Foggy winter morning at the Duck Pond in Wamego City Park. Photo by Chuck Hart
At a party yesterday, a woman asked me why we were buying a house in Wamego, Kansas of all places. I responded that apparently she didn’t know much about the city, or she wouldn’t be asking me that question. So for all of those lacking knowledge of the specified city, I want to tell you why.
The basics: Wamego is small town living, with big city excitement. It has a population of 4,500, but is located fifteen minutes from booming Manhattan, Kansas, home of K-State University (by “booming” I mean a population of 45,000. But hey, in a state that has less people than the city of Los Angeles, that’s a respectable size). It’s also only 40 minutes away from the state capital, Topeka.
While we’re on the subject of LA, in 2004 Wamego had a crime index of 58.9. Sounds high to you maybe, but according to City-Data.com, Los Angeles had a crime-index of 474.1. The U.S. average is 327.2.
The city began as settlers traveled through Kansas to Oregon and California (and we moved from California to Kansas—seems a little backwards, doesn’t it?). Entrepreneur, Louis Vieux began to charge these settlers to ferry them across the river. The rest is history (I know that sounds cliché, but hey, I had to use it).
Wamego is famous for its “Oz Museum,” which houses one of the largest public displays of Oz memorabilia in existence. The display was started by Todd Machin, who began collecting while writing a term paper on “The Wizard of Oz” in college. While on the subject of Oz and tornados, Wamego has a tornado history that is near state average (which means it’s 93% greater than national average). They have had a category 4 and 5, the latter occurring in 1966 (this in my mind only means they’re due for another one soon, but I’m not here to talk about the one downfall of the city, especially since that’s true for much of tornado alley).
Wamego prides itself in its numerous recreational activities. If you’re looking for a place to picnic, City Park has been named one of the top 10 “Favorite Kansas Picnic Spots.” It comes complete with a museum, pond, and miniature train (my two-year old will vouch for the park’s fun factor).
Wamego is also home to the Columbian Theatre, Museum & Art Center. According to their website, the Columbian Theatre was built in the late 1890s by businessman J. C. Rogers to house artifacts he retrieved from the 1893 World Columbian Exposition at Chicago. Today, they still display 6 giant oil paintings from the 1893 fair. Along with 14 other paintings discovered in the building, these are believed to be the only remaining artifacts from the 1893 fair.
With it’s proximity to Manhattan and KSU, Wamego enjoys the cultural diversity a large college campus affords, while still maintaining the small town atmosphere it prides itself in. As they say in the city, “With its eye on the future and its values molded by the past, Wamego offers the unique blend of progressive spirit and hometown tradition.”
While these are all admirable reasons why we find this city enchanting, there is so much more to it than that. It has character. It’s hard to explain, but when you walk down the old-fashioned main street, with the diner that has its daily specials that everyone orders (with an extra piece of pie), you see what you dreamed of when you were little. The town you could grow old in. Leave your door unlocked, and let your children play outside in. It’s a classic white-picket-fence town with a bed-and-breakfast atmosphere. It’s a comfortable sip of hot chocolate on your patio rocking chairs waving as your neighbors walk by. It’s planting tulips in October so they spring up in April for everyone to enjoy (Wamego is home to the famous Tulip Festival). It’s a 13 to 1 student-teacher ratio at one of the best school districts in the state. It’s knowing you’re safe when you go to sleep and surrounded by friends when you wake up in the morning.
It’s home, and, I’ve got to say it, “There’s no place like home. There’s no place like home.”