The best part about saying “yes!” to adventure is discovering a destination you didn’t know existed. That was my experience after visiting Ellinwood, Kansas to tour the town’s underground tunnels and The Historic Wolf Hotel.
Established by German immigrants in 1870 along the Santa Fe Trail, the town was designed to include two blocks of main street stores with stairs leading underground to additional retail spaces, saloons, brothels, a bathhouse, and an authentic barbershop.
Early residents of the town made their income from farming wheat and producing flour. References to wheat can be seen everywhere in the centrally located Kansas town that is located ten miles outside of Great Bend and less than a half-hour drive from Lyons.
Ellinwood’s Underground Tunnels allow visitors to walk some of the original passageways while tour guides share early prohibition and entrepreneurship stories in the area. I was enthralled by the antique relics of the past found deep within the tunnels. The town’s early residents used the tunnels for refuge during WWI, to possibly bootleg alcohol during Prohibition, and to support cowboys and families traveling through the area by providing services to them.
The best part of the tunnels? They have remained nearly untouched! During your tour, you will see items sitting exactly where they were left before the tunnels were abandoned in the 1940s. Much of what you see in these photos are authentic to the space.
Why build tunnels under the town? Imagine how hot the dry summers were in Kansas thanks to open plains and midwestern heat! The underground tunnels were much cooler in temperature and visitors could escape the blustery Kansas wind.
While walking the long, dusty hallways into rooms where the turn of the century shopkeepers ran their business, you begin to wonder if you’re being watched by the ghosts of Ellinwood’s past. According to our tour guide, the underground tunnels were active from 1887-1920.
If you want to tour the underground tunnels and The Historic Wolf Hotel, the admission is $12 per person. The first leg of our tour was led by Ellinwood Emporium owner, Richard Casagrande, and the final leg of the tour took us back to the hotel for a tour led by Chris McCord. Additionally, I highly recommend making a reservation at The Sunflower Room for a country-style lunch of fried chicken and homemade side dishes followed by a slice of pie.
Tourists who appreciate learning the rich history of the area will love the renovated The Historic Wolf Hotel, now listed on the National Register of Historic Places. It was built in 1894 by John Wolf at the corner of Sante Fe and Main Street to be a grand focal point of downtown Ellinwood. (The total cost of building it was $10,000.) Today, it serves as a bed and breakfast and event center. However, you don’t have to stay overnight to enjoy its restaurant, The Sunflower Dining Room, or “The Underground” restored saloon.
When not serving guests a meal on Sundays, the dining room doubles as a reservable event space for meetings, private parties, and weddings. The room is rich in architectural history and well restored from its original flooring and windows to the decorative columns.
During Sunday Bunch dining service, the place setting above is set for Bernard Millit. I don’t want to ruin the tour for you by telling you why, so be sure to as your tour guide the story behind it – and don’t forget to look up to the ceiling.
If you’re someone who appreciates learning the historic roots of a town and about the hardworking people who established it, many of which were immigrants to the area, then I recommend taking a step back in time and visiting Ellinwood, Kansas.
Want to discover more about the early construction of The Historic Wolf Hotel and the surrounding area? Read this document available from the National Register of Historic Places.
Keep the road trip going! Nearby Great Bend offers an abundance of places to explore, especially during the summertime. Love learning about Kansas history? Learn more about Abilene, Kansas, the boyhood home of U.S. President Dwight D. Eisenhower, or talk a virtual historical tour of Lawrence, Kansas.