Take a Brief Tour of Living History

Open Tuesday-Saturday 10am-4pm
Admission Fees:      $10.00 adults    -    $8.00 military & seniors   -    $5.00 children
Admittance includes Fort Harker and all buildings at Ellsworth

Research Center and Gift Shop

We have outgrown our facilities!  To allow us to expand our display of donated items and to add some new features including an archive room, office, gift shop, and meeting room, we are excited to add our new addition - THE RESEARCH CENTER!  Stop in and take a tour of our newest facilities!

Hodgden House

The Hodgden house was built in 1875 by Perry  and Phoebe Hodgden, a very influential resident in the development of Ellsworth. His was the first private home to be built of stone after the fires of 1874 and 1876 consumed most of the buildings and residences on north and south Main Streets comprising the heart of the town.


In 1961 the house was once again restored to its original elegance. The Ellsworth Historical Society established a museum on the site in 1963 and has continued to make acquisitions and enlarge their exhibits since that time.  The house is filled with artifacts from those early days. 

Livery Stable

Take a tour of the Dakota Sandstone Livery Stable, constructed in 1887 by Robert Martin.  The Livery Stable built in 1887 at the Hodgden House Museum complex is one of a few livery stables still standing on a Main St.  Come take a tour of this and more!

1880s Second Baptist Church

The museum grounds also includes the Second Baptist Church, built in 1886, and pictured here along with a windmill, known as the Shanelec Windmill, which was restored and has been on the grounds since 1970.

School House

School was held in this one room schoolhouse from 1880-1967 (article in the Ellsworth Reporter 1980) and the building was given to the Historical Society from Mrs. Gerald Vodraska in memory of her late husband. It was moved to the Museum grounds from where it was located, 8 miles west and north of Ellsworth. At one time there were 76 school districts in Ellsworth County. Houses were heated with wood or coal and the teacher had to be there very early to get the fire going for the children. Pictures of some of the 81 schools in Ellsworth County are on display in the school along with many other related items.


In 1878, Tom Mullen, along with a man named S.M. Simpson from Lawrence, Kansas laid out a townsite and when it gained a post office on July 2, 1878, it was called Terra Cotta, meaning “colored earth” for the red clay in the surrounding hills.  In 1885, large stockyards were built at Terra Cotta and between 1886 and 1912, more cattle were shipped from Brookville and Terra Cotta than from any other place between Kansas City and Denver. But, Terra Cotta’s life would be short. In 1887, a prairie fire swept through the area and burned down the hotel. The following year, a recession hit and several families and businesses left. The elevator was moved to Shady Bend, in Lincoln County, some 30 miles to the north. Mr. Bliss moved his Blacksmith Shop to Venango, about nine miles south of Terra Cotta, Mr. Fletcher moved his grocery store to Kanopolis, and Tom Mullen ceased a large part of his clay operations.


By the early 1890s, almost all the businesses had left. However, the post office remained open and Mrs. Tom Mullen became postmaster in 1897, running it until it was discontinued in 1913. In 1889, though the businesses were gone, the Union Pacific Railroad built the new Terra Cotta Depot. By 1910, there were only 20 people living in the town and on March 31, 1913, the post office closed its doors forever.


Though Terra Cotta showed much promise, the town was short lived and today, nothing is left of the old townsite except the railroad tracks. The 1900 depot now stands in Ellsworth as part of the Hodgden House Museum complex.

Fort Harker Guardhouse

Fort Harker, located in Kanopolis, Kansas, was an active military installation of the United States Army from November 17, 1866 to October 5, 1872. The fortification was named after General Charles Garrison Harker, who was killed in action at the Battle of Kennesaw Mountain in the American Civil War. Fort Harker replaced Fort Ellsworth, which had been located 1.6 km (0.99 mi) from the location of Fort Harker and was abandoned after the new fortifications at Fort Harker were constructed. Fort Harker was a major distribution point for all military points farther west and was one of the most important military stations west of the Missouri River.

Commanding Officers Quarters/Jr. Officers Quarters

In 1868 General Sheridan moved his command from Fort Leavenworth to Fort Harker for the purpose of protecting settlers and conducting campaigns against the Native Americans. In 1869 Brevet Colonel Joseph Tilford with two troops of General Custer’s 7th Cavalry were stationed at Fort Harker before leaving on a campaign in February 1870. Then in May 1870 General Custer himself passed through Fort Harker with the rest of the 7th Cavalry on their way from Fort Leavenworth to Fort Hays and ultimately to their defeat at the Battle of the Little Bighorn.

A report published in 1870 indicates that the main buildings of Fort Harker were located near the center of the Military Reservation and were laid out around a parade ground that measured 252 yards long and 120 yards wide. At the west end of the parade ground there was two-story stone guard house that held six small cells on the second floor. This building still stands today and houses a museum. Behind the guardhouse there were four wood framed buildings that were used as stables for the cavalry. On the eastern side of the parade ground there were eleven buildings that were used as officer quarters. Three of those were built out of the same native red sandstone as the guard house. The largest of the three was the commanding officer’s home, which had eight rooms and a kitchen. That building is also still standing today and after many years of serving as a private residence it is now owned by the Ellsworth County Historical Society and can be toured as part of the Fort Harker Museum Tour. Two of the other Junior Officer’s quarters were made of the same red sandstone and are also still standing today. One is being used as a private residence and the other is restored and owned by the Ellsworth County Historical Society and can be toured today. In 1870 there were four or five sets of enlisted men’s quarters which were wood framed buildings and each one would accommodate a single company of soldiers (about 100 to 250 men). There was a separate kitchen and mess hall for the enlisted men as well as a sink or privy behind each of the company quarters. These wood framed outhouses were about 13 feet by 8 feet and were built over 10 foot deep, wood lined pits. Another eight framed buildings were southwest of the guardhouse and used as workshops and then later used to house married soldiers and laundresses. Other buildings included three large storehouses, the post bakery and sutler’s store.

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