Paola, Kansas, is a charming small town about forty minutes south of Kansas City, Missouri, with a history that goes back to 1832 when it was originally settled by Native Americans. The town itself was founded in 1855 as the Paola town Company; the city was incorporated in 1859. Unlike many of the downtowns in these smaller communities, the downtown in Paola still has several unique stores and restaurants that surround the park square with a historical past. It makes a good day trip (even morning trip) from Kansas City.
In the center of Paola is a historic park square with a gazebo, water fountain, and a park-like setting. The square is flanked on all sides by the downtown shops and restaurants. The historic museum and courthouse are also close by. The original Native American tribes of the area used the square as their primary gathering place and it was given to the Paola Town Company by Baptiste Peoria as a treaty of peace with the stipulation that a building never be built on it. A bust of Baptiste and his wife Mary Ann Isaacs rest near the gazebo. It is one of the only known monuments in the United States featuring a Native American and his wife. The original gazebo was a bandstand that was built in 1867 and was rebuilt in 1913 by the current gazebo.
Located just off the park square in one of the older buildings is the Miami County Historical Society. The museum covers everything from the prehistoric life to the local Native Americans to the struggling surrounding slavery in this free state. One interesting exhibit is the history of the ghost towns and early community in the Miami County area (in case you want to go exploring).
The Miami County Courthouse was built from 1898 to 1899 and is still in use today. It is a beautiful structure with a combination of Victorian and Richardsonian Romanesque design. Outside of the courthouse, you can visit the flower garden and view markers with historical facts about Bleeding Kansas and the Civil War.
Built in 1896, the Ursuline Convent and Academy has been closed since the sisters left in 2008. The exterior of the 36-acre former convent is still accessible to the public. Like many of the buildings in the area, the use of local limestone can be seen in the structures and in the three-story main structure. The main convent is 64,000 square feet, and as you drive around the main building, you can see the architectural details that went into the construction. On the grounds are the three-story brick motherhouse building, the school buildings, the boarded-up grotto, and the old shrine. Apart from the shrine, you cannot go into any of the buildings, you can drive around the campus to view it. Plans are in the works to turn the campus into an academy for foster children.
Outside of the old Ursuline Academy, sits an old, abandoned shrine on the northeast corner of the campus. Built in 1916, the shrine is a mini replica of the Rheinstein (or “Rhinestone”) Castle on the Rhine River in Germany (itself built in 1316). The shrine is constructed of petrified-formation stone. The original statue of Jesus at the Sacred Heart used to sit on the altar but is now gone as of July 2018. It’s small, probably little less than fifteen square feet. However, the stone and workmanship of the shrine itself is impressive.
Lake Miola is a 560-acre park with a 200-acre lake, playground, hiking trails, and camping areas. It is not as large as the nearby Hillsdale Lake, but it is in a peaceful setting within the city limits. Drive around the lake and park just to relax after a hectic day. If you like to swim, there is a small sand beach swimming area. The campground is closed November 1st until April 1st.
Located between the Kansas City metroplex and Paola is one of the reservoirs in Kansas, Hillsdale State Park, and Lake. There are 51 miles of shoreline and 4,500 acres of lake in this 12,000-acre park. You can visit the playground area, go for a nature hike and walk, or visit the small beach. You can also take in the sights of the area’s rolling hills from the lake or campgrounds.
One word of caution. The park is near the Hillsdale Range and Training Facility. If you go to the main park, where the playground area is, you may hear gunshots. It can be unnerving unless you are expecting to hear them. We weren’t. It’s not that it’s unsafe, but not a great way to unwind and listen to nature. (Also, welcome to 2018.) If you have children or pets (or watch the evening news way too much), I would personally go to the Lake Miola Park instead, even if it is smaller.
Started in 1910, Wallace Park is a 42-acre park that has a playground, tennis and basketball courts, baseball and softball diamonds, and a large family swimming center. There is also a skateboard park with ramps, half pipe, and other amenities. You can easily drive in and loop around the park to find plenty of parking and restful areas.
Miami County, Kansas, is also home to several excellent wineries. Paola has two wineries located in the city limits in addition to a couple of pubs.
- Somerset Ridge Vineyard and Winery
29725 Somerset Rd, Paola, KS 66071
- Nighthawk Vineyard & Winery
9204, 16381 W 343rd St, Paola, KS 66071
- Isinglass Estate
16241 West 381th Street, Lacygne, KS 66040
- Middle Creek Winery and Graue Vineyards
4353 W 351st St, Louisburg, KS 66053
- Red Crow Brewing Company
20561 S. Lone Elm Rd, Spring Hill, KS 66083