Victoria is about 10 miles east of Hays. Its claim to stop-worthiness is the ornate Cathedral of the Plains, also known as the Basilica of St. Fidelis. Incongruously, Victoria’s 1st settler after Native Americans was a British country estate seeker. In 1873 George Grant hired a British architect to construct his Kansas villa, which is still there and now on the National Register of Historic Places, and named his colony after the reigning Queen. After George died, those who followed him judged life on the prairie too harsh and mostly returned to England. Incongruously, some Russian Germans moved in. These Volga-Russians, who were not anxious to serve in the Tsar’s army, built sod huts and renamed the place Herzog. Devoted Catholics, they built 4 progressively larger churches, the last being the current 220 feet long and 110 feet wide Cathedral completed in 1911.
While visiting Victoria William Jennings Bryant named this super-sized, traditional church”The Cathedral of the Plains”. Kathleen Sebelius, while Governor, named it one of the “8 Wonders of Kansas.” Whatever happened to her? Eleven months after becoming Pope in February, 2014, Francis issued a papal decree naming St. Fidelis the first Basilica in Kansas. It was quite an honor to be designated the 78th Basilica in the U.S., and the celebration was attended by 3 bishops and more than 30 priests.
Some famous men grew up in towns along what is now I-70. Fourteen miles east of Victoria is Russell, boyhood home of Bob Dole, Senate Majority Leader and Presidential candidate. Dwight Eisenhower grew up in Abilene. Ellis, between Wakeeney and Hays, was the boyhood home of Walter Percy Chrysler. Born in Wamego, Chrysler rose from steam engine cleaner to auto maker and Time magazine’s Man of the Year, twice. Player of 8 musical instruments as a teenager, Walter left Hayes but returned to marry his childhood sweetheart. He bought his 1st car, a Locomobile, for a steep $5,000. After he took it apart and reassembled it 8 times, he was ready to declare cars the future of transportation and bring Buick out of bankruptcy. At one point all of the taxis in New York City were DeSotos, and by 1928 WPC was wealthy enough to personally finance the Chrysler Building. The Eisenhower and Chrysler homes can be visited. Until further notice, the Dole home is just a drive-by.
Our favorite attraction in the Salina area is the sweet town of Lindsborg, also known as Little Sweden USA. The Eisenhower Presidential Library and Museum is about 20 miles east of Salina in Abilene. Fort Riley sprawls between Junction City and Manhattan, and our favorite attraction in the area is its U.S. Cavalry Museum. The Flint Hills National Scenic Byway is worth driving before stopping in Topeka to see the Kansas’ State Capitol, which has just undergone a 13 year, $300 million restoration. The Spencer Museum of Art in Lawrence on the University of Kansas campus owns 36,000 works and rivals museums in much larger cities. Last and somewhat least, stop and visit the kind-of-kitschy Moon Marble Company in Bonner Springs.