Nicodemus
National Historic Site
Kansas
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African American Town on the Frontier

This northwestern Kansas town—barely a few dozen buildings—tells us first-hand stories of the African American experience on the Great Plains. Founded in 1877, it was the first western town built by and for black settlers. For black farmers in the region, it was the economic and cultural hub for many decades.

After the Civil War, blacks in the South found that the political and economic gains of Reconstruction were being violently stripped away. Some looked westward, but, because racial tensions extended to the frontier, the idea of an all-black settlement took hold. The Nicodemus Town Company was formed by W.H. Smith, five black ministers, and W.R. Hill, a white town developer.

In September 1877, some 300 settlers recruited from Kentucky arrived at the newly platted town of Nicodemus. Like their white counterparts elsewhere on the frontier, they lived in primitive conditions. Newcomers were shaken by the spectacle of homes dug into the ground. Sixty people returned to the railhead in Ellis to live and some traveled all the way back to Kentucky. By the mid-1880s, hard-working, strong-willed settlers transformed Nicodemus into a prosperous town. Lasting prosperity on the Great Plains, though, depended on the presence of a railroad line. Despite the tireless efforts of town boosters, the nearest railroad ran several miles south. The town began a gradual decline. Nicodemus suffered along with the rest of the nation during the Great Depression and the Dust Bowl years of the 1930s.

In 1976 the original 161-acre town was listed as a National Historic Landmark District. In 1996 Congress established Nicodemus National Historic Site. The National Park Service and the residents of Nicodemus work together to preserve five remaining historic structures: St. Francis Hotel (1881), African Methodist Episcopal (A.M.E.) Church (1885), First Baptist Church (1907), Nicodemus School District No. 1 building (1918), and Nicodemus Township Hall (1939). Nicodemus National Historic Site represents the only remaining all black town established at the end of Reconstruction, and is symbolic of the pioneer spirit of the black people who settled there.

'That is Nicodemus.' The families lived in dugouts. ... The scenery was not at all inviting, and I began to cry.

—Willianna Hickman recalling her arrival at Nicodemus, Spring 1878

Discovering the Spirit of Nicodemus

Planning Your Visit

park map
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Things to Do
Nicodemus National Historic Site comprises a small part of the community of Nicodemus. The visitor center in Township Hall is open year-round except January 1, Thanksgiving, and December 25. Stop here first for exhibits, an audiovisual program, and an information desk staffed by park rangers. Service animals are welcome.

A self-guiding tour leads you to the town's historic buildings: Township Hall, District No. 1 School, St. Francis Hotel, Old First Baptist Church, and A.M.E. Church. Most property is privately owned; please respect owners' privacy.

Emancipation Celebration
The National Park Service works together with town residents to preserve and interpret Nicodemus. Most of the 25 or so residents trace their roots to the town's founders. Every summer for over 130 years, hundreds of other descendants return to renew family ties and celebrate their heritage during the town's Emancipation Celebration. The event, held around the last weekend in July, is open to the public. Contact the park for the date.

Getting to the Park
The park is in northwestern Kansas. From eastbound I-70: exit at Colby and take U.S. 24 east for 81 miles to Nicodemus. From westbound I-70: exit at Hays and take U.S. 183 to Stockton; turn left (west) onto U.S. 24 and go 19 miles. The visitor center is at the east end of town, one block south of U.S. 24.

Firearms
For firearms laws and policies see the park website.

Source: NPS Brochure (2012)


Establishment

Nicodemus National Historic Site — November 12, 1996


For More Information
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Brochures ◆ Site Bulletins ◆ Trading Cards expand section

Documents

African American Farmers of Nicodemus, Kansas: An Archaeological Examination of the Thomas Johnson and Henry Williams Farmstead (Margaret C. Wood, Christine D. Garst, Robert J. Hoard and Virginia A. Wulfkuhle, extract from Kansas History: A Journal of the Central Plains, Vol. 41 No. 4, Winter 2018-2019)

Cultural Landscape Report: Nicodemus National Historic Site (Bahr Vermeer Haecker Architects, Ltd. and OCULUS, January 2003)

Draft General Management Plan/Environmental Assessment: Nicodemus National Historic Site, Kansas (June 2003)

Examining the Cultural and Historical Impact of the National Historic Site Designation in Nicodemus, Kansas (©Ashley Adams, PhD Thesis Walden University, August 2016)

Foundation Document Overview, Nicodemus National Historic Site, Kansas (January 2016)

General Management Plan: Nicodemus National Historic Site, Kansas (April 2004)

Historic Resource Study: Nicodemus National Historic Site (Don Burden, Heather Lee Miller, Paul Sadin and Dawn Vogel, 2011)

Historic Structure Report: Nicodemus National Historic Site (Bahr Vermeer Haecker Architects, Ltd. and Wiss Janney Elstner Associates, October 25, 2002)

Hoeing Their Own Row: Black Agriculture and the Agrarian Ideal in Kansas, 1880-1920 (Anne P.W. Hawkins, extract from Kansas History: The Journal of the Central Plains, Vol. 22 No. 3, Autumn 1999)

Impacts of Visitor Spending on the Local Economy: Nicodemus National Historic Site, 2005 (Daniel J. Stynes, October 2007)

National Register of Historic Places Nomination Form

Nicodemus Historic District and Dugout House (Marcia M. Greenlee, December 1974)

Nicodemus, Kansas: A National Historic Landmark Black Settlement (1993)

Park Newsletter (Flowering of Nicodemus)

2004: FebruaryMay

2006: MayAugustNovember

2007: FebruaryMayNovember

2008: FebruaryFallNovember

2009: MarchJuly •l November

2010: MarchJulyNovember

2011: MarchJulyNovember

2012: MarchJulyDecember

2013: MarchJuly

Promised Land on the Solomon: Black Settlement at Nicodemus, Kansas (1986)

The Origins and Early Promotion of Nicodemus: A Pre-Exodus, All- Black Town (Kenneth Marvin Hamilton, extract from Kansas History: The Journal of the Central Plains, Vol. 5 No. 2, Winter 1982-1983)



Handbooks ◆ Books expand section

Videos

You "CAN" Go Home Again — Nicodemus, Kansas



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Last Updated: 24-Jan-2022