Water sports on the county's two federal and one state lakes - spiced with side trips to the county's many historic sites, following the Santa Fe Trail, browsing in the many quaint shops and modern stores or dining on fine food in rustic country settings - make Osage County a perfect family weekend outing or vacation.
After spending time at Osage County's twin lakes, take a tour of the county and a leap back in time to the turn of the last century. Pack a picnic lunch and go where the pioneers once experienced "fun in the sun" on a daily basis at the many Santa Fe Trail sites more or less along Highways 56 and 31 through Overbrook, Scranton, and Burlingame, where the wagon ruts left by the covered wagons going west over the Santa Fe Trail are still inscribed into the landscape, and nearby are the stone ruins of the Trail's Havanna State Station. To the northwest across Highway 31 is an 1835 Dragoon soldier's grave. Cruise Burlingame's main street, "wide enough for ox wagons traveling the Santa Fe Trail to make U-turns," and know that you are on the Trail in the oldest town in the county, established in 1854.
Visit the county's National Historic Sites, sites of the deep shaft coal mines that brought the railroads and immigrants to the county, or the site of Mineral Springs 1.5 miles north of Carbondale where a large hotel once was a favorite dining and health resort for Topekans.
Walk though the cemeteries of the county where the stones tell the names of the early settlers, including immigrants from Germany, Sweden, Italy, Poland, Holland and many others. Also note the early stones which express the talents and uniqueness of the stonecutter.
Osage County history ...
The Kansas Territory remained relatively unknown to the advancing white civilization until 1827 when the Santa Fe Trail was opened. The Trail, which ran from Independence, Missouri to Santa Fe, Mexico, was opened in 1827 and passed through the County and what is now the city of Burlingame. Millions of dollars of freight were transported annually over this route and contributed greatly to the commerce of that time and to the history of Osage County.
Originally, the northern section of the County was a part of the Shawnee Indian Reservation and was first opened to settlement on May 30, 1854. The southern section of the County comprised the greater part of the Sac and Fox Indian Reservation which was opened to settlement by the legislature of 1855.
Osage County was first named Weller County in 1855 for a United States Senator from California who was a very popular proslavery leader during those troubled times. In 1859, it was renamed "Osage" in honor of the great Indian tribe whose name means "strong" and the Osage River (known locally as the Marias des Cygnes).
In the early days the County depended on farming and coal mining as its chief means of employment with 118 coal mines which employed 2,271 men and ranked number one in Kansas' coal mining counties. Coal commodities dwindled, but agriculture remained a primary source of economy, and recently Osage County appears to be taking on a new characteristic in the form of a major recreational center with the development of Pomona and Melvern Reservoirs.
Arvonia - The 1872 Arvonia School on a hilltop at the southwest edge of Melvern Lake near Sun
Dance Park offers a scenic view of the lake as well as a reminder of the Welsh immigrants who settled Arvonia in 1869 and much of Osage and Lyon counties. The Welsh came to the area because of the rich farmlands for their vineyards and the coal mines. A few of the town's buildings still stand to the north and the cemetery is 1 mile west and 1/2 mile north. It features 8 rows of catalpa trees whose blossoms about Memorial Day each spring fill the cemetery with their floral bouquet.
Burlingame - The oldest city in Osage County was founded on the Trail in 1854 ( the year Kansas territory was opened to settlement). One of the most important stops on the Santa Fe Trail, Burlingame offers some of the best places to see remains of this historic trail today. The main downtown street although covered over with red brick in 1922, was the original trail trod by the thousands of oxen, horses,
soldiers and teamsters, who plied the trail with freight, immigrants heading
west, miners headed for the gold strikes near Pikes Peak or military units
headed for the Mexican War. Four miles west of Burlingame on the south side of Highway 31, if you look toward the southwest, you will see ruts of the Santa Fe Trail. When you reach the east side of town, you have reached the first point where the Santa Fe Trail became the main street of Burlingame. The wide expanse between the store buildings on each side of the street is a reminder of the days of the trail when the street (trail) was wide enough for the ox-drawn freight wagons to circle as the wagon trains camped to restock supplies and make repairs before heading on west. A D.A.R. marker marks the trail 11/2 miles west of where Highway 31 crosses Dragoon Creek three miles west of town.
Carbondale- Carbondale got its name and early prominence from the deep-shaft coal mines that not only brought economic prosperity to early day Osage County but also provided additional incentive for building railroads to the county. Today slag piles dot the countryside marking the location of these early mines. The first commercial coal mining in the county began in 1869 by the Kansas Carbon Company on Carbon Hill. The early 1900s city hall is still in use today as the public library. The Mineral Springs were used by the Indians.
Melvern - Melvern started as a Scotch settlement and a restored bank building is of mhistoric interest. Melvern Lake is located four miles west of town.
Olivet - Olivet provides an impressive lake view west of Arrow Rock overlook, up Marais des Cygnes Valley. It was explored in the early 1820s by Isaac McCoy as a possibe
home for eastern Indian tribes. See the old frame M.E. Church with Gothic-style windows in town.
Osage City - The Santa Fe Depot Railroad-Mining Museum listed on the National Register of Historic Places and the caboose are stops to be visited. This is the largest city in the county, with an architecturally varied mixture of modern and historic frame/brick buildings, including old street lights on South 6th, and churches (Evangelical Covenant, 224 N. Topeka listed on the State Historic Register). Two Soda Fountains are still part of downtown.
Overbrook - "Don't Overlook Overbrook!" Overbrook was founded when the railroad came through in 1886 and is located on the Santa Fe Trail. Drive by Rock Creek
Springs east of town which was a campground and watering stop on the trail. See the trail ruts at Overbrook Cemetery on the southeast edge of town. Journey west of Overbrook to see the location of Flag Spring, another popular stop on the Santa Fe Trail. A DAR marker can be seen in front of the Post Office downtown. Stop by City Hall, the former Kansas State Bank building, which was built in 1897, which is now a country and Victorian gift shoppe quaintly named, "From the Heart" for the home's distinctive tin roof and tin heart ridgerow. Located directly across the street is the former United Methodist Church built in 1888 and now the Osage County Design Center. Drive by other historic homes including the Heberling House.
Quenemo - Quenemo is an Indian name. An 1800s Sac-Fox Agency building stands 1 mile southwest of town. See the Methodist Church with pointed arch Gothic windows and visit the log cabin with antiques in town.
Scranton - Santa Fe Trail marker on US 56 shows the long ago traveled path. Area mines are some of the last ones worked (early 1960s). You can still see the early 1900s
style churches, two hotels (now residences), and the small bank building with Romanesque arches.
Vassar - Stopping by Vassar you will see a small, early 1890s stone (bank) post office. Also, see the historic old town well in the center of the street.