The seat of Harvey County in south-central Kansas has a unique place in Kansas history. For a time this was a sketchy town in the Old West, before the railroads enabled a wave of Mennonite immigration from the old Kingdom of Prussia and Russian Empire.
The Mennonites brought with them Turkey Red hard winter wheat, a hardy, high-yield wheat variety that helped turn Kansas into the breadbasket of America.
You can immerse yourself in this history at the Kauffman Museum, on the Bethel College campus in North Newton, and at the Warkentin House (1886), which is in an amazing state of preservation.
1. Kauffman Museum
To get to grips with the region’s past you have to make the short trip to North Newton, home to the attractive Bethel College campus, with a magnificent Administration Building (1887) on the National Register of Historic Places.
Bethel College is affiliated with the Mennonite Church, and the award-winning Kauffman Museum goes into depth on the history of the Mennonites in Kansas.
The main permanent exhibit, “Of Land & People: Mennonites of the Central Plains”, documents immigrants’ encounters with the prairie in the 1870s.
Meanwhile “Mennonite Immigrant Furniture” presents a collection of exquisite furniture brought to Kansas from Prussia and the Russian Empire in the 1870s and 1880s or built by their first-generation descendents.
Outside there’s a 1.5-acre tallgrass prairie restoration, as well as an historic farmstead built between 1875 and 1886 and relocated to this site.
2. Harvey County Historical Society Museum
This free local history museum is housed in the old Carnegie Library building, dating to 1903 and found just south of the railroad tracks on Main Street downtown.
The Harvey County Historical Society was founded around that time, and moved into this building after the public library moved out in 1973. There’s much to see at the museum, but you have to start with the Harvey County Hall.
This space retells the story of the county from the days of nomadic Native American through the Old West, the arrival of the railroad from Emporia in 1871, the Chisholm Trail from Texas and the history of the magnificent Harvey County Courthouse, which was torn down in 1966.
On the grounds you can check out the 1873 Kellas School, a restored one-room schoolhouse.
3. Warkentin House Museum
One figure instrumental to Newton’s late 19th century development was Bernhard Warkentin (1847-1908). He was born in the Molotschna colony in what is now southeastern Ukraine’s Zaporizhzhia Oblast, and was part of that wave of Mennonite immgration.
A miller by trade, Warentkin encouraged fellow immigrants to bring Turkey Red hard winter wheat, and in this period helped found Bethel College and the Kansas State Bank.
His elegant Late Vicotrian residence, built in 1886, is preserved as an historic house museum, with more than ¾ of the opulent original decor and fittings remaining. Tours are available on weekends April through December, and also on Fridays, June through August.
4. Newton Mid-Kansas Symphony Orchestra (NMKSO)
Harvey County has an acclaimed community orchestra, with a history going back to 1956.
The NMKSO is a superb platform for local musicians, with a season featuring Fall and Winter Classics concerts, summer chamber music, special events and school outreach.
In this ensemble are professional and amateur musicians, as well as educators and talented students from local schools.
Concerts take place at a number of venues including Bethel College’s Memorial Hall and the Tabor College in Richert Auditorium in nearby Hillsboro.
5. Blue Sky Sculpture
Take a moment to appreciate the mesmerizing piece of public art by the main entrance Centennial Park.
The Blue Sky sculpture (2008) is by Phil Epp (b. 1946), who studied at Bethel College and has a Mennonite background.
This piece was named as one of the Eight Wonders of Kansas Art by the Kansas Sampler Foundation. On a clear day, the cobalt-glazed tile backdrop merges with the Kansas sky, inviting you to contemplate the sky’s natural movement behind.
Blue Sky is designed for interaction, and there’s a bench in the parking lot, and a set of steps leading up to the sculpture.
6. Carriage Factory Art Gallery
Downtown, a lovely two-story former factory building from 1883 has become an art center for Newton and the wider area. Head here for temporary shows by regional artists and a sales gallery for local work in a wide range of media.
The Carriage Factory Art Gallery also maintains a collection by the Impressionist and later Abstract painter Albert H. Krehbiel (1873-1945), with works for sale.
This is a hive of creativity, bringing artists, musicians and other people from the community together and hosting numerous workshops for all kinds of skills throughout the year.
7. The Breadbasket
A downtown establishment to keep on your radar is this Mennonite-influence restaurant, in business for close to four decades. The Breadbasket was intended as a sociable kind of place where friends and neighbors could grab a bite and catch up.
There’s a breakfast buffet, a lunch menu with eight different soups and eleven sandwich varieties and a welcoming Sunday with generous helpings of familiar favorites like roast turkey and fried chicken.
If you come by on a Friday or Saturday you can catch the German Buffet, with Mennonite classics like sausage, sauerkraut, borscht, baked ham and Bohne Beroggi, a rich traditional Swiss Mennonite dessert.
8. Sand Creek Station Golf Course
Newton benefits from what could be the best public golf course in the entire state. Sand Creek Station Golf Course opened in 2006 to nationwide acclaim, partly for its use of native grasses.
The course was designed by noted architect Jeff Brauer, and has a spectacular links-style layout. Something remarkable about this tract is that the Amtrak railway line runs through the course, adjacent to Sand Creek.
This watercourse traces four holes, while there are eleven ponds that come into play throughout.
A couple of destination holes here are the par five 4th, with an undulating green, and the 640-yard 10th hole, dubbed “The Beast” and crossed by the creek.
9. Sand Creek Bike Path
A satisfying way to traverse Newton and the Bethel College campus is via this trail following the course of Sand Creek through the city.
The college’s Memorial Grove is the northern trailhead and from there the wood chip path merges with paved sections at Chisholm Park and The Trail of Two Cities, hugging the riverbank through the center of Newton to Sand Creek Dam by Athletic Park.
The route takes you through a peaceful and verdant riparian corridor, with a lot of tree cover and access to amenities like a boat dock, pet drinking fountains and benches.
There’s a loop bordering the college campus in the north, and Bethel College has provided a checklist of bird species to look out for in summer and winter.
10. Athletic Park
A real slice of local history, Athletic Park has been a recreation hub for Newton since 1897. There are some important landmarks on these 40 acres.
One is the Fischer Field Stadium (1936), a venue for community events and home field for Newton High School’s football team.
The stadium, seating up to 5,000 people, is on the National Register of Historic Places and harks back to the New Deal.
Also noteworthy is the Mennonite Settler statue (1942), commemorating the introduction of Turkey Red hard winter wheat by Mennonite farmers in the 1870s, and jointly funded by the community and the Works Progress Administration (WPA).
Carved from native limestone by Topeka artist Max Nixon, this sculpture stands 17 feet high and has become a symbol for the city.
11. Centennial Park
Near the Bethel College campus in the north of Newton is an expansive community park packed with amenities. Centennial Park opened in 1971 and contains a set of baseball/softball fields fit for local high school and Babe Ruth teams.
The Sand Creek Bike Path passes close by to the north and west, while you can take a moment to admire the Blue Sky Sculpture on the park’s west side.
There’s also a disc golf course, off-leash dog park, flag football field, soccer field, sledding hill in winter, an open shelter, grills, summer concession stand and a playground.
12. Harvey County East Park Lake
A haven for all sorts of outdoor pursuits, this 314-acre lake is in the care of Harvey County’s parks department.
East Park Lake is just past the airport, little more than ten minutes east of downtown Newton and is wrapped in a 1,300 park.
When it comes to amenities, there are three swimming beaches, campsites (primitive and electric), a number of shelters that can be rented, along with trails for hiking, biking and horseback riding.
If you’re here for the fishing, the lake has largemouth bass, crappie, channel catfish and saugeye, and there’s a bait shop at the park’s northeast corner.
13. Chisholm Trail 8 Theatres (CT8)
Based mostly in the Great Plains region, Mitchell Theatres is an independent chain that gives you a modern first-run movie experience with a small-town welcome and price-point.
The chain took over this multiplex, originally built by Warren Theatres, in 2006, and has fitted all eight auditoriums with the latest gear.
You’ve got high-back rocker seats, a lot of legroom and stadium seating, combined with digital projection, digital surround sound and 3D capability. When we made this list, matinee tickets were as little as $4.75, and there are regular $4 film screenings.
14. Taste of Newton
The Newton Area Chamber of Commerce’s biggest annual event is a food festival that brings thousands of people to downtown Newton.
The origins of this event go back to a celebration at Bethel College in 1987 to mark the school’s centenary, proving such a hit that it was adopted by the chamber of commerce the following year.
On a Thursday evening in late September or October, Taste of Newton involves more than 50 food trucks, mostly from the area and representing a whole kaleidoscope of cuisines.
There are also vendors for local organizations here to raise funds, so you’ll be able to contribute to important non-profits at this event.
15. Harvey County Fair
There’s a certain buzz around Newton in late July/early August, when the five-day Harvey County Fair takes place in the southwest of the city.
If you’d like to dip into local agriculture you can check out 4-H projects in a spectrum of categories.
On the Saturday there’s a bustling market to browse, with dozens of vendors for unique arts and crafts and specialty foods.
There are contests of all descriptions across the five days, from mud volleyball to cornholing, as well as big events like a rodeo, demo derby and a parade. A carnival also brings in the crowds, with exciting rides, games and vendors for comforting fair food.