Many people know that Wilson is the Czech capital of Kansas and a recreational mecca of central Kansas. What many people don’t know is that the history of Wilson goes much further than the immigration of the Bohemians and construction of Wilson Lake. Wilson can be traced all the way back to the mid 1880’s when it was a mere train stop between Atchison KS, and Denver and the Wilson Creek Station was built just south of the current location of the city of Wilson.
The years from 1865-1873 brought big changes for the area that would become Wilson, from David Butterfield beginning a successful freight and carriage line that was eventually bought out by Wells Fargo to a General Custer riding through on a journey that would eventually land him in Leavenworth Jail for accusations of abandoning his troops in Fort Hays. In 1871 the town was renamed Attica by the Postal Service and Byron Tyler became the first postmaster, however, the name Attica did not stay for long. The town was renamed again the same year to Bosland. The name Bosland came from the Latin bos meaning cattle. The town held high hopes it would become a major stop on a cattle railroad. However, a railroad running through southern Kansas meant that Bosland was destined to follow another path.
In 1873 the United States Post office gave Bosland the name that it continues to have to this day, Wilson. The next year would bring a group of people from Iowa, Chicago, and New York that would end up giving Wilson the heritage and culture that it is still known for. Groups of Bohemians that were originally craftsmen came to the area with the draw of an inexpensive and prosperous land. The descendants and children of these settlers would soon move into a town-building business that would allow Wilson to grow and thrive. Just a few of the businesses and industries that were opened were, grocery, lumber, blacksmiths, and at one point even two cigar factories. Some of the names that were on these businesses are still recognizable around Wilson including Hoch, Ptacek, and Florian.
Another way that the Bohemians brought their rich culture to Wilson was by building an Opera House which enable the town to have a place to not only host music and dance but would also eventually allow them to show movies. Originally called Turner Hall, the Opera House was constructed by Frank Kvsnick, Sr, and a few other motivated local men. Post-rock was quarried in from five miles outside of Wilson to construct a building complete with a dining hall, kitchen, gymnasium, and stage floor. The Opera House housed the Bohemian Athletic Club (Sokol) between 1901 and 1919. The Sokol was a Czechoslovakian organization that promoted physical and intellectual activities within the Slavic community.
The Opera House was a cornerstone of the community until it, unfortunately, burned down in 2009.
Be sure to catch local residents talking about the Czech Opera House on the Facebook Page Czech Out Wilson ( https://www.facebook.com/czechoutwilson ) videos.
Coming up in our next blog I’ll highlight attractions around Wilson that make it a go-to stopping spot for tourists.