Close to the border with Missouri in the southeast of Kansas, Pittsburg is a city that grew up around a coal mining camp in the 1870s.
The terrain all around Pittsburg testifies to decades of strip mining, which left behind indentations that have since become narrow lakes framed by wooded ridges.
Make time for downtown Pittsburg, which has a welcoming mix of shops, coffee houses, eateries and cultural venues.
The city’s cultural and sports scene is also bolstered by Pittsburg State University, which has a formidable football team and cutting-edge performing arts center for major concerts, musicals and theater shows.
1. Crawford County Historical Museum
With its intriguing pioneer, mining and bootlegging history, Crawford County has a history that’s worth looking into.
You can do this at one of the region’s largest local history museums, essentially a warehouse filled with an awesome wealth of artifacts.
You know the Crawford County Historical Museum will be good as soon as you pull up, to be met by the Marion Steamshovel, employed in the coalfields until 1953.
Inside you can peruse mining artifacts, historic clothing, farming implements, horse-drawn vehicles, printing equipment, a Spanish cannon from 1906 and vintage motor vehicles including a 1938 Peter Pirsch Aerial Fire Truck that served Pittsburg.
On the grounds is a one-room schoolhouse (1885) and a preserved grocery store that used to stand on Broadway in downtown Pittsburg.
2. Pittsburg Memorial Auditorium
A landmark of real scale downtown, the Pittsburg Memorial Auditorium is a regional events venue, with a 1,500-capacity auditorium on the upper level and a flexible convention center below.
In a rare Egyptian Revival style, the building dates to 1925 when it opened as the temple for the Mirza Shriners. Within 20 years the temple had been purchased by the city and turned into an events venue.
This is a special place to watch touring recording artists, classical concerts, ballet, musicals, comedians, theater performances and much more.
3. Downtown Pittsburg
Like many downtown districts all over the country, Broadway and its intersecting streets are enjoying a second wind.
At the most recent count there are more than 80 storefronts, whether you’re here to shop for clothes, antique books, sports equipment, jewelry, cosmetics, home furnishings or flowers.
The roster of eateries is surprising too, running the gamut from crepes to breakfast food, BBQ, pub grub, Mexican and classic American diner food.
Pittsburg’s cultural scene is effervescent thanks to the Memorial Auditorium, but also the handsome Colonial Fox Theater (1920), coming through a long-term restoration. The Pittsburg Artwalk has been a big boost for arts in the city, taking place in April and September.
4. Little Balkans Days
Over Labor Day weekend, Pittsburg pays tribute to its history and remarkable cultural diversity with a three-day festival.
The term “Little Balkans” goes back to the turn of the 20th century, when there was a big influx of people from Europe’s Balkan Region, seeking work in the area’s coalfields. The first Little Balkan Days was held in 1985 and the celebration has never looked back.
Saturday to Monday there’s plenty going on around Pittsburg, with a parade, live music, all kinds of contests and tournaments, a car show, an open day at the Crawford County Historical Museum, the Gorilla Century Bike Ride, cooking demonstrations, a battle reenactment and a slew of vendors.
5. Pittsburg State University
Enrolling some 7,500 students, Pittsburg State University (founded 1903) contributes to local life in a big way.
The 223-acre campus makes up the south end of Pittsburg, and is both pretty and easy to traverse on foot or by bike. Especially pretty is The Oval, a grassy, tree-shaded space enclosed by the various halls in a diversity of architectural styles.
Among the university’s alumni are Pulitzer Prize-winning authors, major recording artists and a list of NFL stars who came through the successful football program.
The Pittsburg State Gorillas participate in the NCAA Division II in 10 different sports, and adopted Gus the Gorilla as their mascot in 1925. We’ll also talk about the world-class Bicknell Family Center for the Arts a little later in this list.
6. Carnie Smith Stadium
When it comes to football, the Pittsburg State Gorillas are a behemoth, having won more games than any other outfit in NCAA Division II history.
The Gorillas have claimed four national championships, and came through a dominant period under former head coach Chuck Broyles (1990-2009), taking 13 conference titles in 20 seasons.
Their home, Carnie Smith Stadium (1924), is held as one of the top venues in the division, with a capacity of nearly 12,000 and recently added facilities including the massive Jungletron scoreboard, installed at a cost of $1.7m million.
7. Bicknell Family Center for the Arts
This breathtaking performing arts center opened on the Pittsburg State University Campus in 2014.
The Bicknell Family Center for the Arts is an arts destination for the entire region, housing the 1,000-seat Linda & Lee Scott Performance Hall, a smaller 280-seat theater, a 3,000-square-foot gallery for fine arts and an enormous rehearsal hall.
On the stage a typical season features a Broadway musical (South Pacific at the time of writing) and a host of national touring acts, as well as multiple locally produced plays, concerts and other events.
The glass fronted lobby is a thing of beauty too, and is used for receptions year round.
8. Jaycee Ballpark
On the west side of Lincoln Park is a veteran baseball stadium constructed in the early 1940s and still hosting up to 300 games each year.
In its early years, Jaycee Ballpark was home field for the Pittsburg Browns, a Class D farm team for the St. Louis Browns (just before they became the Baltimore Orioles).
The stadium can seat 1,000 spectators, and was recently given a major facelift, adding synthetic turf, a new canopy, a modern scoreboard, improvements to the facade and updated lighting. The result is a magical place to catch America’s pastime.
9. Pittsburg Aquatic Center
The city’s fabulous public pool complex is in the southeast corner of Lincoln Park, and perfect for families who need to escape the summer heat in Pittsburg.
The center is dominated by a massive main pool, with zero-depth entry, two water slides and two diving boards. The neighboring Bicknell Island features a flume slide and the mammoth slide, and there’s a 300-foot lazy river curling around these attractions.
Parents with smaller children will be pleased with the toddler pool, which has fountains, a water playground and a grassy play area.
All through the complex are lounge chairs and ample grassy spaces so parents can enjoy some downtime in the sun or shade.
10. Pittsburg Farmers’ Market
North of downtown, the Pittsburg Farmers’ Market has a permanent pavilion that was built in 2014. Come here on Saturday morning (mid-April through October) or Wednesday afternoons (June through mid-August) for seasonal, locally grown produce.
There’s also an enticing selection of farm-raised meat, honey, jams, preserves, baked goods, plants and cut flowers, along with handmade crafts and organic soaps.
As well as a place to pick up great ingredients and prepared food, the Pittsburg Farmers’ Market is also a charming snapshot of local life, with special events like Kids’ Day throughout the season.
11. Miners’ Memorial
Well worth a moment by the Municipal Court downtown is this solemn monument for those who worked in the Pittsburg-Weir coalfields.
On a circular plan, with plantings of shrubs, trees and flowers at the center and on the edges, the Miners’ Memorial features a larger than life-size bronze statue of a miner in period clothing.
He is accompanied by nine polished black granite tablets, arranged in an arc and inscribed with the names of people who worked the area’s mines down the years. A star next to a name means that the person died in this line of work.
12. Kiddieland Amusement Park
If you’re in search of things to do for wee ones there’s a nostalgic amusement park in Lincoln Park, dating back to 1953.
The very first ride here was the miniature train, which continues to be a family favorite, and is accompanied by six other attractions, including a spinner, a small ferris wheel and one of the oldest roller coasters in Kansas, built in the 1950s and moved to the park in the 60s.
Kiddieland is open Tuesday-Sunday, June through mid-August, as well as weekends in May, late August and September.
13. Wilderness Park
In the north of Pittsburg, this rambling landscape of former open pit mines has been taken over by nature once more.
Wilderness Park was donated to the city by the Casaletto Family, and has four miles of well-maintained trails to explore, with a main loop 1.4 miles long.
The majority of these paths are ADA accessible. There are four old pits that now make for great fishing spots, although the profusion of standing water means that you’ll want to avoid coming in late summer because of the mosquitos.
14. Mined Land Wildlife Area
West of Pittsburg the landscape is sharply streaked with more than 1,000 narrow lakes, all a remnant of unregulated strip mining activity from the late 19th century up to the 1970s.
These lakes vary in size from a ¼ acre to more than 50 acres, and now belong to a wildlife area made up of 46 tracts of land across 14,500 acres.
Some 200 lakes here are managed for sport fishing, supporting more than ten different species, among them largemouth bass, walleye, bluegill, bullhead and rainbow trout.
On land there’s a range of different habitats, including native grassland, wetlands, shrub areas and oak- hickory forests, primed for activities like hunting, hiking, wildlife watching, camping and mushroom/berry picking.
15. Kansas Crossing Casino
This $80 million casino and hotel complex opened just south of Pittsburg in 2017. Kansas Crossing Casino borrows from the area’s mining heritage, as you’ll tell from the giant replica headframe at the entrance.
The casino has hundreds of slot machines and 14 lively game tables for roulette, black jack and craps.
For entertainment, The Corral is a concert venue receiving famous touring country acts (Deana Carter when we wrote this article), while there’s a full-service restaurant and a bar with 11 big-screen TVs.