We took a recent drive to Coronado Heights, a signature
landmark embraced by history and myth. It is just north of
Lindsborg, the highest mound nearby, a signature along the
shallow spine of the Smoky Hills that rise over the low sweep
of our Valley. Coronado Heights is special among the sandstone
outcrops, vivid and dramatic, sharp-edged, its speck of a
fortress dark against the sky.
This view has held for more than eight decades, since the
last of the mortar dried among the stones in 1936, when the
signature “castle” and picnic facilities were constructed atop
the Heights under President Roosevelt’s Works Progress
Administration. This peak and its vista are among history’s
crucial footings in Kansas and the great plains, named for stories
of the Spanish explorer and his exploits in these parts. It
is a treasure of history; and, located only a few paces north of
the McPherson County line in Saline County, it has become a
step-child of geography and boundary.
Everyone, it seems, wants to love Coronado Heights, but for
decades, no one could decide who should care for the place.
Eight years ago, in early March, 2010, Coronado Heights
was selected by public vote as one of the 8 Wonders of Kansas
Geography in a project sponsored by the Kansas Sampler}
Foundation. (At the same time, the Maxwell Wildlife Refuge
near Canton was also selected as a Wonder… the only place
in Kansas where both buffalo and elk can be viewed in their
natural habitat by the public.)
Coronado Heights, which can be seen for miles, was recognized
as a notable stop for both locals and tourists, and as fundamental
to the history of the central United States, the Smoky
Valley and the founding of Lindsborg.
For a time since, the much-adored Coronado Heights was
pummeled by an assortment of adversaries, including vandals,
thieves, storms and nature’s corrosion. The picnic facilities,
rest rooms, tables and picnic areas were long-favored targets
of miscreants and morons. Winds and rain storms had time
and again washed away the steep, curving ascent of the road to
the Heights’ summit in spite of occasional and valiant repairs.
Thieves made off with “souvenirs” from the site. The ceaseless
cadence of seasons’ extremes and of time itself had left
pockets of decay where comfort and convenience were once
announced. The beauty of this place, a perch to behold the
Valley’s majesty in all directions, was fading.
The Smoky Valley Historical Association and its president,
the late Chris Abercrombie, were determined that Coronado
Heights not become another shabby remnant of former glory.
The Association’s campaign, begun in 2014, has secured
enough of its six-figure goal in cash and grants to begin repairing
this historic landmark. A grant from the Kansas Heritage
Trust Fund was to finance a number of repairs to the Heights’
castle, its floor and rest rooms, and top floor observation
The main building is solid again, the great blocks of stone
secure, its timber ceiling and wide support beams bolted,
secure in a new concrete floor. The entry is almost pristine.
Other repairs remain on the list, but even through the winds of
late February a cold squint told us the place is more tidy, welcoming,
convenient. The view, of course, remains glorious.
“When looking at Coronado Heights from afar, it is easy
to see why peoples over the centuries considered Coronado
Heights both monument and gathering place,” wrote Ruth
Ann Peterson in a 2009 essay that nominated the Heights for
the 8 Wonders award. “Surrounded by a gently rolling plains,
Coronado Heights juts 300 feet above the surrounding Smoky
Valley floor… visitors can see for many miles around – a dramatic
panoramic sweep through central Kansas. Surely native
Americans loved and treasured the hill, along with westwardtrudging
“Perhaps that was one reason that the representatives of
the First Swedish Agricultural Company selected the base of
Coronado Heights to locate their initial company house in
1868,” Mrs. Peterson continued. “That same year, a group
of Swedish immigrants led by the Rev. Olof Olsson took up
residence at the site, and they would found Lindsborg the next
year in 1869.”
The town site of Lindsborg moved a couple of miles southeast
to the Smoky Hill River and the railroads that had been
built. But Coronado Heights remained a favored location for
picnics, family gatherings and plain relaxation. By 1920 the
Lindsborg Historical Society had purchased the hill as a park,
a road was hand-dug to the top, a small lodge went up, its
appeal broadened, and yet nature and vandals continued to
After the Castle and new picnic facilities were built and
ownership was transferred to Saline County, the place became
a true Kansas landmark, featured on postcards, promoted in
magazine and newspaper articles, and by word-of-mouth. It
became, even, a place for dances, band concerts, and legendary
college student gatherings; it continues its appeal to
amateur birders, painters, photographers, mountain bikers,
geologists, botanists and meteorologists – indeed, it’s perfect
for watching great storms roll across the prairie.
Coronado Heights, now owned by the Smoky Valley
Historical Association, has survived the assaults of vandals
and nature, strengthened through the perseverance of admirers.
In 1988 a large stone entry sculpture by the late John Whitfield
was dedicated by the Association. Volunteers have led efforts
to keep the site tidy and, more than once, to repair the battered
road to the top, a route that for now is untroubled.
Free labor and unconditional love continue to counter the
power of nature and stand up to the villainy of criminals;
add to this the commitment to continued care and renovation.
Coronado Heights maintains its immutable presence, a crown
above the Smoky Valley.
Editorial from the past, a bite of darkest irony
Forty years ago the Hutchinson News carried an editorial
about a proposal in Topeka to grant permission for judges to
carry guns. They could carry them while they were judging,
either openly or tucked under their robes, according to a bill
offered by a state representative from southeast Kansas.
At the time this was a radical idea even for Republicans,
contrary to the way most citizens saw Kansas as a community,
a time when people seemed more concerned with getting along
than having their way. The tendency was to dismiss this as the
usual legislative lunacy that afflicted some politicians after too
much exposure to the Flambeau, a bar in a popular Topeka
hotel. The representative insisted that he was acting at the
request of a constituent, a Coffeyville associate district judge.
In that long-ago editorial, we supposed that life had been
rather dull in Coffeyville since the Dalton Boys joined the
ranks of the late departed; “a good courtroom shoot-out might
be just the ticket to make the natives forget they lived in
This proposal probably had merit beyond the narrow confines
of the courtroom, we said with a wink, because judges
weren’t the only people entitled to feel threatened. In fact, who
Certainly teachers should carry guns – or switchblades or
billy clubs or whatever suits their combative fancy. A good
wing shot in the arm would certainly lead to better discipline
in the classroom.
Considering this editorial now, we see the evolution of our
culture from the sympathetic to the savage, from a place that
saw such a bill as so ludicrous that we made fun with it, to a
place that has lost its bearing, its sympathies, its sense of what
Preachers, we said at that time, should toughen their nambypamby
talk about loving one another at least to the extent of
packing a .38 in the event that some born-again Beelzebub
starts climbing the pulpit. The town mayor was an obvious target,
and should be able to shoot back when the peasants rebel
against his dictates. Every doctor should have a gat handy in
surgery, to ward off malpractice nuts.
“Editors, not often noted for belligerency,” we said then,
“should make the pistol as standard a piece of newsroom
equipment as the typewriter. Is there an editor who hasn’t
feared the vengeful lust of an irate subscriber whose daughter’s
name was left off the honor roll?”
Guns, we said then, should not only be permitted, but
required. “It’s the only way we can feel safe.”
The representative’s bill got nowhere. He was later elected
to the state Senate and served there with distinction, much too
busy to revive his gun bill. At that time of life without fear and
political intransigence, such legislation seemed so radical that
it could be chuckled into a dust bin.
Thus is an old editorial revived, once a bit of fun but now
subdued with the darkest irony of time and events, a story of
how we have changed, of how far we have plunged.
‒ JOHN MARSHALL