Disclosure: Holton/Jackson County Chamber of Commerce sponsored this post. However, all opinions and photographs are my own.
Just when I think I’ve experienced the Sunflower State’s top towns, I discover Holton, Kansas. Located 30 minutes north of Topeka, Holton provides road trippers with a host of activities to enjoy from outdoor recreation and downtown shopping to casual dining and beer tasting.
The town was hosting the 15th Annual Fall Fest the day I arrived and the Kansas weather couldn’t have been more beautiful.
PENNY’S COFFEE SHOP
A latté from Penny’s Coffee Shop (409 New York Ave.) was what I needed to jumpstart my visit. The sign read “Nothing that a good cup of coffee and shopping can’t fix.” Perfection.
I waited in line to order a Chai Tea Latté and breakfast sausage sandwich. Although the coffee shop was unusually busy, the line moved swiftly. The short wait gave me time to review the full menu including coffee drinks, frappes, fruit smoothies, and a short list of breakfast bites.
A father and son shared a cinnamon roll at a nearby table while setting up a board game. The walls were adorned with paintings for sale by a local artist. Small floral arrangements by Triple B Hilltop Farm sat on each table.
Penny’s was a delightful place to sit back and relax while enjoying a latté and breakfast from a soft leather couch. I recommend starting your day there. They also serve soup and salad for lunch. View the cafés hours and daily specials here.
Holton’s Fall Fest celebration showcased shopping and food vendors, a scarecrow contest, a Shut The Back Door contest, and a chili cook-off. Residents gathered on sidewalks in front of tables tasting chili samples made by various businesses. Children stood in line to get their faces painted. Townies greeted one another in passing. The town was bustling with activity.
Shut the Door Contest
A handful of local businesses in town painted a backdoor to their business as an entry into the Shut the Door Contest. Each colorfully painted door draws foot traffic to a business while beautifying downtown’s back alleyways. An overall winner was selected during the festival.
During my self-guided tour, I came upon whimsical paintings depicting flowers and landscape scenes. One door showcased a Mexican restaurant’s theme. You don’t necessarily need a map to find the back door murals. Keep your eyes peeled as you walk down the alleyways in the downtown area.
They say “to quilt is to live.” The quilts displayed in the Fall Fest show displayed wow-worthy intricate patterns. People filed in and out of a courthouse room to get a glimpse of the handiwork of the town’s top quilters.
With names like “Giraffes on Parade,” “Random Scraps,” and “Flying Geese,” each quilt was an expression of the creator’s personality. Table toppers and queen-sized bedding creations drew attention.
Scarecrow Decorating Contest
Fun Fact: I won a costume contest dressed as a scarecrow. So, I’d like to think I’m a good judge of creativity when it comes to putting one together. The entries at Fall Fest were displayed on the Jackson County Courthouse lawn in all their splendor. The overstuffed scarecrows were dressed as recognizable animals, movie characters, and celebrities.
What’s a small-town festival without a Cruise Night? Locals lined up their vehicles one by one in the shadow of the courthouse on the evening of Fall Fest. Gearheads talked shop. The smell of exhaust hung in the air. Locals walked by each car checking under the hoods. And every so often, you’d hear the roar of an engine starting up as a driver left the lineup to take a cruise around town. Classic.
JACKSON COUNTY HISTORICAL MUSEUM
For me, the best way to get to know a town I’m visiting for the first time is to visit the county museum. Who are the town’s founders and why did they choose the area? What industries flourished in the area? Jackson County Historical Museum (327 New York Ave.) is a treasure box of valuable information and artifacts.
You can expect a free, self-guided tour to see exhibits featuring one-room schoolhouse items, Carrie Nation history, barbed wire history, World War I & II memorabilia, and the tools of 1900s trades. The building itself is historic because of its aging architecture and tin ceilings. View the museum’s hours here.
Several murals dotted the town’s urban landscape, including the newest one painted by Wichita artist Lindsey Kernodle on the outside of Jackson County Museum (327 New York Ave.). As you drive into town, its striking colors and storytelling images will beg you to pull over.
Kernodle’s two-frame mural showcases an early version of how the Tallgrass Prairie used to look when it flourished. The second painting on the right represents the current state of the prairie.
During my visit, I chatted with the artist and discovered how important it is to preserve the remaining native prairie. Comparing both images gave me pause and inspired me to revisit the area.
Other murals around town will grab your attention. Cruise just beyond the boundary of the downtown area to see murals like the one pictured below painted on the side of a building at Banner Creek Reservoir (10975 KS-16).
Since 2006, Jhett’s Pizza (401 New York) is the locals’ go-to place for a satisfying slice. The restaurant’s dining room was nearly full during the lunch hour. I heard from a local that if I ordered my pizza to-go, I could take it to Willcott Brewing Company & Taproom down the street and enjoy it with a craft beer.
I ordered an 8″ Meat Lovers Pizza at the counter and sat down and waited for it. Families continued to pour into the restaurant looking for open seating. Customers with call-in orders approached the counter. The phone never stopped ringing.
Take my advice. Beat the weekend lunch rush or call the restaurant for a to-go pizza, especially if you’re visiting Holton during Fall Fest. Bring cash for payment otherwise you are charged a fee for using a credit card. View the menu here.
WILLCOTT BREWING COMPANY & TAPROOM
I entered Willcott Brewing Company & Taproom (219 W. 4th St.) with my pizza box in hand. To quench my thirst, I ordered a $10 beer flight with four craft beer selections.
Like most home brewers, owner Sean Willcott’s passion for making craft beer grew over time. After three years working at Anheuser-Busch, his family renovated an aging building and opened the brewery and taproom. His beer and the taproom are stellar examples of his hard work.
Five TVs adorn brick-exposed walls providing patrons with a view of the game no matter where they sit. Tables are inlayed with nostalgic board games. The hallway leading to the bathrooms is illuminated with dangling light fixtures resembling hops.
So, how’s the beer? I’m happy to report that I loved them all. That’s rare. Willcott Brewing Company & Taproom’s brews are top-notch, and my favorite brew was 1874, a Red Turkey Whit. It was the perfect complement to my savory pizza, which I also wholeheartedly recommend. View the brewery’s hours and community-focused promotional events here.
A number of shops in the downtown area make spending your dollars to support local businesses a fun experience. I suggest parking near the courthouse and walking the four-block radius to discover each one.
Holton Mercantile (415 New York Ave.) is a general store that carries everything from cards and seasonal decorations to kitchen tools and puzzles. It’s the kind of store where you shop when you need essentials but you also walk away with something you didn’t know you wanted like a ball cap supporting your favorite college team or a gift for your pet.
But it’s more than a variety store. Everyone I talked to in town raved about its old-fashion soda fountain, so I had to order a classic chocolate ice cream cone. Kids in the store gleefully looked at shelves of candy asking their parents to buy Laffy Taffy or suckers. The store is a mainstay in Holton dating back decades. You’ll appreciate the building’s original floors and tin ceiling.
Beverly Brown Boutique
Offering a large selection of women’s and men’s apparel, Beverly Brown Boutique (124 W. 5th St.) resembles a big city clothing store. You’ll be hard-pressed not to find something that you’ll want to try on. Family-owned and operated, the boutique carries well-known brands and a deep inventory of denim jeans. I found the customer service to be helpful when inquiring about jeans in my size.
Shoppers earn discounts if they sign up for the “Text Club” and they are willing to ship items via USPS to you. If you join their rewards membership, you earn one point for every pre-tax dollar you spend on a purchase.
More Than Lemons
Have you shopped in a store featuring blown glass creations? More Than Lemons (424 Pennsylvania) houses one-of-a-kind gifts made of glass in the owner’s hot shop. Every glass item you see in the store is an original handcrafted creation.
Glass orbs hang from delicate strings on display. The sunlight through the store’s windows shines through pretty paperweights and beams through bowls and colorful vases.
Check the More Than Lemons Facebook page to plan a visit when the owner is giving a glass-blowing demonstration behind the building.
Heart To Home
Jewelry. Candle warmers. Bath and body products. Designer purses. Farmhouse decor. You’ll find it all and then some at Heart To Home (105 W. 4th St.). As soon as you walk inside, your eyes dart all over the store looking at items that you want to bring home.
Shoppers travel miles to shop at the store for Nora Fleming, Spartina purses, Vera Bradley bags, and Melissa & Doug toys. The front of the story features in-season displays.
Employees keep shoppers intrigued by offering specials from $5 Grab Bags to discounted merchandise specials. Stay up to date on the latest inventory and deals by checking their Facebook page.
Located at 409 New York, The Gossip was voted Favorite Vintage Shop in Kansas by Flea Market Style. The 8,000-square-foot shop is located in the rear of Penny’s café. A number of local artisans’ treasures and antiques are for sale. Displays of battery-operated candles flicker from store shelves nestled next to beautiful plates and framed art.
In addition, you’ll discover new items from home decor to packaged specialty foods. You’re bound to want a canister of hot chocolate mix, apple butter, or dipping mix.
Regretfully, I didn’t make it to Mad Eliza’s (126 W. 5th St) before they closed despite my best efforts. However, I wanted to feature the bakery shop since locals told me they love it for its baked goods and craft sodas.
You can expect the bakery case to be filled with a rotation of grab-and-go treats. Savory scones, jumbo cupcakes, napoleons, and pastries tempt the tastebuds. I’m told the Cheesecake Waffle Cone is to die for, so I’ll most definitely before they close at 1 pm on a Saturday to buy one.
Attention, book lovers! Novel Goods (413 New York Ave.) was made for you. The bookshop and gift store sells new and old books. Titles are displayed in a way that is accessible making it easy to find your book of choice.
As you peruse the store, keep your eyes peeled for items to add to your purchase ranging from necklaces to coffee mugs. Located close to Penny’s, I recommend stopping by to pick up a novel to enjoy over a cup of coffee. View the bookstore’s hours and see images of their newest book titles here.
LEMON LOFTS OF HOLTON
My lodging accommodations at Lemon Lofts of Holton (424 Pennsylvania Ave.) were delightful. I used a four-digit code for self-entry into the building that housed More Than Lemons and walked up a flight of stairs. The hallway was covered in unique artwork and glass sculptures hung overhead.
My Queen Suite’s tall windows provided a view of an expansive outdoor patio illuminated by blinking string lights. The room included a plush bed, kitchenette, spacious bathroom, and flat-screen TV. I had access to free Wi-Fi and a Google Mini.
The accommodations were comfortable and quiet. I didn’t hear noise from neighboring rooms, which surprised me given that the 130-year-old building had wood floors and tall ceilings. I slept like a baby. I’m confident you’ll love your stay. Check out the availability and pricing here.
HOLTON COMMUNITY THEATRE
My next stop? Holton Community Theatre (401 New Jersey Ave.) within a short walking distance of Lemon Lofts of Holton for a dinner theatre performance with local actors. “Now and Then,” a romantic comedy was the story of a young man and woman discovering their destiny by meeting their future selves.
Prior to the performance, attendees enjoyed a catered homestyle meal with dessert at community tables with other audience members. Affordable cocktails were available for purchase.
Later, the lights dimmed and the room was illuminated by stage lights and candles on each table. About 60 audience members watched the thought-provoking performance.
I’d highly recommend you try to plan your trip to Holton around the theater’s upcoming performance. The actors’ talent was impressive. To view the event schedule and reserve a ticket, visit the box office details here.
The next morning, I made my way to HotSpot Speciality Coffee Shop & More (316 Pennsylvania St.). The quaint café serves patrons gourmet coffee, pastries, and quick bites like breakfast burritos. I opted for two seasonal favorites: an Apple Crumb Macchiato and a warm cinnamon roll.
Seated indoors, I noticed that most of the morning café traffic came via the drive-thru. I found the interior of the café to be inviting. The employees were patient as I chose my menu items and were more than welcoming.
HISTORICAL HOMES & LANDMARKS TOUR
Historical homes make up a portion of Holton’s residential area. I decided to take a self-guided driving tour to see them and discover other landmarks.
All of the homes on the tour are private residences except one that is maintained by the Jackson County Historical & Genealogical Society. I was amazed by the Sears Roebuck and Co. (NW corner of 4th and Kansas Ave.) concrete block house, originally featured in the 1908 catalog, is a 2 1/2 story house with four bedrooms.
The nearby Beck Bookman Library (420 W. 4th St.) wows passersby with its bleached white exterior and awe-inspiring architecture. It was named in honor of Major and Mrs. Milton Moses Beck who were early residents of the town. The library has remained open to the public since 1952.
During my drive around town, I got out of the car to get a closer look at the statuary honoring Holton’s residents. Be sure to check out the war memorial honoring US Army Sergeant Bernard Lee Deghand in the town’s courthouse square. You’ll also be in walking distance of a cannon statue “Erected by Will Wendell in 1913.”
Linscott Park (4th and Iowa St.) is historic in many ways. It was named for Shephard Linscott, a banker and real estate investor who built a mansion on the property in the 1800s. Today, the stone pillars mark the property’s original entrance.
Military memorials at the park are impressive. Holton is a Purple Heart City, so the memorial on site honors every medal recipient. A World War II memorial pays tribute to Company “E” of the 137th Infantry who died at war.
The town’s swimming pool at Rafter’s Park (7th and Nebraska St.) was constructed as a Works Progress Administration federal project in 1938. It is considered one of the largest municipal pools in Kansas.
Take a moment to walk the grounds and look at its stone construction. A one-time kiddie pool is now a sunflower mural. The pool is open from Memorial Day weekend through the summer.
BANNER CREEK RESERVOIR & WATCH YOUR GLASS
I set out to discover Banner Creek Reservoir (10975 K-16 Hwy) a short drive outside of town. Not only did I set out to see views of the no-wake lake surrounded by native vegetation, but I was determined to find a glass orb. Jackson County’s Watch Your Glass initiative encourages tourists to find one of 100 glass orbs hidden in the county. The hunt was on.
As I looked for a clear or colored orb, I appreciated the picturesque views that included fishing piers, a 9-hole disc golf course, and campsites. Walking trails weaved around the lake.
Unfortunately, I didn’t find an orb but I enjoyed the search. If you find one, you can keep it. But should you locate a second orb, you are encouraged to leave it where it is or re-hide it. Maybe I’ll have better luck next time! View a map of the area here.
It was lunchtime and I was famished. My friends joined me for lunch at Trails Cafe (601 Arizona Ave.) on the edge of town. The popular eatery is well-documented in regional travel magazines and food review websites for its irresistible pressure-cooked fried chicken.
As we made our way to a table, I stopped to peer inside double-door refrigerator housing plates of sliced pie. I knew I wasn’t leaving the restaurant without devouring a slice.
For lunch, I dined on a garden salad followed by a two-piece chicken entree with my choice of potato and vegetable side dish. Although I was stuffed, I stuck to the plan and ordered a hefty slice of a lemon meringue pie. The meal lived up to the hype and the cafe is worthy of a repeat visit.
LANE FREEDOM TRAIL
My visit to Holton was nearly complete but not without a driving tour to the Lane Freedom Trail. The site of “Battle of the Spurs,” is where John Brown led 12 slaves to freedom. You will be in awe of the shady spot surrounded by a canopy of trees for its historical significance. Click here to learn more about John Brown’s exit from Kansas.
I loved my visit to Holton. As they say, you can have it all in Jackson County. Holton embraces visitors and you’ll feel just as welcome as I did.I encourage you to travel to Holton for an overnight stay to explore a small-town setting with some of the state’s top attractions. You’ll never lack for something to discover in this charming town north of Topeka.
If you have questions about visiting the area or suggestions for nearby destinations, leave them in the comment below.