What is Pawnee Rock?
Pawnee Rock State Historical Park, the first state park in Kansas, was developed as a monument to travelers on the Santa Fe trail and marks the approximate halfway point on the trail. The monument consists of a rough stone pole building used for picnics and a granite pillar shaped monument atop a small hill a half mile north of the community off U.S. 56.
A landmark on the journey, hundreds stopped to write their names in the soft sandstone beside the ancient drawings that the Indians had engraved before. In 1848, James Birch, a soldier on his way to the Mexican War, wrote: “Pawnee Rock was covered with names carved by the men who had passed it. It was so full that I could find no place for mine.”
There are also legends about Indian battles and of explorer Kit Carson.
Unfortunately, much of Pawnee Rock was destroyed in the 1870s by the railroad and by settlers who were in need of building stone. The remaining portion was acquired in 1908 by the Woman’s Kansas Day Club. The next year it was turned over to the State of Kansas as an historic site. On May 24, 1912, a stone monument was dedicated with great celebration before a crowd of some 8,000 onlookers. Pawnee Rock was listed in the National Register of Historic Places in 1970.
Information from the Kansas State Historical Society.
PAWNEE ROCK – Digging through piles of dusty boxes and brittle, yellowed documents found in the old Pawnee Rock city office yielded a unique treasure for the residents of this small western Barton County community.
The city recently built a new city hall. Among the many papers was the original signed charter for the formation of the City of Pawnee Rock, dated May 2, 1887.
“We realized it was 125 years,” said City Council President Linda McCowan. “We had to do something.”
So, the council announced last month that Saturday, May 5, would be a full day of events to commemorate the 125th anniversary of the City. “Pawnee Rock is a historical town on the Santa Fe Trail. We have a heritage to celebrate.”
The City of Pawnee Rock invites everyone to attend a picnic at noon that Saturday on the Pawnee Rock State Historical Park, the first state park in Kansas. “We are encouraging Kansans, and yes, the world, to participate,” McCowan said.
This is fitting, she said. The rock has historically been a place where families gathered for picnics and outings. There are photos of city-wide gatherings there dating back to the late 1800s.
But, other plans for the quasquicentenial are undeveloped.
Because many of the current city leaders have not lived in Pawnee Rock as long as many of its citizens, they invite interested parties to contact them with suggestions and ideas for this special day. “Of course, if you have an idea, be prepared to be involved with the planning and presentation,” McCowan said.
“We hope to get alumni involved,” she said. They also want to emphasize the town’s spiritual heritage by inviting current and past church congregation members.
The Barton County Historical Society has been contacted and may offer display and/or presentation. Local historians may offer their input as well.
However, “the city has no funds to put into this,” McCowan said, so they are seeking private donations. “We want make it special not only for the people who live there now but for those who used to live here.”
The new city hall project was a huge undertaking, McCowan said. It took about six months to build and personnel moved in last fall.
But, “it took longer to go through all the paperwork,” she said. They had to sort out what they needed to save and archive. They contacted the Kansas League of Municipalities for help.
Before the new hall, they city offices were housed in an old building was deemed unsafe, the Pawnee Rock School building until it sold and the former Methodist church, which was deeded to city but too expensive to maintain. “We ended up building a new building right in city park on Centre Street.”
Pawnee Rock was, at one time, a thriving city in Barton County, having its own bank, printing press, hardware, pharmacy, dress shop, lumber yard, car dealer ships, and of course, the railroad. Today, it serves as a bedroom community for many citizens of Barton County.
Even so, it is still home to several businesses. Among them are P. Lees Antiques, Great Bend Co-op, Santa Fe Mercantile Antiques, Rice Upholstery and Mull Farms.
For more information, contact McCowan at 620-617-7121 or Lindamc50@hotmail.com.