Nicodemus National Historic Site protects the only remaining western town settled by freed African American Settlers during the Reconstruction Period. There was a call for African Americans to start moving westward and they were promised land in the free state of Kansas for Homesteading.
They came in droves, on train, on foot, and carrying all their belongings. In hope for a better, brighter future.
History of Nicodemus
Go to Kansas
After the Civil War, formerly enslaved African Americans were told to head west to Kansas “the Promised Land” to experience freedom and opportunity.
Kansas sounded like a great opportunity. They were told they would be given land to farm, places to grow, a home of their own for their own people. Kansas was also the land of the famous abolitionist John Brown who at the time of his death was one of the most famous Americans in the US.
Knowing that many blacks had dreams dashed in the south and other parts of the country, a black minister and white land promoter created fliers to promote settlement in Kansas in the area that would become Nicodemus. The fliers generally advertised to African Americans in Kentucky and Tennessee and seriously overexaggerated the abundance of resources and the low-cost of land.
Influx of Settlers
And so they came. By train as far as they could go, by walking, and bring everything they owned. They were like where is it? Where could it be?
In the distance they saw smoke and people pointed there, there is Nicodemus. Although it wasn’t the inviting amazing place they had been led to be believe. There wasn’t a town there at all. People were living in dugouts and not in real houses. It was not an inviting place and it was going to be a lot of work.
The first settlers came to the area in 1877, however it wasn’t until a decade later that the there was enough built up growth to sustain a town of up to 200 people.
What began as several dugouts across the prairie starting becoming an actual planned town. Even though all the hardship, people starting making opportunity out of what seemed to be hopelessness.
Before the end of the 19th century, Nicodemus had a bank, hotel, several pharmacies, groceries, general stores, barbershops, liveries and hat makers.
Decline of Nicodemus
The decline of Nicodemus was not sudden although there was a sudden final end to the growth of the town as well. There were obviously tough moments for being a town built primarily by and for black Americans during the reconstruction period of American history.
They had hope that the railroad as it came through the west would bring more people and more jobs. However, the railroad ended up bypassing Nicodemus and this was the true beginning of the end for the city. Without the railroad people needed to go elsewhere for jobs and they ended up traveling across the river to where the Union Pacific Camp was which became the town of Bogue.
Many people still did stay in Nicodemus and if you visit the area and even the site of the historic park. You’ll meet the descendants of these hope filled Americans. The person working at the site the day I was there was one of the descendants of those original settlers.
Places to Visit at Nicodemus National Historic Site
There are several historical buildings you can explore in Nicodemus as well as a cemetery and road side park. The area is pretty compact so you won’t have to travel far to see most of the sites. However, there are a few more sites outside of the main area. Several of the buildings are closed (although you can view the outside). Although, you can often visit the AME Church during the day after it was rehabbed in 2021.
Built in 1939, the Township Hall was build from local quarried limestone (which gives its beautiful color and style). The hall was used for town functions, dances, meetings, and music events. These days the hall also doubles as the visitor center for the Nicodemus National Historic Site. Definitely your first stop on a visit to the park and worth seeing the exhibits and watching the movie.
The African Methodist Episcopal (A.M.E.) Church
The church was first established here in 1878 at a different site and moved to this current site in 1910. The church is one of the best sites to visit in the park and it is now available to be entered since it was restored in 2021.
The original school building was burned down by a fire and replaced by the current building. So it’s not one of the original buildings but does give a sense of what school was like for the town.
St Francis Hotel
Not only a hotel, but the St. Francis hotel and residence of the Switzer family also served as the town’s first post office, school house, and as a stagecoach station! The building at least at the time I visit was closed to the public
Located about a mile north of the town, the Nicodemus Cemetery was one of the first cemeteries for the country and also inters the bodies of many of the first settlers and the founders of the town of Nicodemus. The road to the cemetery is dirt and can be a bit bumpy. So go with caution, but worth a visit if you are interested in learning and seeing more about the town.
Address: 304 Washington Ave. Nicodemus, KS 67625-3015
Hours: 9:00 am – 5:00 pm (Thursday – Monday)
The visitor center is the old township hall for Nicodemus. The hall includes the visitor center, large number of exhibits on the site and the history of the site, bookstore, and also has a video. The video discusses the history and the people of Nicodemus. The strive for hope, and where the town is now. It is definitely worth a view and only about 15 minutes.
Free! There is no fee to access any of the places at the site.
National Park Passport Stamp
There is a Passport (cancelation) stamp located in the Township Hall / Visitor Center of Nicodemus National Historic Site.
Website: Official NPS Website
Nicodemus National Historic Site is located in North Central Kansas near the South Fork Solomon River.
The site is located off US Highway 24.
It is not very close to many major towns actually, but if you are on a road trip it could be a good stop to beak up your trip.
Nearest Major Towns:
- Colby, KS: 79 miles (1hr. 15 mins)
- Wichita, KS: 224 miles (3.5 hrs.)
- Kansas City, KS: 296 miles (5 hrs.)
- Colorado Springs, CO: 295 miles (5 hrs.)
- Lincoln, NE: 247 miles (4 hrs.)
Leave a Reply