Stepping Back in Time: the Hollenberg Pony Express Station and Barnes, Kansas

Last Updated on December 1, 2014 by Jody Halsted

The Largest Pony Express Station

Stories of the Pony Express seem larger than life.  Daring riders galloping across the prairie and mountains, changing horses every 10-12 miles and riding 75 miles before taking their relief.  While visiting the Hollenberg Pony Express Station near Hanover, Kansas I learned the Pony Express operated for only 18 months.  It was almost unbelievable to me that such an incredible symbol of “how the West was won” existed for such a short amount of time.

Pony Express

That was only the beginning of the education my family received from Duane Durst, the director of the Pony Express Visitor’s Center.  (Note:  Duane told us that he planned to retire at the end of this season.  His future plans include following the trail westward.) Duane was the perfect person to school us in Pony Express history; a few years ago he developed a program to help school children “relive” the experience of traveling the Oregon-California Trail.  My eldest was fascinated by him; she would ask questions and he would answer every one.

Plaques outside Hollenberg Pony Express Visitor's Center

The visitor’s center is just off highway 148.  (Note: don’t make the mistake we did and not double check your navigation unit.  We took the long way- through the very tiny town of Hollenberg- which is about 30 miles away.) Portrait of George WashingtonTake time to explore inside the center as they have some incredible artifacts including a portrait of George Washington I had never seen before that is believed to have hung in the Pony Express station.  The mural, “Oregon Trail at Hollenberg Station” fills a wall and gives a great idea of what the area may have looked like at its busiest.

Out the back of the visitor’s center, across a field of prairie grasses, and past a covered wagon sits the Hollenberg Pony Express Station.  Built by Gerat Hollenberg in 1857 to sell goods to the travelers along the Oregon- California Trail, the station became the largest stop stop on the 2000 mile Pony Express route which passed nearby.  It offered food and shelter for both horse and rider.

Hollenberg Pony Express Station

Today the building houses hands on displays to educate young and old.

Dressing the Part at the Hollenberg Pony Express Station

We explored the kitchens, peeked at the bunks in the attic, and got an idea of the daily lives led by the people who passed through and who worked at Hollenberg Station.

Hollenberg Pony Express Station is open the first Wednesday in April thru the last Saturday in October: 10 a.m. – 5 p.m. Wednesday – Saturday  Phone 785-337-2635;  Website.  Fee:  Adults $3, Students $1, children under 5 free.

Barnes, Kansas along the “Great White Way”

In 1922 “the only completely organized highway passing through Missouri and Kansas” (via the Frankfort Index) was Highway 9.  Every other telephone pole was painted white to mark the way.  I learned this as I was researching our lodging options for our Kansas trip and was instantly intrigued as we have a “White Pole Road” here in Iowa.

Barnes is one of those tiny towns that you could easily pass by and not realize just what you are missing.  I was lucky enough to be connected to Gloria Moore, hostess at the B&B Gloria’s Coffee and Quilts.

Room at Gloria's Coffee & Quilts B&B in Barnes, Kansas

Rooms at Gloria’s are spacious.  The rooms we had were connected with a “Jack & Jill bathroom” which would be perfect for a family.  Her spacious lawn and gardens invite you to wander of just sit and relax, while the comfortable sitting room filled with Kansas books magazines is a wonderful place to spend an evening.  It’s even better to have Gloria sit with you and listen to her tales.   (website; phone 888-511-4569, rates begin at $60.)

Gloria is also the county tourism director and was able to take us through Barnes’ shops.  Begin at the Always Christmas Shoppe in the historic Barnes State Bank Museum.  Saved from destruction by the great-grandson of one of the original founders, the building has been painstakingly restored.  From there walk half a block to the huge Mercantile.  Originally opened in 1895 the building is now filled with arts, crafts and antiques. Try to leave without buying something- I couldn’t! Sunflower Antiques is located in the old hardware store, circa 1905, and is filled with antique furniture.  The Nook, a tiny building nestled next to Our Daily Bread Bake Shoppe and Bistro, is literally bursting with unique finds.  (website for shops)

Barnes Mercantile

When you get hungry stop into Our Daily Bread for a relaxing meal in an inviting environment.  Our schedule didn’t allow us to eat there, but Gloria gave us a tour.  I would very much like to go back and enjoy a fresh pastry in their beautiful dining room. (Phone 866-50-BREAD; website. Business Hours 9:00 am – 4:00 pm Monday – Saturday Lunch Hours 11:00 am – 2:30 p.m. Monday – Saturday.)

Table at Our Daily Bread Bake Shoppe & Bistro

Smallest Bandshell in Kansas

Before leaving Barnes visit the Historic IOOF (International Order of Odd Fellows) Park.  It was given to the city of Barnes in 1936 in order to qualify for the WPA Bandshell Project.  The bandshell is the smallest in the state of Kansas and the surrounding park is idyllic with a lily pond and gazebo.

Smallest Bandshell in the US

Getting to Barnes and Hanover

Barnes and Hanover lie in north central Kansas; an easy drive from Kansas City or Lincoln, Nebraska.  GetRuralKansas was an invaluable resource for our trip.

Thanks to Gloria Moore who introduced us to Duane Durst at the Pony Express Station.  Gloria also provided us one room at her B&B at no charge.

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