Shawnee Indian Mission expands availability, programming under Fairway’s administration

Jennifer Laughlin is the curator of the Shawnee Indian Mission now that Fairway has taken over administration of the site.
Jennifer Laughlin is the curator of the Shawnee Indian Mission now that Fairway has taken over administration of the site.

The Shawnee Indian Mission is back in year-round operation and is focused on expanding its programming.

The site, with three of the oldest buildings in the State of Kansas, had been closed for much of the year and had become considered a seasonal site by the Kansas State Historical Society. But an agreement with the City of Fairway to take over administration has vastly expanded access to the site and has added a curator with a deep background in area history and the history of the Native Americans who were brought to Johnson and Wyandotte Counties.

Jennifer Laughlin had been curator of the Wyandotte County Historical Museum before taking the job in Fairway late last year. Expanding the programming at the Mission is one of her early goals.

Already the site hours have been increased. With the exception of major holidays, the site is open Wednesday to Saturday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Both the East and North buildings are open to visitors. Plans are still in the works for a renovation of the West building. The Mission charges $5 for adults and $1 for youth.

“It’s amazing how many walk-in visitors (we have),” Laughlin said. Visitors can get a tour and brief history of the site. A video also is available for visitors to watch. The buildings are filled with professional exhibits about life at the Mission and the history of the times.

The North building also has a library that is staffed by volunteers on Wednesdays from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m.

The 12-acre site is the remnant of a Mission property dating to 1839 that exceeded 2,000 acres and 16 buildings and covered a large section of NEJC. The Mission closed in 1862. It served as the site of the First Territorial Legislature and housed Union Troops during the Civil War.

“We are just starting to do rentals,” Laughlin said. “We would love to do more school groups (for tours).” She also would like to start rotating some of the exhibits to encourage return visitors so the materials on display are not always the same.

The focus for now under the new management is programming, attendance and “trying to connect the site to the larger community.” In addition to the well-known fall festival, the Mission already has a schedule of hosting movie nights, a family campout, an egg hunt, summer camps, Musikgarten classes and a fundraiser buffet and silent auction coming up.