Mahaffie Stagecoach Stop & Farm near I-35 and Santa Fe in Olathe is an 1860s living history museum which exists to study and preserve Kansas history. The public is welcome to stop by during the living history days, or on quieter days when it’s just the animals to greet you on the working farm. All of these sorts of visits are enchanting in their own way, but it is the special events hosted by the historic site that shine with opportunities for visitors to experience rural Kansas culture of the 1860s first-hand. It may surprise you to find that while there is a lot to learn and consider seriously from this fast-paced era, there is also a lot of room for celebration.
Celebration is the spirit of the 1860s Dance Party, given in honor of Kansas Statehood (January 29, 1861). Katie Lange, Program Coordinator for the historic site, researches desserts of the era, because of course you can’t have a party without something sweet! She and Peggy Porter, Education Assistant, experiment during the late fall months with the period’s recipes. Any cook who has tried their hand at historic recipes will tell you the instructions tend to leave out key details in comparison with modern recipes. There is a lot of trial, error, surprise, and success in the kitchen as this team works to understand how to bring the party treats of the 1860s back to life. Every year the 1860s Dance Party features different desserts. My personal favorite was the almond hedgehog, but it was probably too much work to bring back annually.
Alexis Radil, Events Coordinator for Mahaffie, works behind the scenes to secure details such as a live band to perform 1860s dance music. To be perfectly honest, there are not many historic bands to be had and a lot of searching and research goes into the work of finding just the group to create an authentic 1860s Dance Party. The band provides a wonderfully rich performance from the era which is considered to be the predecessor to today’s line dance music. Even so, most modern dancers and all non-dancers would be lost without directions. Well, Alexis has not gone to all this trouble to secure a band just to allow participants to glue themselves to the walls! A dance caller will be the center of the scene to teach the proper steps to those intent on having the full experience (and their husbands!).
You might spot Alexis serving as bartender during this event as two drink tickets for beer or wine are included with each party ticket, so be sure to thank her for all her planning. Speaking of bartending, did you know Kansas Governor John St. John who campaigned for Prohibition was from Olathe? He would give a nod of approval toward the Temperance Punch available for those who do not wish to partake of the beer or wine.
Guests are invited to wear their best 1860s attire to this party. First-time attendees may be surprised to see just how many ladies own silk ballgowns, hoop skirts, party gloves and other accoutrements. Men sport their charming frock coats or Civil War era army uniforms. There is absolutely no requirement to pull out all the stops, but it sure is fun to see the fashion on display! As the photographer for this event, I have to say the swishing hoop skirts are the height of entertainment while shooting. You won’t find me in an 1860s ballgown, however. Like most modern women, I prefer to wear something less bulky, and that is perfectly acceptable.
This year’s 1860s Dance Party takes place on Saturday, January 28 in the Heritage Center at Mahaffie Stagecoach Stop & Farm located at 1200 E. Kansas City Rd., Olathe, 66061. Doors open at 6:30 p.m. and the band starts up at 7 p.m. Tickets are $20 online or $18 for Mahaffie Members ahead of the event. Admission at the door is $25 for members and non-members. Visit Mahaffie.org to purchase tickets.
Celebration of state pride coincides with the general sense of patriotism prevalent during the 1860s. This sentiment was strong in Kansas during the Civil War, which threatened the unity of the young United States. The war was not a distant event, either. Bushwhackers were travelling to Kansas with violent intentions and there were some skirmishes on both sides of the state line. Before Kansas became the 34th state in the union, threatening to upset the balance of free and slave states, it was both a target for vengeance and a beacon of hope, depending on how a person viewed the events of the day. Once Kansas became a territory, some settlers made a statement by their choice to be here. Their presence said, “I believe in the Union, and I believe in freedom.” Understanding this mindset makes it easy to understand why the biggest holiday celebration of the year was Independence Day (we’ll save that for another blog post).
A close second in terms of important days was General Washington’s birthday (February 22, 1732), as he was viewed as the hero of 1776 who made our nation possible. The Mahaffie family hosted both celebrations at their home, according to the Olathe Mirror. The historic limestone farmhouse was completed in 1865. An article appears in the Mirror in 1866 announcing a February party Mahaffie home. Tim Talbott, Site Manager, suspects this was an opportunity to show off the new house to neighbors and celebrate General Washington.
It is in the spirt of living history, patriotism, and celebration that Mahaffie Stagecoach Stop offers “A Toast to General Washington” on Saturday, February 25. Attendees choose their arrival time when purchasing tickets; options range from 5 p.m. to 7 p.m. The stagecoach will meet guests outside the Heritage Center and transport them to the historic house, where the Mahaffies had their first celebration for General Washington so many years ago. A bonfire with popcorn is planned for the front field. Guests may enjoy the warmth of the fire and make their way into the house at their own pace. On the main level of the house Katie and Michael Maslak, Lead Interpreter, provide music and invite others to join in. The selected songs are authentic fun tunes of the Mahaffies’ day. The choruses are easy to pick up and join in, which is good because Mr. Michael does not tolerate non-participation. Tavern games will be on hand in the sitting room, just as the Mahaffies may have done. Parlor games have long since gone by the wayside, to our disadvantage, if I may say so, but a Mahaffie staff member will be on site to help you learn (or re-learn) the games. Some of them require luck, some require skill, but all of them require a disposition to enjoy the company around you.
Downstairs in the kitchen and dining room (yes, the Mahaffies built their kitchen in the basement! You’ll learn more about that when you visit the site), more games will be available, along with some tavern treats and drinks of the era. The treats are simpler than those served during a ball, such as the one given in January, but just as tasty! Katie and Peggy will team up to brew special libations for the decanters in the weeks preceding the frivolity. Mr. Michael will step in at the right moment to tip these historic recipes toward your glass before the ever-important toast to our nation’s father. General Washington’s favorite drink is said to have been Cherry Bounce, a sweet brandy concoction, which will of course be available at the party. No matter your arrival time, you are welcome to visit and toast with us until the party winds down.
Tickets for A Toast to General Washington are on sale at Mahaffie.org and are available to participants age 21 and older. Tickets are $15 or $12 for Mahaffie Members.
Kathleen Puls, Community Engagement Coordinator, is privileged to work at Mahaffie Stagecoach Stop & Farm since 2018. You will spot her behind the camera at the 1860s Dance Party while tapping her feet to the music and at A Toast to General Washington, singing along with Mr. Michael in the basement of the historic house.
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