Sauntering into the saloon to sip on a cold sarsaparilla may seem like a scene straight out of a Western flick, but at the Old Cowtown Museum in Wichita, Kansas, it’s just another day on the frontier.
Regarded as one of the oldest open-air living-history museums in the Midwest, the Old Cowtown Museum is a series of 54 historic and re-created buildings set up on a 23-acre frontier that mimics a typical 19th-century town on the Great Plains. The museum officially welcomed its first guests in 1952, but even before that opening day, the property was used as a place for settlers to meet up. In 1869, Darius S. Munger built his two-story residence on his little slice of Wichita’s landscape. Munger’s house still stands today and is one of the main sites visitors and groups can explore while at the museum.
“The Old Cowtown Museum is one of the oldest living-history museums west of the Mississippi,” said executive director David Flask. “Unlike many others, which consist of a single street, Cowtown is an actual village with residential, commercial, industrial and farming areas.”
Aside from the historic buildings on-site, the museum entertains guests with re-enactments from gun-slinging cowboys fighting for honor in the dusty streets to cheerful blacksmiths eager to share a bit about their trade.
Although the site is only a few miles west of the modern-day downtown in Wichita, upon taking that first step onto the grounds at the museum, guests are immediately transported to another world. The Old Cowtown Museum includes Wichita’s first jail, a one-room schoolhouse, a 5-acre farm that dates back to 1880 and plenty of meeting spaces. From saying “I do” in an 1870s wood-frame church to lively gatherings around a piano at the Victorian hall, meeting experiences at the Old Cowtown Museum transcend the norm.
Indoor Meeting Space
Not only do visitors to the Old Cowtown Museum get the chance to be immersed in the sights, sounds, and culture of an authentic Midwest cattle town when they visit for an event or meeting, but each venue on the property also offers a tailored experience to suit the event or meeting. The Great Room and Patio (150 guests) make for elegant banquets with an open floor plan and a grand stone fireplace in the center, while the Turnverein Hall (85 guests), Empire House (120 guests), and Fritz Snitzler’s Saloon (68 guests) offer an environment with an old-world flair. Even the First Presbyterian Church (49 guests) is available for rent and makes a great place to exchange vows.
Outdoor Meeting Space
The 23-acre Old Cowtown Museum offers a variety of distinctive spots to meet, and thinking outside the walls pays off for anyone looking to host an event on this property. The museum features options like a gazebo and a bandstand that can fit up to 12 musicians or guests, as well as a fairground primed for hosting crowds of up to 600 people. Restrooms are located nearby, and in case of inclement weather, events can easily be moved indoors to the Chuckwagon Café.
Although the museum does run a snack bar that sells hot dogs, chips, candy, soda and ice-cold sarsaparilla, the museum does not have a full-time caterer on-site. The museum has an open catering policy, where each contracted caterer and bar service organization is required to be licensed and insured. Before and after events, guests can check out the gift shop to purchase old-time candy and soda to take home or to enjoy on-site. Alcohol is allowed with a licensed bartender.
The team at the Old Cowtown Museum knows how to navigate the attention spans of the modern world with a few tricks from days of old. Guided tours are available for anyone looking to explore the grounds like a regular museum guest, or visitors can go out on their own for a trip that normally takes about an hour and a half, but anyone looking for more need just say the word. The events team customizes entertainment and tours for groups with such options as organizing gunfights, hitching up the wagon for rides around the property, and planning out 1870s gambling experiences with live music and performances by Victorian dancers.
Even though the Old Cowtown Museum replicates a 19th-century cattle town, guests won’t have to sacrifice modern amenities and the comforts of 21st-century America. The museum even has its own hashtag, #CowtownWOW, so guests can tag their photos on Twitter or Facebook. Every building is equipped with heating and air conditioning, and audiovisual equipment is available for business meetings. The Empire House boasts a full-service catering kitchen, and both the Turnverein Hall and the Great Room have kitchen spaces for serving.
The Old Cowtown Museum is a member of the American Alliance of Museums, a national accrediting organization, and is dedicated to preserving, protecting and presenting the culture and customs of the Old West. Throughout the property, guests can find more than 10,000 authentic objects and artifacts dating back to the mid to late 1800s. For a full experience, groups can rent the entire museum, all 23 acres and all 50-plus buildings, for unlimited access and unlimited capacity.
Old Cowtown Museum
Type of Venue
Hyatt Regency Wichita