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So, does this get your attention? More later about an insanely good donut shop in Manhattan, Kansas.

We left Bella Vista, AR and headed North to the other Manhattan – the Little Apple in Kansas. To get to our destination, we followed Highway 49 North in Missouri and randomly decided to stop in a place called Carthage. What a great decision.

After the Civil War, Carthage grew rapidly and became one of the most prosperous towns in the area due to the nearby lead mines and limestone quarries. Many of the historic buildings are made of the local stone. 

Another surprising find for us…The Mother Road (Route 66) went right through town. 

We’re so glad some local folks decided to preserve “old time” motels and other vestiges of time gone by. The Boots Court historic motel is one of the oldest remaining motor lodges still operating on Route 66. Built in 1939, it now has 13 rooms and is being restored by a non-profit organization.

The Discover Small Town America Tours, combined, will have totaled around 20,000 miles, and we’ve never been in trouble with the law. We minded our “Ps & Qs” as we slowly drove by “The Law” parked by the Boots Court Motel.

We headed into downtown Carthage, where local merchants seemed to be doing a bustling trade. This entire Courthouse Square district is on the National Register of Historic Places.

The old style architecture really caught our eye. Many of the historic buildings, like these, have been restored and still retain their old-fashioned charm.

The Jasper County Courthouse located in the center of Carthage’s historic square may be one the most stunning courthouse we’ve seen yet on The Tour. Built in 1895 out of limestone (known locally as Carthage Marble), the imposing structure has turrets, four corner towers and a massive clock set in a dome topped with a cupola. It definitely looks more like a castle than a courthouse.

This monument on the Courthouse grounds pays homage to our veterans.

Leaving Carthage, we continued to and through Nevada (the town, not the state) and Peculiar. This town’s motto is “Where the ‘odds’ are with you”. Historians say the name came from settlers searching for land to farm. As they came over a hill, one remarked “Well, that’s peculiar. It’s the very place I saw in a vision back in Connecticut” (Wikipedia). During this part of our journey, we hit another milestone: 2,000 miles and counting.

Just one hundred miles to go until we reach our final destination for the day: Manhattan, Kansas. Founded in 1855, Manhattan is located at the junction of the Kansas and Big Blue rivers. We passed through the spectacular 8,600 acre Konza Prairie on our way. This prairie is located in the Flint Hills and is the largest area of unplowed tallgrass prairie in North America.

After checking into our hotel, we headed to town for dinner. The Taqueria El Aquila was around the corner and “invited” us in. Its hot sauce bar could melt snow tires. Even the salsas and condiments labeled “mild” required a quick gulp of water to take away the burn.

After a great night’s sleep, we headed out the next day to explore the town. First stop: Aggieville, named after the original mascot of the Kansas State Agricultural College…Aggies (now called Wildcats). Founded in 1889, it’s the oldest entertainment and shopping district in Kansas and caters to the Kansas State University crowd. The vibrant neighborhood was a feast for the eyes…and our bellies.

After wandering the “hood” we decided it was time for lunch. Well, lookie loo. Maybe the Rock-A-Belly Bar and Deli could take care of our Noon time cravings. YUP!

We fortified ourselves with great sandwiches delivered by a really friendly waitress who’s working on her Masters at K-State. This little retro restaurant was the perfect stop for lunch.

Right next door to the deli was the popular Varsity Donuts shop. We couldn’t possibly walk by it without checking it out. You wouldn’t believe some of the amazing (and odd) concoctions that filled the glass cases and metal trays. Froot Loops, Oreos, sprinkles, peanut butter, bacon, and colorful fruit frostings were just a few of the mind-boggling toppings. In the name of research, we had to test a donut out.

Guess who decided to be the guinea pig? This small but mighty chocolate frosted chocolate donut made Rorie a very happy camper.

After filling our “tanks” to give us energy for afternoon explorations, we headed out to Kansas State University. Established in 1863 during the American Civil War, KSU was the first state college in the state, and only the “second public institution of higher learning, to admit women and men equally in the United States”. Imposing limestone buildings and large expanses of open green space are the cornerstones of the campus. 

Honoring the students and faculty who served in World War II, this stunning memorial features a large pair of shiny reflective dog tags surrounded by plaques that represent the Air Force, Navy and Army.

We left the K-State campus and headed back to downtown Manhattan, which has had quite a revival during the past several years. As with many “Main Street” turnarounds, its revitalization is the product of one person’s vision and action: Ward Morgan, co-founder of Manhattan-based CivicPlus (providing technology solutions to more than 100,000 local government users). Read his inspiring “hometown turnaround” story here: 

Courtesy Topeka Capital-Journal

In addition to being the primary catalyst for the downtown’s economic renewal, Morgan also led efforts to create the Green Apple Bike Share, a free program designed to promote a friendly biking community. 

CivicPlus also has a deep commitment to local public service, and retained Bart’s consulting firm ( to design and run the Small Town America Civic Volunteer Award program ( 

Bart met with the company’s President Brian Rempe to share exciting plans for expanding the program in 2024.

Now that our “discoveries” and business-related activities were complete, we headed back to our sleeping “digs” to plan the next leg of the Tour. Next stop, Colorado. See you soon in the “Centennial State”!

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