Born of the trails, Gardner enjoys a robust history dating from the early 1800’s. This heritage, and the epic struggle to settle the west, is being celebrated at the Gardner Historical Museum with an exhibit titled “History of Gardner, Where the Trails Divide.” The exhibit opens September 18 and will remain through the end of this year. The Gardner Historical Museum is located in the historic Herman B. Foster House (1893) at 204 W. Main Street. Museum hours are 1-4 p.m. Saturday and Sunday, and Friday from 4-7 p.m.
Among the features of the exhibit are actual artifacts unearthed and donated by citizens whose private properties were once traversed by these brave and ambitious travelers. Examples of the clothing and accoutrements may also be viewed. Appropriately, the kitchen of the late-nineteenth century museum features examples of trail food next to their modern counterpart in a display titled “Living on the Trials.” The stark contrast of these then-and-now staples illustrates 200 years of industrialization.
This area of Kansas was considered the beginning of the great desert, which marked a departure point from the modern conveniences of nineteenth century America. Three trails, with three distinct destinations, diverged just west of Gardner, which came to be known as the “trail split.” They were the Santa Fe, the Oregon and the California Trails. The trails transformed from pathways used by fur traders and soldiers to a thoroughfare for fortune-seekers and disenfranchised immigrants.
Two centuries ago this year, the Santa Fe Trail was charted by Sir William Drummon Stewart. This famous trade route carried merchandise from the east to the uncharted territories of the southwest. Treasure was transported back along that same route. The Oregon and California Trails were carved by westward expansion and the desire for land ownership, which may have previously been unobtainable to ambitious homesteaders. These northern trails were carved deeper by the gold and silver fortune-seekers during the mid-century shortly after the discovery of those precious metals.
As the trails grew, so did Gardner, which became a boomtown by the end of the 1800’s. These rich beginnings are celebrated by the Gardner Historical Museum and shared at the Herman B. Foster House and the Bray House research center, adjacent to the north at 207 W. Shawnee Street. Both are open to the public on weekend afternoons and by appointment. For more information, call 913-856-4447. Check out the website at