Tiny Town Humboldt Gets Big Revival
In eastern Kansas, a dedicated family has launched an effort to update a tiny town in big-thinking ways.
Scandinavian-inspired cabins perch around a large fishing pond at Base Camp in Humboldt, Kansas. Though it sits an easy driving distance from the Kansas City metro (as well as Wichita; Topeka; and Tulsa, Oklahoma), this town hasn't been a tourist draw historically. But Base Camp's amenities suggest otherwise. Midcentury furniture. Pendleton blankets. High-end finishes. Stocked firewood for custom-forged firepits. Someone around here is clearly making a play for your vacation attention.
Meet Joe Works. He owns B&W Trailer Hitches, a local manufacturer, and is part of a group called A Bolder Humboldt that has made significant investments in reviving the town. Their guiding principle: "People in small towns deserve nice things, too." The small but devoted team of entrepreneurs (including Joe's daughter, Beth Works) has spent the last decade renovating the majority of the historic buildings on Humboldt's town square. Grants and a determined DIY mentality have supplemented individuals' contributions. So far, they've built Base Camp, a coffee shop, a restaurant, a confectionery and two clothing shops. A five-room boutique hotel, two bars and a concert venue are slated to open by the end of 2021.
While many other small towns have struggled to survive, Humboldt has paved a path to thrive. Humble about his involvement, Joe says simply, "I want Humboldt to be a nice place to live, for my children and my employees." If the rest of us get to reap the benefits, all the better.
Itinerary: Day Planner
Bike, learn and camp on an overnight trip.
9 a.m BUZZ & BROWSE Order a flat white or chai latte at Humboldt Mercantile and browse a curated selection of Kansas-made goods while the barista fixes your drink.
10 a.m. HIT THE TRAIL Bike the Southwind Trail, a 6.5-mile Rails-to-Trails Conservancy project that connects Humboldt to the 51-mile Prairie Spirit Trail. The path begins at Base Camp, where bikes are available for guests.
1 p.m. FUEL UP Noon owner Kate Frick uses regional-grown produce in dishes like Buddha bowls with ponzu-sesame purple potatoes and veggie-topped focaccia flatbreads.
2 p.m. INTO THE WOOD(SHOP) Book a tour or demo at Neosho Valley Woodworks, a functioning 19th-century woodshop with an elaborate system of belts, cranks and pulleys. It's both a museum and showroom for master carpenter Pat Haire's artwork and furniture.
3:30 p.m. WALK IT OFF Humboldt was sacked twice by Confederates in 1861, and a 12-site guided walking tour with etched stone markers tells the story. Find a full map at the northwest corner of City Square Park.
6 p.m. IN THE 'CUE You'll know you're at TJ's BBQ when you see the pig: a giant pink propane tank, complete with a curly tail. Locally sourced pork, beef and chicken, cooked low and slow, rival Kansas City's.
Overnight CAMP OUT In addition to three sleek cabins, Base Camp is debuting a campground this summer, with glamping as well as primitive campsites tucked into the property's forested acres.