Disclosure: Visit Greesnburg sponsored this post. However, all opinions and photographs are my own.
Greensburg isn’t just another small Kansas town on the map. Far from it. It’s a community made up of residents who care for one another. It was their resilience that rebuilt the town after an EF-5 tornado demolished 95% of Greensburg on May 4, 2007.
Today, the town is a flourishing community consisting of tourism-worthy attractions, shopping, and dining. It’s time you visit Greensburg.
Located in Kiowa County, less than a two hours drive from Wichita, Greensburg is a small town reimagined. Rebuilt with sustainability in mind, many of its homes and buildings put the “green” in Greensburg thanks to water-saving features, alternative energy, and earth-friendly design.
I found the town a charming place to spend an overnight trip. My first stop? One of 8 Wonders of Kansas!
THE BIG WELL MUSEUM & VISITORS CENTER
The Big Well Museum & Visitors Center (315 S. Sycamore St.) World’s Largest Hand-Dug Well is a must-see attraction to add to your travel bucket list. I was amazed by its impressive size. Down, down, down…109 feet! Visitors can walk down into the well via a sturdy staircase to get a closer look. Three million visitors visit one of the 8 Wonders of Kansas to descend into its depths and/or toss a penny to the bottom.
Just as I contemplated if I wanted to venture into the well, a busload of gleeful schoolchildren arrived and eagerly walked to the bottom. I’m scared of enclosed spaces and heights, so I chose to stay on the ground floor. The American Water Landmark is truly a sight, and even if you don’t want to walk down into it, seeing it first-hand is worthwhile.
If you visit The Big Well Museum, you can also learn more about the town’s history pre and post-EF5 tornado that changed the lives of residents. A historical timeline telling the story of the night the tornado struck and the events afterward surrounds the space. Visual displays, artifacts, and video testimonials give context. I met residents who spoke of “before and after the tornado.” Want to learn more about the fateful day? The visitor’s center is the best place to start your exploration of Greensburg to truly understand the gravity of that night in 2007.
Another fact worth noting about the museum is that it is the home of the largest pallasite on display, the Space Wanderer, weighing 100o pounds. The meteorite is from the same shower as another meteorite found in the same area in 2005.
The grounds of the museum include a playground area for kids and free bikes you can borrow to tour the town. The Fleener Family Memorial on display outdoors honors those who perished in the tornado.
PRO TIP: Before visiting the museum, view its hours and admission rates here. If you’re driving an electric vehicle, you can recharge its battery at one of several charging stations in the parking lot.
EXPLORING GREENSBURG BY BIKE
Stop 4 on the tour gave me pause. All that remains of a church that once stood there and later housed Fran’s Antiques Shops is a set of stairs. Red bricks, stairs, and a small pile of rubble.
At this moment, I realized the enormity of the tornado’s devastation. Most of the town consists of new homes and buildings, but during the self-guided tour, you will notice a few old homes remain.
Other stops worth noting on the bike tour included Starlight Public Art Park and Main Street in the downtown corridor. The park is home to one-of-a-kind sculptures. Nearby native plants and Russian Sage decorate Main Street in concrete planters watered by rainwater captured in underground cisterns.
TWILIGHT THEATRE & COMMUNITY AUDITORIUM
You’ve never seen a theatre like the Twilight Theatre & Community Auditorium (200 S. Main St.). It is the largest one-screen movie theatre with Dolby 7 sound between Wichita and Denver.
George, the theatre’s super friendly manager, welcomed me just as he does all theatre guests with a “Hello! How are you today?” As we chatted about the theatre’s features (400 seats!), the sound of popcorn popping and kids begging for candy could be heard.
Locals told me that the theatre’s Monster Mushroom Popcorn was delicious. George graciously gave me a bag of popcorn to try. No words can describe how scrumptious and dangerously addictive it tastes.
As I sat enjoying my popcorn in the lobby on a couch flanked by framed movie posters, I watched as residents greeted one another in the lobby. From the refreshment counter, they shuttled kids into the theater for a showing of Jurassic World Domination.
The summer matinee was a popular choice. When not screening films. the theatre is used by the high school and area groups as a performing arts space.
PRO TIP: View the theatre’s hours and event schedule before visiting.
LUNCH AT KOOK’S MEAT & DELI
Kook’s Meat (115 W. Kansas Ave.) is where the locals go once, sometimes twice a day, to drink coffee and enjoy a delicious meal with friends. Part butcher shop, part deli, Kook’s serves heaping plates of meaty sandwiches and burgers. I ordered the Patty Melt with a trip to the salad bar for lunch.
Open six days a week for dine-in or drive-up orders, the restaurant is a local favorite. They show up for a hearty meal or select steaks or sausage from the refrigerated case to grill at home.
The conversation is free. But if you drop a swear word, expect to deposit money into the Swear Jar. Oh, and be mindful of where you sit. Some seating is reserved for first-responders and diehard diners. Expect the second wave of locals to arrive for a fresh pot of coffee at 2 pm.
PRO TIP: You need to leave room for dessert. Kook’s is where I rediscovered my love of pie. Regina knows how to make them better than anyone. She had me taste every pie and cake in the refrigerated case! They tasted divine.
Starla’s Stitch & Frame (122 S. Main Street) offers shoppers custom-made framing to beautify their photos and artwork. The opposite side of the retail shop caters to stitchers searching for embroidery supplies and finished pieces to use as wall art. People drive from miles around to stock up on supplies or get artwork framed.
Where’d Find That Antiques (148 S. Main) isn’t your typical antique shop. It’s organized by theme, clean, and the inventory includes treasures you won’t find elsewhere. Voted by Best Things Kansas as one of the top six antique stores in the Sunflower State, it’s worth a visit when shopping for collectibles. The owners are delightful and eager to help you find what you’re looking for.
Catherine’s Massage & Bodywork (101 S. Main, Suite 206) instantly transports you to a place of zen. The owner, a certified kinesiologist and massage therapist welcomes customers needing to improve their health. The retail space carries an abundance of personal care products, jewelry, and gift items. Don’t forget to check out the clearance shelf for marked-down deals.
Turquoise Ranch Boutique (300 W. Kansas) is one-stop shopping for “clothing and more in a western decor.” The latest in apparel with vintage, Texas-inspired style. Dresses, boots, jewelry, animal print shoes, you name it, you’ll find it. Aside from women’s clothing, the store carries a selection of menswear and kids’ clothing. Cowboy up!
PRO TIP: Plan your visit when the majority of downtown shops are open Thursday-Saturday. Check each of the links above. I can’t wait to return to visit a few stores that were closed, including The Class Room.
5.4.7 ARTS CENTER
The building’s exterior caught my eye when I drove into town. 5.4.7. Arts Center (204 W. Wisconsin Ave.), a gallery and fine arts center, is a work of art itself. It was designed by University of Kansas architecture students using sustainable materials giving it LEED platinum status.
Inside, visitors can peruse the gallery’s artwork at no charge; however, donations are gladly accepted. During my visit, I fell in love with the work of Kansas artist/farmer Andi Burnum. Her collage art, made of tiny strips of magazine pages, spoke to my love of both mediums. Her illustrations of cows and dogs living their best life made me chuckle.
PRO TIP: Inquire about art classes and workshops designed for all ages.
My trip host drove me to Mullinville, Kansas (10 miles west of Greensburg) on a mission to show off two roadside attractions that more visitors need to see. As the car approached the last corner of town off Highway 400, I saw it, or should I say, all of it.
MT Liggett Art Environment (119 N. Elm) preserves the work of the Kansas folk artist, MT Liggett, who worked with metal to craft sculptures on his 70 acres of farm property.
After my indoor gallery tour, I walked the property and back buildings outside. The contents were left untouched since his death in 2017.
The man collected 6,000+ coffee cups. Why? No reason. His work glove still sits on the ground near the building’s entrance. Welding tools, an old fan, and racks with splattered paint block the entrance. You simply have to walk the property, see his artwork, and imagine the artist welding metal together.
Liggett’s artwork has to be seen in person to appreciate it. Like the artist, it is unique, bold, and strikingly curious.
PRO TIP: Create your version of eccentric artwork using the supplies from the Make Your Own Sculpture box in the gallery. Perhaps a heart-themed piece?
FROMME-BIRNEY BARN (3.5 miles South, 1 3/4 miles west of Mullinville) is a roadside gem. People seem to have an affinity for historic round barns, so they travel from miles around to see this one and sign the guestbook. It’s an 8 Wonder of Kansas Architecture for a good reason.
Listed on the National Register of Historic Places, the barn was built in 1912. It stands 50’ tall and 70’ in diameter. The structure has fourteen hours stalls on a perimeter. The Fromme family were homesteaders who farmed the land and owned prize-winning horses.
Restored in 1995, people often reserve it for weddings and gatherings. I recommend walking upstairs for an awe-inspiring look at the incredible craftsmanship of the barn’s rooftop.
PRO TIP: Visitors can tour the barn for free. Go during the day, as outdoor lighting is limited.
I was ready to check into my hotel and take a short break before enjoying evening activities in town. The Best Western Plus Night Watchman Inn & Suites (515 W. Kansas Ave.) is a highly-rated hotel with the relaxing amenities travelers need.
You can expect comfortable beds, an indoor pool and hot tub, a fitness center, a complimentary hot breakfast, and free Wi-Fi with access to a business workspace. The price per night seems reasonable given the amenities.
PRO TIP: Check-in is 3:00 pm, check-out is 11:00 am.
KIOWA COUNTY HISTORICAL MUSEUM & SODA FOUNTAIN
For me, the best way to truly understand a town and the people who founded it is to visit a historical museum. The Kiowa Historical Museum houses local artifacts, timelines, and video displays. Carve out at least 30 minutes or more to experience it.
A small town’s pride is undeniable. You rarely get to see it on permanent display, so I appreciate museums that include relics from the past that pay homage to school spirit. I imagine it wasn’t easy to curate items for the display after the tornado destroyed the town, but they managed to assemble a respectable collection.
Be sure to visit the restored Hunter Drug soda fountain near the museum’s entrance. It’s a great place to order a tasty Vanilla Coke or banana split. I nestled into a sunlit booth and enjoyed the view of the outdoor pond and landscaping. If traveling with kids, the outdoor area is a nice tucked-away spot to watch koi fish swimming in the pond.
PRO TIP: Feeling super hungry and perhaps a little adventurous? Tell them you want to try the EF5 Challenge ($40). If you can eat 15 scoops of ice cream and 10 toppings in 30 minutes, you get your photo on the Wall of Fame.
KIOWA COUNTY LIBRARY
The Kiowa County Library (320 S. Main) is only a few steps from the soda fountain. I found it a delightful place to relax and stay cool from the summer heat while perusing books and magazines. I appreciated the handcrafted diorama of Fromme-Birney Round Barn and the historical photographs on display at the library’s entrance.
PRO TIP: A table near the entrance houses new non-fiction books, and a good-sized library area is devoted to children’s books. Ask about upcoming events designed for kids, like the weekly craft session and reading programs.
CRAZY MULE RESTAURANT
Where do you go when you want a hearty, home-cooked meal? Crazy Mule Restaurant (106 Kansas Ave.) serves Kansas classics like beef noodles over potatoes and steak dinners. I chose the Country Fried Steak with a trip to the salad bar for my dinner meal with a towering glass of iced tea. Other options on the menu range from burgers and sandwiches to pork chops and brisket. Dining for breakfast? They serve it all day.
The restaurant is furnished with farm-themed decor. Guests enter under a massive metal windmill covered in lights, and framed prints of horses cover the walls. Country music plays in the background. Light fixtures made of minnow buckets and tractor sets hang overhead.
PRO TIP: Check the restaurant’s Facebook page for the daily buffet special.
After a grab-and-go breakfast at the hotel, I checked out of the hotel, ready for more adventures. My travel host arranged for us to have a personalized tour of USD 422’s school building. Why? It isn’t your typical school building.
KIOWA COUNTY HIGH SCHOOL
The residents of Greenwich had to build a new school after the tornado destroyed most of the town. USD 422 is the first LEED Platinum K-12 school facility in the United States, a recognition that is well-deserved because of thoughtful planning and design by Kansas City-based architects.
One step inside the building, and you immediately realize its design is unlike any school building you’ve seen before. The ceiling and walls are made from reclaimed wood from Southeast Kansas barns, which absorb sound. Natural light floods into every hallway, gymnasium, and classroom. In 2013, they added a new addition to the school outfitted with a limestone exterior and cypress wood salvaged from the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.
Designed to be a Smart building, the HVAC system is state-of-the-art. Each classroom draws fresh air, which is recirculated outside. Underground geothermal wells maximize energy consumption. The same wells provide renewable energy to many of the town’s community buildings.
Lockers made from recycled plastic line the hallways for the students in the upper grades. School children sit in classrooms outfitted with top-notch technology, looking out of windows to landscape spaces. Outdoors, rainwater is collected on the rooftop and stored in four cisterns. Drought-resistant native grasses dot the open spaces.
If you get the opportunity to tour the home of the Mavericks, I recommend you do so. It’s an interesting tour showcasing how designing for sustainability and longevity is possible.
PRO TIP: Take a few minutes to stand in front of the framed panoramic photograph adjacent to the school’s common area. It shows the town’s devastation and serves as a reminder of the community’s resilience.
City parks beautify the town in several locations. In town, families use modern playground equipment and picnic tables when spending a day outdoors. If you like disc golf, Davis Park (600 E. Kansas) is the place to ring chains. The park has two picnic shelters, plenty of shade, playground equipment, and RV electric hookups.
Greensburg’s city pool lets locals and visitors cool off from the sun’s rays. Admission is $2 per person per day. For its size, the pool impresses with slides for big kids and water features young kids will appreciate.
PRO TIP: Check the pool’s Facebook page for upcoming events like Night Swim or Pooch Plunge.
CANNONBALL BAR & GRILL
My tour of Greensburg was ending, but not before I dined at Cannonball Bar & Grill (801 E. Kansas Ave.). The parking lot was active, and locals walked in the door when I arrived for lunch. People waited for to-go orders.
Seated at a booth with a window view, the waitress told me Chicken Fried Chicken Sandwich with Sidewinder Fries was the day’s special. I ate every bite. I was tempted to order a scratch-made slice of pie from the reach-in refrigerator, but I was too full from the hearty lunch plate. My advice? Split a meal and order the dessert.
PRO TIP: The restaurant is closed Sunday-Tuesday. View the restaurant’s hours here. If the neon Open sign is blinking, go on in. Local bands, a pool table, and a jumping jukebox make Cannonball an entertaining place to go on a Friday or Saturday night.
Greensburg is a town that will surprise you. The community’s determination to rebuild itself as a thriving community and now tourism destination is impressive. I encourage you to book an overnight stay or take a day trip from Wichita to experience its attractions first-hand.