Olathe, Overland Park, and Shawnee Kansas Driving Tour
This short drive from Olathe to Shawnee includes some of the leading landmarks and museums of Johnson County.
Lone Elm Campground was used as a resting point by early travelers on the Santa Fe, California, and Oregon Trails. The site was conveniently located near Cedar Creek and provided water, firewood, and a grassy camping spot. The single elm tree from which the site got its name was noted as a landmark by many travelers in their diaries and memoirs. A historical marker, erected in 1906, marks the location of the campground, and the wagon swale can still be seen today. The site has been preserved as Lone Elm Park, managed by the City of Olathe, which provides recreational facilities and educational panels for visitors to learn more about the history of the area.
This bronze sculpture is dedicated to all of the children whose lives were lost due to the harsh conditions on the overland journeys westward. A pioneer boy, a girl and their dog run through an arch. It was sculpted by Kansas City artist Kwan Wu. Rocks in the fountain beneath them represent the streams that children crossed on the overland trail. Sculptor Kwan Wu was born and trained in China, but since immigrating to the United States and settling in the Kansas City area he has sculpted two major works depicting the western trails for Olathe, Kansas.
The Museum of Deaf History, Arts, and Culture is the only public museum in the US dedicated to the experience of being Deaf and telling the story of Deaf history. It began as a small collection of William J. Marra, a teacher at the Kansas School for the Deaf. The collection was first housed in the basement of a hall at the school, and eventually grew large enough to move into its own facility across the street. The William J. Marra Museum was located inside the Deaf Culture Center, which opened in 2005. The building has since been renamed the Museum of Deaf History, Arts, and Culture.
The Mahaffie Stagecoach Stop and Farm tells the story of an early pioneering family and stagecoach transportation in 1860s Kansas. The historic site is significant as the only remaining stagecoach stop along the old Santa Fe Trail. Today it acts as a living history museum, complete with stagecoach rides. Various exhibits and activities showcase frontier life and the Civil War era.
This stagecoach sculpture designed by local Chinese-born artist Kwan Wu, reflects the ethnic diversity of the 19th-century American West. The sculpture was funded by private donations to mark Olathe’s 150th anniversary.
Statue of pioneer family marks the junction of the Santa Fe and Oregon Trails. It depicts a man in frontier clothing kneeling in prayer. He holds a Bible in one hand, and his other hand rests on a walking plow. His wife stands beside him with her head bowed in prayer. She cradles their young son in one arm and rests the other hand on her husband's shoulder. This statue became a centerpoint of MidAmerica Nazarene University when erected in the campus Prayer Circle in 1994.
This family-centered farmstead and rural heritage park opened in 1978, offering a way to explore the historical and traditional single-family rural farms that previously dominated the landscape as it gave way to suburban sprawl. The farmstead was renamed in 1985 after Deanna Rose, the first Overland Park police officer was killed in the line of duty.
The Museum at Prairiefire offers a variety of unique interactive displays that bring natural history alive. In fact, the museum begins with an exhibit that makes it appear as if dinosaurs were still alive. The museum has partnered with the American Museum of Natural History to offer exhibitions and educational programing for adults and children alike.
The Johnson County Arts & Heritage Center (AHC) was formerly known as the Johnson County Museum of History. The museum first opened in 1967 in the old Greenwood School in Shawnee. In 2017, the museum was moved to a new location in Overland Park, in an award-winning renovated building. The large galleries tell the story of Johnson County’s history through interactive exhibits.
The Rio Theatre opened as Overland Theatre in 1946, one of many Dickinson Theatres around the Midwest. Robert Boller, of the well-known Boller Brothers firm, designed the theatre. The Moderne-style building is striking for its retro neon lighting, glass blocks, and pastel-colored tiles. In 2000, the theatre reopened as the Rio Theatre, an independent movie house. The building was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 2005.
“The Bear Pit” is a bronze sculpture located outside of the Merriam Visitors Bureau in Kansas. The sculpture, which is part of a larger system of fountains, was designed and installed in 2006 by Kansas City sculptor Kwan Wu. It was inspired by Merriam Park, an amusement park designed by George Kessler that was located where the Visitors Bureau is today. The sculpture commemorates the park’s legend of three bears that would escape their dens each night and wander the park.
Park created the town of Shawnee's 150th anniversary in 2006. It commemorates Shawnee’s place on the mid-19th-century Santa Fe, Oregon, and California wagon trails and Fort Leavenworth Military Road. It features two sculptures by local artist Charles Goslin depicting that history.
Most people in Kansas know of William Quantrill’s raid and burning of Lawrence as his most famous and only attempt to burn and raid a town, but there is actually another town where he started. In Shawnee Kansas Quantrill seized an opportunity to practice raiding and burning a town. This historical marker in Shawnee Kansas commemorates the second raid and burning of the town by William Quantrill in preparation for his similar act on the town of Lawrence. That’s correct, Quantrill burned and raided the little town of Shawnee twice. The fist burning occurred on October 17, 1862, and the second burning occurred in the summer of 1863. Shawnee is located just 35 miles away from Lawrence and this marker sits in front of the Shawnee Town Hall.
Shawnee Town 1929 is an outdoor living history museum devoted to portraying life in a small Midwestern farming community in the 1920s. The family-friendly museum has a working truck farm as well as a recreated small-town center with historic Shawnee businesses. Interpreters guide visitors on tours and through interactive demonstrations. The mission of the museum is to allow visitors to experience what a typical day was like in the 1920s in the farming community of Shawnee.
The Lenexa Historical Society Complex is made up of the Lenexa Museum and Archives inside Legler Barn, the Frisco Train Depot and Museum, and the Wiedenmann Strang Line Wait Station. The historic buildings were all dismantled from other locations nearby and moved to the complex in Sar-Ko-Par Trails Park. The complex also has a replica sod home, a train caboose, a prairie schooner wagon, and an herb garden. The complex is run jointly between the City of Lenexa and Lenexa Historical Society volunteers, who give guided tours to visitors.
The Kansas City Automotive Museum opened in 2014. The mission of the museum is to showcase the automotive significance of the Kansas City region. From early car manufacturers and dealerships to the hometown of “The Kansas City Flash”, Kansas City has a long history related to the automotive world. The museum has a rotating collection of about 30-40 cars on loan for display in 12,000 square feet of gallery space. It aims to create a family-friendly experience with simulators, a kids’ design space, and interactive displays.