In the heart of southern Kansas, amidst fields of wheat and the charm of small-town America, lies Ellinwood—a hidden gem worth journaling about that is brimming with history and waiting to be discovered. 

We were looking through our hotel's “What to do in the area” brochures when this surprising tour option popped up.

Just a short distance off our route, in the midst of blooming wheat fields, was the small town of Ellinwood. Much of the original 1870s one-square-mile town with a two-block business district still exists. Its rich and unique history is displayed in the charming restored homes, and 1920s brick streets, but its extraordinary history lies underground in the basement businesses!

Mural on the side of the Ellinwood, KS antique store where the exploration begins for the latest Bound to Journal  post called Underground History, Mystery, and Curiosity-Inspired Journaling

A Subterranean Surprise

Imagine our surprise when we learned that beneath Ellinwood's quaint streets and restored homes lies a labyrinth of tunnels and shops dating back to the late 1800s. 

The town's unique history comes to life underground, offering visitors a glimpse into a bygone era. And so, with curiosity piqued, we embarked on a tour that promised to unveil the secrets hidden just 12 steps underground.

Drawn diagram laying out the original underground businesses in Ellinwood, KS, for latest post called Underground History, Mystery, and Curiosity-Inspired Journaling

The Story Beneath the Surface

Ellinwood's underground businesses were born out of necessity—a response to the changing tides of the Sante Fe trail and the influx of settlers.

In the 1870s, the Sante Fe trail traffic slowed down due to railroad expansion. Land agents encouraged Europeans to homestead 160 acres in the area. The settlers who arrived were primarily from southern Germany. These Bavarian settlers built the town like they were used to building back home, including basements for the main street businesses accessed through a stairway underneath the sidewalks.

Businesses below street level turned out to be a very good idea. In the early 1870s, there were cattle drives; later in the 70s, there were railroad workers; and through the 80s, there were still about 100 wagons a day moving on the Sante Fe trail with 3-5 teamsters on each oxen-pulled wagon that came to town. Moving the men's businesses to the basement area was a natural shift for a small town to meet the needs of several hundred extra men coming and going each day.

In the 1880s and 90s, there were 11 saloons! Other underground businesses included billiard halls, hat makers, boot makers, tack repairs, restaurants, bath houses, general merchandise, drug stores, barber shops/dentists, laundry, and more.

A Short term bed area next to a trunk, washing table with pitcher, mirror and laundry area for latest post called Underground History, Mystery, and Curiosity-Inspired Journaling

Exploring the Depths

Our tour began at the Dick Building in the corner antique shop.  Our guide described the fascinating history of the settlers and the founding of the town, the influence of the Sante Fe trail, and the important part their underground businesses played in settling the region.

We were then led out the back of the antique shop, through a cellar door, and down 12 steps to the first of several rooms that had once housed businesses catering to the men traveling through the area. Old trade tools, horse tack, linens, and furniture were among the artifacts, equipment, and other authentic furnishings of the once-thriving shops, painted a vivid picture of life beneath the streets.

You can still see the manhole covers used to drop coal from the main street sidewalks to the shops below.

The Wolf Hotel in Ellinwood, KS, side and front door with stained glass for latest post called Underground History, Mystery, and Curiosity-Inspired Journaling

Unveiling Hidden Treasures

Every corner of Ellinwood's underground world told a story of resilience and ingenuity. But the adventure didn't end there. 

Across the street is the beautifully renovated Wolf Hotel, another historic landmark. The hotel building includes the old bank area, a main-floor dining area with original architecture, motifs that nod to the area's farming crops, and a bit of Wild West history all its own like the story behind the bullet hole in the tin ceiling. The second floor is filled with restored guest rooms that take you back in time while waiting for new occupants.   

One of the underground businesses in Ellinwood, KS, tour depicting a general store for latest post called Underground History, Mystery, and Curiosity-Inspired Journaling

But, once again, we were drawn to explore its subterranean secrets.

Underneath the hotel lays a world of boardwalks, storefronts, and a wedding dress display room where, if you're lucky, some say you can catch a glimpse of a lingering spirit. There's a library, a laundry, and the charming Sunflower Sample Room, where history and hospitality converge. Yes, the fully renovated Sunflower Sample Room is still open for business.  You can enjoy an evening beverage while listening to live music. 

Allen, co-founder of Bound to Journal, stands in part of the underground passage way board walk to stores in the section below the Wolf Hotel, Ellinwood, KS, for latest post called Underground History, Mystery, and Curiosity-Inspired Journaling

Journaling the Journey

As we emerged from the depths of Ellinwood, our minds buzzing with newfound knowledge, inspiration, and photos from every angle, we couldn't help but feel compelled to capture the experience in our journals. 

With so many interesting facts to preserve before moving on, it's important to take at least a few minutes to do a journal brain dump of thoughts and intriguing facts and note any questions that still linger. Capture each moment, observation, and emotion on the pages, recording your experience to share with others. The sights, the sounds, and the stories all have importance—all are woven together in discovery, waiting to be preserved. 

The underground section below Ellinwood, KS, main street where coal and other  deliveries  could be directed to the businesses for latest post called Underground History, Mystery, and Curiosity-Inspired Journaling

The Power of Curiosity and Journaling

A good adventure doesn't deplete your curiosity; it usually ignites it and leaves you with more questions that inspire another adventure worth journaling about.   

It turns out many towns in this area once had an underground city. Tunnels and shops existed under Caldwell, Douglass, Ellsworth, Fort Scott, Great Bend, Hutchinson, Lincoln, Leavenworth, Lyons, Mcpherson, Newton, Stafford, and Wichita, KS. Even Chicago and, Toronto, Montreal have histories of well-developed underground systems.

Unfortunately, many of those underground passageways no longer exist. Some were closed due to sidewalk deterioration, and others were intentionally collapsed during city road expansion and repair. Thank goodness Ellinwood, KS, community members realized the historical and economic/tourism value of preserving two sections of their tunnels.

The Wolf Hotel, Ellinwood, KS, has it's own old west history and unique stories forlatest post called Underground History, Mystery, and Curiosity-Inspired Journaling

Why Curiosity Matters

Curiosity isn't just a passing fancy—it's the fuel that powers our quest for knowledge and understanding. It's what led us to uncover the hidden history of Ellinwood and what continues to drive us to explore the world around us. Whether it's delving into underground cities or wandering through ancient ruins, curiosity opens doors to new ideas, perspectives, and experiences.

Under the Wold Hotel in Ellinwood, KS, is a remodeled original bar that still serves guests, holds events, and has performers with the old boardwalk area just outside the window for latest post called Underground History, Mystery, and Curiosity-Inspired Journaling

Embrace the Journey

So, the next time you feel like your journal entries start to sound the same or you find yourself itching for adventure, heed the call of curiosity and explore a historic site near you. Whether unearthing hidden treasures underground or wandering through storied landmarks above ground, let your journal be your faithful companion, capturing every moment, thought, and emotion along the way. 

When you're on an adventure like this, we'd recommend keeping peppermint and lemon essential oil or a roller ball blend of peppermint, lavender, lemon, and copaiba handy. Peppermint and lemon on their own are invigorating, refreshing, and wonderful for mental clarity and energy.  In a blend we call Seasonal Relief, these oils give you the individual benefits of each oil while supporting you just in case you deal with any issues from exploring old indoor spaces. For more on this blend and the recipe, check out DIY: Seasonal Relief Roller Ball

In the embrace of curiosity lies the magic of discovery and the joy of exploration. In the act of journaling, we discovered the power of curiosity to transform ordinary experiences into extraordinary tales.


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