Overland Park and nearby Kansas City are full of fascinating history. The Overland Park Historical Society is an ideal starting point. Located inside the Strang Carriage House, the OPHS works tirelessly to identify and preserve Overland Park history. A new exhibit space opened in June in the Johnson County Arts and Heritage Center, located in the former King Louie building, an Overland Park architectural icon. Here, you can browse a sizable collection of historic photos, artifacts and documents that trace Overland Park history from the late 1800s on. The newly renovated space is also home to the Johnson County Museum, where you can explore the history and heritage of the larger Johnson County community.
The Rio Theatre is a beloved landmark in downtown Overland Park. The carefully restored theatre dates back to 1946 when the price of movie tickets was only 20 cents! Today, the theater shows foreign and independent films in a single-screen theater located inside the Art Deco building that retains several original features, including the peach tile and entry structure.
Make the short drive to Kansas City for more historical attractions. Liberty Memorial serves as a towering tribute to World War I, along with the National World War I Museum at Liberty Memorial, which opened in 2006. The internationally renowned museum gives visitors a comprehensive history of the First World War. The museum entrance is especially captivating: visitors cross the Paul Sunderland Glass Bridge, suspended over a symbolic poppy field that stands in memory of the 9 million people who died as a direct result of the war.
From there, take a short walk to Union Station, a beloved Kansas City landmark that opened in 1914 as a train station. The Grand Hall is an architectural marvel—a soaring 95-foot-high ceiling is accented by three 3,500-pound chandeliers and a six-foot-wide clock. Passenger trains continue to operate out of Union Station, so keep it in mind if you’d prefer to travel to Kansas City and Overland Park by rail. And if you need a bite to eat while you’re there, stop at Harvey’s at Union Station, an open-air restaurant located in the heart of Union Station’s Grand Hall.
In neighboring Kansas City, Kan., Huron Indian Cemetery winds through a small bluff in the heart of downtown. The cemetery is the resting place of nearly 100 members of the Wyandot Nation, who died while being moved from Ohio to Kansas. Huron Indian Cemetery also includes the burial ground of the Conley family, nicknamed Fort Conley. In 1909, Eliza (Lyda) Burton Conley became the first Native American woman to argue a case before the U.S. Supreme Court as she fought to prevent the sale of the cemetery.
Feeling thirsty? Reflect on your newfound knowledge at Tom’s Town Distilling Co., downtown Kansas City’s first legal distillery since Prohibition. Take a distillery tour and learn more about how Tom’s Town’s spirits are crafted, or simply kick back in the plush, Art Deco-inspired interior and raise a glass to the memory of one of Kansas City’s most infamous figures: Boss Tom Pendergast.
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