus was named for a legendary figure who came to America on a slave ship and later purchased his freedom. Founded in 1877 by a group of colonists from Lexington, Kentucky, the town had a population of 600 people by 1879. The first winter was particularly harsh and had it not been for the food, firewood and other staples received from Osage (Indian) Nation, the settlers would have perished. By the second year many of the men had found jobs either farming or working with the railroad and the settlement became increasingly self-sufficient.
One of the most successful residents was Anderson Boles, who arrived in Nicodemus without resources and became the owner of a local hotel, 75 acres of grain and 19 hogs. At the Boles House Hotel, operated by Anderson and his wife, a good Kentucky dinner and a bed for the night cost fifty cents.
Circa 1885, community leaders A.T. Hall and E.P. McCabe were very active in real estate during the town’s early growth. In 1880 Hall sold his holdings to McCabe and moved to St. Louis where he became city editor for a black newspaper. McCabe was equally successful in politics and held the distinction of being appointed the first county clerk in 1880, when Graham County was organized. He was also elected state auditor in 1882 and again in 1884, after which he left for Oklahoma, hoping to establish an independent black state with himself as governor.
In 1879 there were twenty-five houses and both a Baptist and a Methodist Church in the town. Anticipating the construction of the Missouri Pacific Railroad, the town boomed. Two drugstores, three grocery stores, a bank, a hotel, two newspapers and several other businesses were established. The railroad, however, was never constructed and the town went into a steady decline until about 1950. In the 1970’s, when many of the original buildings were torn down or moved, the town reached an all time low of 35 residents. By the mid-1980’s, however, the population had increased to about 80, due in part to a government subsidized housing project for low income residents.
Nicodemus, designated a National Historic Landmark in 1975, stands today as the only entirely African American community in Kansas. Nicodemus National Historic Site preserves, protects and interprets the only remaining western town established by African Americans during the Reconstruction Period (1865-1877) following the Civil War. The town is symbolic of the pioneer spirit of African-Americans who dared to leave the only region they had been familiar with to seek personal freedom and the opportunity to develop their talents and capabilities.
Nicodemus AME Church
St. Francis Hotel/Fletcher-Switzer Residence
Built in 1878, this building is one of the original town structures; one and a half stories high, its original limestone walls are now covered with stucco; built by Z.T. Fletcher, it was both a residence and hotel/stagecoach station and housed the town’s first post office; currently a private residence.
Nicodemus School District No. 1 Building
In 1879, School District No. 1 was established, with Mr. and Mrs. Z.T. Fletcher first providing schooling at their sod motel; in 1887, a formal four-room structure was erected on this site; present school building was constructed in 1918 following a fire, which destroyed the original building; District No. 1 School closed in 1955. The American Legion, the building’s current owner, purchased the schoolhouse in 1983 for meetings and gatherings.
Old First Baptist Church
The First Baptist Church has occupied the same location since 1877. The present structure was completed in 1907, it replaced a smaller limestone structure, which replaced a sod motel, which replaced a dugout; the building currently is not in use, although the congregation of the First Baptist Church retains ownership of it; services are held in the brick building to the north.
Established in 1885, this church building was construction circa 1907, reportedly from native limestone blocks salvaged from the original First Baptist Church; the church was active until the 1940’s; since being conveyed to the National Park Service in 1998, this historic structure is undergoing stabilization.
Nicodemus Homecoming Festival vendor
Cultural Sites, Resources & Events
Township (T.W.P.) Hall
As the center of local government and community life, this one story assembly hall with stage, high ceiling and half basement was built in 1939. A team of 12 Black and White local residents undertook this WPA project using locally quarried limestone. Today it is also the local headquarters of the National Park Service (NPS), and the site of their Junior Ranger Program.
Nicodemus Historical Society Building
Once a residence, this house was donated by the owner’s descendant and has been converted into the Historical Society and Museum; check with the local NPS to gain entry.
Junior Ranger Program
Sponsored by the National Park Service, this program was founded and has been run by African American Park Ranger Reginald Murray since 1996. Ranger Murray was the only African American to major in Parks and Recreation Management at Kansas State University. Geared toward ages 4 -15, the program teaches young people about the history of Nicodemus then encompasses their completion of a series of drawings of the historical buildings, and questions about the town’s history in order to earn a Junior Ranger badge and completion certificate; no charge for this program, and it is seasonal with most children participating during the annual Homecoming celebration the last week of July; 785-839-4233 (Fort Larned)
Nicodemus Western Cyclone II
Monthly Black Newspaper, 785-421-3311
Annual Emancipation Celebration and Homecoming
Last week of July, hundreds of descendants return to Nicodemus to celebrate the annual Emancipation Celebration they call “Homecoming.” Activities include a parade, Buffalo Soldier re-enactment and campsite, food and merchandise booths, a dance, and other activities. The event is free to the public.
Leading the parade
Camping / Lodging
Nicodemus National Historic Site is a unit of the National Park Service; 785-839-4233 (http://www.nps.gov/nico). All sites in the town are closely spaced together within walking distance. There are no camping facilities onsite, so unless you are visiting during the annual festival, bring a lunch.
Nearby Webster Wildlife Area has first come, first serve camping facilities only 2-3 miles east of Nicodemus. For more info call 785-425-6775. The visitor center is open everyday from 8:30am to 5pm in the Winter, until 6pm for other seasons. A 10-minute Orientation slide show gives an overview of the town’s history. The National Park Service visitor center provides brochures; 785-839-4233.
To make a Recreational Vehicles Campsites reservation, call 800-444-PARK or go to Reserve America; http://www.ReserveAmerica.com/usa/ca/cola
There are several hotels in nearby Stockton (10-12 miles east) and Hill City (5-6 miles west) near Nicodemus. See http://www.visitstockton.org
Homecoming Parade watchers
Dwight D. Eisenhower Presidential Home, Library and Museum
A wonderful reminder and lesson about the status of the United States and the world during the 1940’s, 50’s, and 60’s. A worthy stop on your way to or from The beautiful, spacious grounds encompasses a Visitors Center and the Eisenhower Home where the former President and General and his family lived, possessing only original Eisenhower family belongings. A few feet away, is the Place of Meditation where Dwight, his wife Maime, and son Dowd Dwight (who died at the age of 4 of scarlet fever) are interred. The Eisenhower Presidential Library contains a fascinating mix of archival and presidential papers, books, and other materials, including an extensive Presidential Marine Corp. Band exhibit, and small bronzes and gifts given to the Eisenhowers when they lived at the White House. Located between the Museum and Library on the expansive lawn is a Statue of General Dwight D. Eisenhower as well.
Across the courtyard you’ll find the Presidential Museum with numerous exhibits and displays of artifacts, photos, snippets of information from “Ike’s” early days, family history, his courting of wife Maime, education at Westport, adventures in the military including memorabilia and information about World War II and the Korean War. Other exhibits include doll miniatures of the First Ladies of the U.S. from 1817 through Jackie Kennedy; Maime Eisenhower’s designer wardrobe and a moving video presentation of an interview she gave to Barbara Walters in 1979 two weeks before her death, among other items.
Daily 9am-4:45pm; free admittance, excluding the Museum – $3.50 for adults, $3.00 seniors and children over age 12; Nicodemus is the Dwight D. Eisenhower Presidential Home, Library and Museum in Abilene Kansas (along Interstate 70 traveling west from Kansas City)
Fun ride in the Parade
TOURS & TRANSPORTATION
Blacks in the American West: The Nicodemus Experience
A 2-3-day study tour and course facilitated through the University of Kansas Continuing Education, Blacks in the American West is designed to provide an in-depth exposure to the factors that contributed to the mass migration of African Americans from the war-torn post-Civil War South to the Promised Lands of Kansas; to provide an overview of the history of African American towns, with specific emphasis on the history of Nicodemus; and to provide an overview of African American men and women and their roles in settling the West. It also offers participants the experience of visiting the actual historic town of Nicodemus and the opportunity to visit some of its few remaining senior residents; the course is also offered to those who are seeking college credit; 785-864-5823 or 877-404-5823; http://www.kuce.org/isc
Nicodemus Livery Company/Covered Wagon Adventures
Run by Nicodemus Historian and descendent Angela Bates-Thompkins and husband Barrie Thompkins, a Buffalo Soldier Re-Enactor, this tour company offers day, overnight, and 2-day Black western activities for groups including camping, outdoor period cooking and bar-b-ques, cattle drives, overland prairie covered wagon tours, camp fire entertainment, star gazing, Cowboy/Girl Round-Up, and Buffalo Soldier Encampment, among other activities. Period clothing is encouraged and horses are welcomed; 785-421-3308 or 3311
You can only drive here since it is located in upper northwest Kansas. Nicodemus is about 80 miles west of Topeka, Kansas and 100 miles northwest of Wichita, Kansas. Topeka is about 35 miles west of Kansas City. Topeka and Wichita have small airports, so you will likely make out better flying to Kansas City International Airport. Driving from Kansas City, take I-70 west, to US Route 183 North, then 15-20 miles up to Stockton, then go west on US 24, proceed about 8-10 miles to Nicodemus.