African American Town on the Frontier
This northwestern Kansas townbarely a few dozen buildingstells 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.
Discovering the Spirit of Nicodemus
Planning Your Visit
Things to Do
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.
Getting to the Park
Source: NPS Brochure (2012)
Brochures ◆ Site Bulletins ◆ Trading Cards
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)
Examining the Cultural and Historical Impact of the National Historic Site Designation in Nicodemus, Kansas (©Ashley Adams, PhD Thesis Walden University, August 2016)
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)
Park Newsletter (Flowering of Nicodemus)
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
Last Updated: 24-Jan-2022