(Population: 950) Chase County's imposing French Renaissance-style courthouse-still used today-stands at the center of this prim little town. The Roniger Memorial Museum just be-hind the county courthouse is devoted to Indian artifacts and hunting trophies. The Chase County Historical Museum and Library chronicles the area's past.
But the best way to experience the history and lore of this region is on a self-guided driving tour. It takes you through Cottonwood Falls' sister community, Strong City, immediately to the north, and along scenic backroads. Get free maps at the chamber of commerce office in downtown Cottonwood Falls.
Drive 7 miles west of Strong City on US-50 to State-150 (which merges with US-56) and continue 31 miles west.
(Population: 2,700) With its busy downtown, Hillsboro resembles many other small Midwest communities. But it's in the heart of Mennonite country. The Adobe House Museum in City Park typifies the building style these immigrants of German descent adapted when they arrived via southern Russia about 120 years ago. You also can view an enormous replica of a windmill.
The farming town is home to Tabor College, a Mennonite school and site of a historic Mennonite church. At the Olde Towne Restaurant, owner Dorie Thiessen serves zwiebach (double rolls), made from her Russian grandmother's recipe, plus other Mennonite fare.
Drive another 6 miles west on US-56 to State-15, then 8 miles south.
(Population: 500) A large, white wood frame church marks the outskirts of Goessel, another mostly Mennonite farming community. For generations, Mennonites have contributed to the Flint Hills. Their strong work ethic helped tame the frontier. When they brought Turkey Red wheat to the plains from Russia, they turned Kansas into America's breadbasket. The Men-nonite Heritage Museum in town tells their story.
Drive 13 miles south on State-15.
(Population: 16,700) Newton has long served as a hub for the Santa Fe Railroad. But away from the tracks, the town holds still more Mennonite his-tory. One town founder, Bernhard Warkentin, influenced thousands of his fellow Mennonites to emigrate here. Tour the Warkentin family's 16-room Victorian mansion and the Old Mill Plaza that the patriarch owned. It's now the home of the Old Mill Restaurant.
The Newton Station, designed to resemble William Shakespeare's home, once was an important stop along the Santa Fe Railroad. Waitresses at the restaurant inside the station inspired the film The Harvey Girls, starring Judy Garland. View wildflowers and native grasses at Bethel College's living prairie.
Drive 33 miles west on US-50.
(Population: 39,310) Some of the na-tion's largest grain elevators stand at the edge of this important central Kansas commercial center. Hutchinson, location of the Kansas State Fair, also is known for aircraft manufacturing.
This bustling, small city boasts a unique attraction: the Kansas Cosmosphere and Space Center (pictured), which re-cently has been expanded. Among its highlights, the center features original NASA capsules marking every phase of America's space effort, the world's larg-est collection of spacesuits, along with a planetarium and Omnimax theater.
Drive 28 miles northeast on State-61 and 13 miles north on I-135. Take exit 72 and follow Business-81 west for 4 miles.