Disclosure: Visit Wichita hosted my trip to Wichita, Kansas. However, all opinions are my own.
When it comes to visiting somewhere new, I can be a bit of a history nerd. I love learning about how communities came to be and discovering their quirkier details. Like so many other cities across the Midwest, the history of Wichita, Kansas did not disappoint.
During my time in Wichita, I was so impressed not only by the quality of the city’s museums but also by their variety. From institutions recognizing the contributions of African American and Native American communities to a museum dedicated to two men’s passion for pizza, Wichita truly has something for everyone.
Everywhere I went, locals were gracious with their time and excited to share their stories. Really, I shouldn’t have been surprised after experiencing the city’s public art scene or phenomenal culinary creations.
Maybe historic sites and museums aren’t usually your cup of tea. But when it comes to Wichita, I can’t encourage you enough to step outside your comfort zone. This community has so much to offer and I can’t wait to share everything I discovered with you. The next time you visit, don’t miss these five ways to experience the unique history of Wichita, Kansas.
Places to Experience Wichita History
Kansas African American Museum
The Kansas African American Museum holds an important part of the city and state’s history. Housed in the historic Calvary Baptist Church, its four walls hold as many stories as the museum itself.
Following the Civil War, a large number of African American families moved north to relocate to Wichita and its surrounding counties. Even though Kansas had been a free state, there were still some who viewed the growing population as unwelcome. In fact, the Calvary Baptist Church got its start because African Americans members of the congregation were not allowed to join the clergy at their new Kansas church. So in 1917, the parishioners built a new church themselves.
By the 1950s many of the church’s parishioners were being displaced to other areas of Wichita through urban renewal efforts. Still, the church remained a cornerstone of the community. But when it relocated in the 1970s the building was acquired by Sedgwick County. Ever passionate about the community space they’d created, the congregation was committed to saving this piece of history and formed the First National Black Historical Society there in 1973. In 1998 it officially became the home of the Kansas African American Museum.
When I visited the museum’s temporary exhibit showcased the state’s blues history. As I explored the church’s sanctuary, full of its own history, it was eye opening to learn how African American history often differs from what is taught in school history books. By taking the time to step outside of my own experience, listen and look a little deeper, I developed a greater understanding of Wichita, its people and the African American men and women who helped make the city what it is today.
If You Visit the Kansas African American Museum
While it may not be the largest museum in Wichita, the Kansas African American Museum is well worth a stop. It was a powerful experience to connect with the history the Calvary Baptist Church holds and discover an important part of the fabric of this community.
Visit the museum during its regular hours or check their website for an upcoming event. You can also extend your exploration to the rest of the state. In 2018, the museum became a part of the Kansas African American History Trail, which marks important landmarks across the state.
Kansas African American Museum, 601 N. Water Street in Wichita, Kansas
Mid-American All-Indian Center
Located at the confluence of the Arkansas and Little Arkansas rivers, the Mid-American All-Indian Center offers a way for visitors and locals alike to connect with the area’s indigenous history. While many museums and cultural centers focus on just one native tribe, the Mid-American All-Indian Center offers a place for the histories of all indigenous peoples to be preserved.
The center offers permanent exhibitions in its museum as well as a variety of community events throughout the year. The museum is also home to the largest public collection of work by local artist Blackbear Bosin, who designed the Keeper of the Plains and helped establish the center.
If You Visit the Mid-American All-Indian Center
The Mid-American All-Indian Center offers a unique look into an important part of the history of Wichita, Kansas. While there is an admission fee for the interior part of the museum, the area near the riverfront and the center’s grounds are free and open to the public.
No visit to the Mid-American All-Indian Center is complete without also experiencing the Keeper of the Plains. The five-ton sculpture was first installed in 1974. Today it sits atop a 30-foot pedestal overlooking the river and can be accessed via two footbridges. If you have time, it’s definitely worth returning to the river to see the nightly firepot lighting.
Mid-American All-Indian Center, 650 N. Seneca Street in Wichita, Kansas
Old Cowtown Museum
If you’re someone who prefers to experience history instead of just reading about it, you’ll definitely want to find time to visit the Old Cowtown Museum while you’re in Wichita. Visiting this sprawling outdoor museum is truly like stepping back in time.
This interactive museum allows you to get a feel for what Wichita would have been like in its early cowtown days. From homesteads to fully functioning shops along its historic main street, Old Cowtown brings history to life.
Opening a door into one of the property’s many outbuildings, you never know what you may find. Maybe you’ll be stepping into the sitting room of the local schoolteacher. Or maybe you’ll discover the print master at work in his shop and be able to offer him a hand.
Along with reenactors who work in the various shops and homesteads of Old Cowtown, the living museum is also home to a variety of animals.
After browsing the many buildings, trying my hand at printmaking, and befriending some farm animals, I took my tour guide’s advice and stopped in the saloon for a cold Sarsaparilla. While I sipped my sparkling soda, I reflected on all the unique bits of history I soaked up during my time in Old Cowtown.
Stepping out of the saloon I wondered why so many people had gathered around. That’s when I heard the gunshots. In addition to its real-life blacksmiths and homesteaders, Old Cowtown is also home to a ruffian or two.
After all, this is the early days of the Old West. You never know when you might end up in the middle of an old-fashioned shoot out.
If You Visit the Old Cowtown Museum
If you’re planning a visit to the Old Cowtown Museum, be sure you have at least three or four hours to explore. It may sound excessive. But there’s so much to see at this outdoor museum that you won’t want to be rushed. Trust me.
Kids especially will love this interactive look at Wichita’s early history. Wear your walking shoes and get ready to be surprised. You never know what you’ll discover around the next corner or inside the next shop.
The Old Cowtown Museum is open year-round, but has more limited hours during its winter season.
Old Cowtown Museum, 1865 Museum Boulevard in Wichita, Kansas
Pizza Hut Museum
If I’m being honest, it doesn’t take much urging to get me to visit a museum dedicated to pizza. Located on the Wichita State University campus, the Pizza Hut Museum is one of the city’s true hidden gems.
While you’ve probably eaten at (or at least heard of) Pizza Hut, you may not know that the now ubiquitous franchise was started by brothers Frank and Dan Carney when they were students at Wichita State.
What the Pizza Hut Museum lacks in size it makes up for in personality. The charming museum opened in April of 2018 and showcases the company’s history.
Did you know that there was once a Pizza Hut perfume? Or maybe you’re like me and remember playing with your Pizza Hut Barbie as a kid. From vintage promotional items to visitor memories recorded on pizza napkins, the Pizza Hut Museum has it all. You can even watch old commercials from the franchise through the years. I know that I definitely remembered a few of them from my childhood.
If You Visit the Pizza Hut Museum
Whether you’re a Pizza Hut devotee or just someone who enjoys a good pie, you’ll definitely want to take a bite out of this unique piece of the history of Wichita, Kansas. The Pizza Hut Museum is located on Wichita State University’s Innovation Campus behind the Marcus Welcome Center.
The museum is free and open to the public. A number of Wichita State students serve as docents during the museum’s open hours.
Pizza Hut Museum, Wichita State Innovation Campus, 1845 Fairmount in Wichita, Kansas
Wichita-Sedgwick County Historical Museum
There’s no better way to learn about the city than with a visit to the Wichita-Sedgwick County Historical Museum. Located in the original city hall building, the museum covers every aspect of the history of Wichita, Kansas and its surrounding area. The building was renovated in the 1980s. But many of its charming historic qualities, including its original bell tower, still remain.
Much of the museum is dedicated to the history of the city, including its iconic flag. During my time in Wichita I noticed the flag everywhere and it was exciting to learn more about how it came to be.
There is also extensive space dedicated to Wichita’s aviation history. Did you know that at one point 75 percent of all aviation production in the world happened in Wichita? Today Wichita companies produce approximately two thirds of the planes in the U.S. It’s no wonder that air travel has shaped such a large part of this community’s history.
As I wandered the museum’s exhibits, I began to realize just how many iconic events and inventions were actually part of Wichita’s history. Curious what I mean? In Wichita in 1932, musician Gage Brewer was the first person ever to perform using an electric guitar.
If You Visit the Wichita-Sedgwick County Historical Museum
If you’re looking for a way to learn a lot about the history of Wichita, Kansas in a short amount of time, you won’t want to miss a visit to the Wichita-Sedgwick County Historical Museum. The museum has some fantastic permanent exhibits as well as temporary exhibits that change throughout the year.
In addition to regular visiting hours, the museum also offers a variety of special, seasonal programming. When I visited the museum was preparing for their torchlight tour series, which allowed visitors to explore the museum in the dark. Check the museum’s website for unique opportunities like this one when you visit!
Wichita-Sedgwick County Historical Museum, 204 S. Main Street in Wichita, Kansas
Share Your Thoughts
I would love to hear from you! Have you visited Wichita? What’s your favorite way to experience local history?
Looking for more things to do near Wichita? Check out the other places I visited on my Kansas road trip.