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 Visit Lucas, Kansas Grassroots Art Capital

Lucas is the quirkiness capital of Kansas, and Samuel Perry Dinsmoor led the way after the Civil War. The self-taught artist explained his Populist philosophy with concrete as his medium in the early 1900s. Many Russell County residents thought his Garden of Eden was embarrassing. His commentary on modern civilization made them look bad, they said. Others, like Florence Deeble, found his art inspiring.

Eventually, Lucas embraced its grassroots art heritage and expanded it. Governor Bill Graves designated Lucas as the Grassroots Art Capital of Kansas in 1996. You’ll see: In Lucas, everything is a unique attraction. Let’s explore 13 things to do in Lucas, Kansas, 3.5 hours west of Kansas City.

Table of contents: Garden of Eden | Miller’s Park | Roadside Show Expo | Deeble Rock Garden | Garden of Isis | Bowl Plaza | Grassroots Art Center | Switchgrass Art Gallery | M.T. Liggett | Post Rock Scenic Byway | Wilson State Park | Brant’s Market | Fools-A-Palooza | Drive K-18 | Eat and Stay

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Related: Lucas is one of our 12 best Kansas places to visit.

Garden of Eden and Lucas, Kansas, signs
Welcome and directional signs for the Garden of Eden and Lucas, Kansas

Take the perfect road trip to Lucas, Kansas

Lucas is the perfect road trip. The small town of 393 people stands at the Kansas Highways 232 and 18 intersection, a short drive north of Interstate 70’s Wilson exit. Two signs, The World’s Largest Souvenir Travel Plate and a mosaic-filled “Lucas” sign topped with an M.T. Liggett sculpture, welcome guests at the Lucas city limits.

Related: See the M.T. Liggett Art Environment near Greensburg.

Ad: Lucas, the Grassroots Art Capital, is No. 74 in my book 100 Things to Do in Kansas Before You Die.

S.P. Dinsmoor's title for the Garden of Eden, Lucas, Kansas
Dinsmoor’s title for the Garden of Eden, Lucas Kansas.

1. Garden of Eden, Lucas, Kansas

Civil War veteran and retired school teacher S.P. Dinsmoor moved to Russell County with his wife Frances and her children in 1891. At first, the Dinsmoors farmed southeast of Lucas. 

Dinsmoor built his 11-room Cabin Home in Lucas during his retirement years. He ordered stone quarried in log-like shapes up to 20 feet long and then stacked them with dove-tailed corners like a log cabin. He intended the home to be a dwelling and an attraction. It was an easy walk from Lucas’ Main Street and visible from the railroad tracks. The main floor was an entertainment venue with 3,000 feet of oak, redwood, and walnut in elaborate moldings and baseboards. None of the windows or doors were the same size.

Beginning the Garden of Eden in Lucas, Kansas

Dinsmoor’s next project became the Garden of Eden. His Populist vision began with Adam and Eve, an apple, and a pair of snakes. The garden grew to 150 sculptures, including Biblical scenes like Cain murdering Abel with a hoe, the Devil gloating, and then the trusts stealing rights from the people. The flag protects capital “better than it does humanity,” Dinsmoor wrote.

The concrete sculptures required 113 tons of cement. Dinsmoor electrified the garden to attract visitors before the rest of the tiny town had power. He would be the passengers’ tour guide when trains stopped in Lucas.

Roxie’s reliable report: Dinsmoor’s wife felt he was neglecting her for his hobby, so he created a hand waving at her through a window. 

America tangled in the trust's octopus at the Garden of Eden, Lucas, Kansas
Trust tentacles reach into everyone’s lives in the Garden of Eden, Lucas, Kansas.

Explaining “Labor Crucified”

“Labor Crucified” on the garden’s east side references Populist orator and Democratic presidential nominee William Jennings Bryan’s “Cross of Gold” speech. Bryan said humanity was crucified upon a cross of gold because government policy had made money harder for the working class to obtain.

Dinsmoor showed a Doctor, Lawyer, Banker, and Preacher crucifying Labor in his final sculpture from about 1924. The Lawyer is an ironic Dinsmoor self-portrait. Dinsmoor could not finish his vision because cataracts began to steal his eyesight. 

Related: Bryan named Victoria’s Basilica of St. Fidelis the “Cathedral of the Plains.” It’s one of our 31 things to do in Ellis County

A second family

Four years after his wife’s death, 17-year-old Emilie Brozek became Dinsmoor’s live-in housekeeper. He married her in 1924 when she was pregnant with their daughter Emily Jane. The couple had another child, John William, in 1928. (Dinsmoor already had five children with his first wife.)

When Emily Jane was old enough, she took over the guided tour option, and Dinsmoor chatted with guests instead.

The angel atop the Dinsmoor Family Mausoleum, Garden of Eden, Lucas, Kansas
The angel is ready to swoop up S.P. Dinsmoor if “the Boss” chooses him.

Watch Dinsmoor decay

After Frances died in 1917, Dinsmoor built a mausoleum behind the Cabin Home. When finished, he exhumed her body from the Lucas Cemetery and interred it in the mausoleum. He also created his glass-topped casket so future guests could watch his corpse decay.

If “the Boss” chose him to “go up,” the angel on the top would take him there. After Dinsmoor died in 1932, his corpse initially decayed slowly. Later, it grew moldy when an air leak formed.

Related: The Garden of Eden and the Garden of Isis are on our haunted Kansas places list.

The Garden of Eden, Lucas, Kansas, before restoration
The Garden of Eden, before restoration

Restoration of a national treasure

Emilie lived in the Cabin Home until the Great Depression forced her to leave. Then his daughter Laura Elizabeth Mansfield divided the property into apartments until 1967.

The Wayne Naegle family then restored the attraction (PDF) and reopened it two years later. The family received approval for the National Register of Historic Places seven years after reopening.

The Garden of Eden, Lucas, Kansas, before restoration
The Garden of Eden after the Kohler Foundation’s restoration

The garden went through numerous hands thereafter until the Kohler Foundation bought it. The foundation restored it for six months until its opening reception on May 20, 2012. The foundation said Dinsmoor’s creation was one of the “top vernacular art sites in the country and a national treasure.”

Kohler turned it over to the Friends of the Garden of Eden after restoration. It attracts 10,000 visitors annually.

Political satire in front ot Erika Nelson's house beside the Garden of Eden, Lucas, Kansas
The GOP elephant and the Democrat donkey are joined at the hip in front of Erika Nelson’s home next to the Garden of Eden, Lucas, Kansas.

Roxie’s reliable report: Nelson’s home next to the Garden of Eden has a sculpture garden in the front yard.

Miller's Park next to the Lucas, Kansas, Garden of Eden
The Kohler Foundation also restored Miller’s Park to its original home in Lucas, Kansas.

2. Miller’s Park, Lucas, Kansas

Roy and Clara Miller picked up rocks during their travels. They owned a recreation area along Kansas Highway 18, where they built cabins, a playground, and a picnic area. They filled their park and rest stop with miniature buildings and pyramids made from their souvenirs. The couple died in 1965, and their collection was sold to settle their estate. It became Frontier Village in Hays after the sale. 

When the village’s popularity waned, weeds obscured it. Nelson and Hays Mayor Henry Schwaller IV worked with the Kohler Foundation to return Miller’s Park to Lucas. The “Rock Hounds” from Kansas and Oklahoma replaced the missing rocks. The Friends of S.P. Dinsmoor’s Garden of Eden also own Miller’s Park, now behind the Garden of Eden.

Roxie’s reliable report: A chain-link fence surrounds the park, but photographers can get pictures from above.

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World's Largest Things collection
Erika Nelson’s headquarters for the World’s Smallest Versions of the World’s Largest Things.

3. World’s Largest Collection of the World’s Smallest Versions of the World’s Largest Things

Nelson’s Roadside Sideshow Expo houses some of her World’s Largest Collection of the World’s Smallest Versions of the World’s Largest Things. Nelson visits all of the World’s Largest Things, photographs and researches them, and then creates a tiny version for her collection. Because she’s often on the road collecting, her Lucas museum is only open from April to October. You never know what World’s Largest Thing she’ll bring home to Kansas.

A Cadillac Ranch replica at the World's Largest Collection
The World’s Smallest Version of Cadillac Ranch outside Amarillo, Texas.

Displays include miniature versions of the world’s largest cowboy, fishing bobber, painting on an easel, donut hole, Carhenge, and Cadillac Ranch.

Cadillac Ranch near Amarillo, Texas, by comparison to the miniature version in Lucas, Kansas.
Compare the world’s smallest version to the Texas-size Cadillac Ranch version.

Related: The expo and Giant van Gogh Painting are on our list of the world’s largest things in Kansas.

Watch Florence Deeble explain her rock garden.

4. Florence Deeble Rock Garden, Lucas, Kansas

While many Lucas citizens found Dinsmoor’s work embarrassing, Florence Deeble decided to join the ranks of outsider artists. For her first project, she sculpted three ducks that swim on a former lily pond with a hamburger stand and lighthouse on its shore in 1935. She called it “Wilson Lake” after the Corps of Engineers built Wilson Reservoir in the 1960s. 

Postcard scenes and Lucas themes

The artist split her backyard into two sections. She recreated “postcard scenes” from her summer travels in the east section while Lucas’s history filled the west side. 

Mount Rushmore, Mount Eisenhower, Capitol Reef National Park, Sedona, Arizona’s Oak Creek Canyon, Shiprock, New Mexico, and the YMCA Conference Camp in Estes Park, Colorado, fill the eastern landscape. Deeble’s neighbor Tim Schwemmer sculpted some of the creations. Theodore Roosevelt’s bust was Deeble’s final garden addition in 1992.

The “Kansas Mount Rushmore” should be titled the Lucas Mount Rushmore because it honors Lucas luminaries only. Dinsmoor inhabits the central position. She also replicated Rodin’s “The Thinker” and created rulers listing Lucas’s accomplishments. She last created a four-scene montage of town history, including the Lucas Cornet Band. Her father is the band’s Drummer Boy because he was a soldier in Sherman’s March to the Sea.

The Deeble Garden entered (PDF) the National Register of Historic Places in 2017.

Roxie’s reliable report: Buy a combination ticket for the Deeble House and the Garden of Isis.

5. Garden of Isis

Deeble was too busy outside to decorate her home’s interior, but eccentric artist Mri-Pilar changed that. Deeble died in 1999, and Pilar began transforming the house into the Garden of Isis in 2002. The seven-room art installation started with foil-covered walls covered with recycled materials.

Some of Pilar’s artworks, like Barbie heads strangled in telephone handset cords, resemble Sid Phillips’ tortured creations in Toy Story. Those dolls make Isis the perfect site for a Halloween night tour. You’ll never look at dolls the same way afterward.

Ad: Enjoy the Toy Story box set.

Bowl Plaza, Lucas, Kansas
Walk Toilet Paper Path up to the Toilet Bowl and Tank in Lucas, Kansas.

6. Bowl Plaza

Bowl Plaza is the third leg in the Lucas Triangle, the only public toilet that doubles as an art installation. Lucas needed a public restroom, but many were skeptical. Until they saw the mosaic-filled lid and toilet paper roll sidewalk and wall. The project took four years to build.

Beauregard Flushmeister, Bowl Plaza, Lucas, Kansas
Beauregard Flushmeister, takes at drink at Bowl Plaza

The 14-foot-tall lid surrounds the double doors into the tank (restrooms). Beauregard Flushmeister, a small dog, drinks from the toilet bowl filled with water and a host of small objects. Two benches surround the walkway and form the bowl walls. The lobby and both restrooms are covered with mosaics. The mosaic pieces include glass, shells, toy cars, and broken dishes. The men’s room is quirkier than the ladies’ room.

Award-winning Bowl Plaza sign in Lucas, Kansas
Don’t miss the award-winning Bowl Plaza in Lucas, Kansas.

Bowl Plaza won the Quirkiest Experience in the 2018 International Toilet Tourism Award contest. Lucas’ public restrooms also brought an international award to the Sunflower State in 2014.

Related: Visit more iconic Kansas bathrooms: Moon Marble‘s Bathroom Museum in Bonner Springs and Wonder Fair’s Famous Haunted Bathroom in Downtown Lawrence.

Stick a fork into American Fork Art Park, Lucas, Kansas.
Stick a fork into American Fork Art Park, Lucas, Kansas.

Roxie’s reliable report: Don’t be bored if you wait in line at Bowl Plaza. Explore Pilar’s adjacent American Fork Art Park or examine the decorated telephone poles on Main Street.

The Grassroots Art Center, Lucas, Kansas
Lucas and the Grassroots Art Center received 8 Wonders of Kansas Art from the Kansas Sampler Foundation.

6. Grassroots Art Center

The center defines grassroots art as “work done by self-taught artists operating outside the traditions of fine art and folk art. These intuitive artists follow a personal vision. They seem to work to please only themselves.”

Kansas ranks third in grassroots art. Longtime center director Rosslyn Schultz said the Sunflower State’s extensive yards and lack of homeowners associations enable artists to create at will.

The works of art pay tribute to ordinary people’s determination to an extraordinary work of art.

Polar bear in front of the Grassroots Art Center, Lucas, Kansas
Cuddle up to the polar bear in front of the Grassroots Art Center, Lucas, Kansas.

Grassroots artists include Betty Milliken’s chewing gum; Herman Divers III’s pull tabs; solid rock sculptor Inez Marshall; and concrete and glass sculptor Ed Root

Divers created an entire automobile from cans’ pull tabs. However, Divers lost his medium when cans no longer used pull tabs. He stopped creating as a result.

Roxie’s reliable report: Don’t miss the Limestone Courtyard behind the art center. It’s full of artistic Post Rock carvings.

Switchgrass Art Gallery storefront
The chalk trail leads to art at the Switchgrass Art Gallery in Lucas.

8. Switchgrass Art Gallery

The Switchgrass Art Gallery is near the World’s Largest Collection.

Artworks inside the Switchgrass Art Gallery
A plethora of media are on display at the Switchgrass Art Gallery. Bring home a treasure.

Photographers, glassmakers, painters, sculptors, textile artists, and jewelry makers have booths there, and the gallery offers art classes.

M.T. Liggett sculpture on Harvest St. in Lucas
The famous grassroots artist M.T. Liggett displayed his totems on the edge of Lucas.

9. M.T. Liggett Roadside Sculptures

Noted artist M.T. Liggett installed some of his totems on S. Harvest St. behind Great Plains Manufacturing.

Related: Visit the Liggett Art Environment near Greensburg.

Ad: My book Secret Kansas: A Guide to the Weird, Wonderful, and Obscure, tells Liggett’s story.

Post Rock Scenic Byway kiosk and Wilson Reservoir south of Lucas.
Post Rock Scenic Byway kiosk and Wilson Reservoir south of Lucas.

10. Post Rock Scenic Byway

Drive Highway 232 to enjoy the 18 miles from Wilson to Lucas, noting the post rocks along the way. Because the pioneers lacked trees, they turned the underlying Greenhorn limestone into their building materials and fence posts. The Kansas byway route offers spectacular Smoky Hills and Wilson Reservoir views. 

Related: Explore the 11 things to do in Wilson, Kansas

Rocktown at Wilson State Park in Kansas
Wilson Reservoir from Rocktown

11. Wilson State Park

Wilson State Park and Wilson Reservoir, the Clearest Lake in Kansas, are south of Lucas. Enjoy fishing, boating, camping, swimming, and more. Wilson is famous for mountain biking and hiking.

Related: Explore Kansas rocks, including Rock Town.

12. Brant’s Market

Brant’s Market started producing sausages and bologna in 1922. Just one bite will show you why the 100-year tradition is still going. Bologna isn’t my favorite, but I politely took a sample when the cashier offered it. Now I buy some every time I visit. I also enjoy eating beef sticks while exploring Lucas’s Main Street.

Brant’s also stocks fresh meat, jerky, bratwurst, and cheeses. Their local and gourmet products include honey, mustard, barbecue sauce, pancake mix, and maple syrup. 

The Lucas Community  Theater, home of Fools-A-Palooza
The Lucas Community Theater generally is a movie theater. However, on April Fool’s Days, it’s the home of Fools-A-Palooza in Lucas.

13. Fools-A-Palooza

When April Fool’s Day arrives, head to the Fools-A-Palooza, a town-wide celebration of artists in Lucas. Tour attractions and studios, and attend the art show in the Lucas Community Center in the Lucas Area Community Theater.

Paradise Water Tower

Drive K-18

Continue west on Highway 18 to Paradise, settled by the Angel family. A large stone water tower is the town’s centerpiece. The Works Progress Administration finished it in 1937. The 65-foot-tall tower holds 58,000 gallons. It’s on the National Register of Historic Places.

Luray, KS, sign
Luray, “halfway between Paradise and the Garden of Eden.”

Luray, the city between Lucas and Paradise, boasts that it’s halfway between Paradise and the Garden of Eden. Look for Russell County’s first log cabin in Luray City Park. Jonathan Van Scoyoc built it in 1871.

The “Where’s Waldo?” answer lies past Paradise in the town of Waldo.

Ad: Explore the Ultimate Waldo Watcher Collection in Waldo, Kansas.

Where to eat and stay

Eat at the K-18 Café. Lucas has several lodging options, including Horseshoe Lodge, a converted nursing home.

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