Czech Capital of Kansas keeps heritage alive

Main Street Kansas

A closer look at one of the stops on the KSN Summer Road Trip!

WILSON, Kan. (KSNW) – You see it and hear it, as soon as you get to town!

Czechoslovakian culture is everywhere, with polka music piped out of speakers on Wilson’s Main Street.

It’s the legacy of immigrants who settled here in the late 1800’s.

“I would say 80% of the people living in this town were Czech,” said Melinda Merrill, who points to old black-and-white photographs. “This is my grandfather and my two great aunts. These people and these people all lived in the house that my daughter is living in now.”

Merrill and others in Wilson are helping to preserve that history. She bought the Midland Railroad Hotel, built in 1899.

An old water tower turned city jail was restored by Jerry and Virginia Florian, who had another great idea!

“He said he wanted to do a soda shop,” said Virginia. “I asked him why, and he said, ‘Well, we could offer employment, and we could save a building.'”

They renovated a vacant store that used to be Wilson’s first post office. Its mail sorter now hangs in what became Grandma’s Soda Shop.

They serve old-fashioned sodas and floats, plus kolaches, a Czech favorite!

“It’s a round dough that’s been flattened with an indention in the top, and then there are fillings put into that,” explained Virginia.

Kolaches come in six flavors at Grandma’s Soda Shop.

The fillings are fruit flavors, cottage cheese or poppyseed.

Grandma’s Soda Shop makes thousands of kolaches each year for the Czech After Harvest Festival, plus hundreds of bierochs.

“For us, it’s a labor of love because we love being with the people,” said Virginia. “We love giving back to the community because they’ve given a lot to us.”

Like the elaborate Czech eggs in Wilson, symbolic of the Easter gifts given centuries ago.

“A girl would give it to a boy who was very special to her, and it would often become an engagement to them.” said Virginia.

The city claims the giant Czech egg on display downtown is the largest in the world, and the Guiness Book of World Records is working to verify that.

What is certain, you don’t have to be Slavic to appreciate the artwork.

“I think people really want to connect with where they’ve been, where other people have been, and they relate to that ethnic aspect,” said Merrill.

Hess Manufacturing of Hays created the giant Czech egg, and the city of Wilson won grants to install six smaller eggs around town.

Four are already on display, with two more coming this fall.

Copyright 2020 Nexstar Broadcasting, Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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