Nicodemus National Historic Site, located in northwestern Kansas along U.S. Highway 24, depicts the stories and experiences of African Americans on the Great Plains in the late 1800s and early 1900s. Nicodemus was founded in 1877 and is credited as the first western town built by and for Black settlers. It is currently the oldest and only remaining Black settlement west of the Mississippi River. The town was listed as a National Historic Landmark District in 1976 and later was established as Nicodemus National Historic Site in 1996.
The Nicodemus Town Company, formed by W.H. Smith, a Black reverend, and W. R. Hill, a white developer, was envisioned as an all-Black settlement where residents could escape post-Civil War racism and lack of political and economic freedom that existed at the time in the South. Lured by “free” land offered in Kansas, a group of about 300 people from Kentucky arrived in Nicodemus in September 1877.
Like most frontier life at the time, conditions were primitive and tough in the beginning, and many left for other nearby towns or returned to Kentucky soon after arrival. But only a few years later, Nicodemus had been turned into a prosperous economic and commercial hub with numerous stores, a bank, newspapers, a blacksmith, law and land offices, a literary society, and many social and fraternal organizations. Unfortunately, the railroad bypassed Nicodemus, resulting in an exodus of businesses and people in the late 1880s. Later, the Depression and drought in the 1930s caused further out-migration. Today, the population of Nicodemus is around 20.
What to See
Visitors should first stop at Township Hall, which serves as the Nicodemus visitor center and is itself a historic building. The visitor center contains exhibits, an audiovisual program, an information desk staffed by park rangers, and tour maps.
The Historic Site features a self-guided walking tour of five historic buildings that illustrate the strength and character of the early pioneers who established Nicodemus in 1877 and represent the pillars of the community: church, self-government, education, home, and business. The five buildings—built between 1885 and 1939—include Township Hall, the St. Francis Hotel/Switzer Residence, the School District No. 1 building, the First Baptist Church, and the African Methodist Episcopal Church.
The town's residents and its descendants celebrate their heritage at the Emancipation & Homecoming Celebration, held every year at the end of July since 1878. The general public is invited to the celebration which includes a parade, dance, talent show, fashion show, speakers, vendors, and food.
Sources & Further Reading
Nicodemus National Historic Site
304 Washington Ave.
Nicodemus, KS 67625