HAYS, Kan. — The 150th anniversary of Fort Hays, Hays City, Rome and Ellis County is not until 2017, but it is never too early to begin planning for a sesquicentennial celebration.
“We are starting early. We want to make everyone aware of everything that happened 150 years ago,” said Dr. Juti Winchester, assistant professor of history at Fort Hays State University, president of the Board of Directors of the Ellis County Historical Society and chair of the Ellis County Sesquicentennial Planning Committee.
The committee held its first meeting May 21.
In 1967, Ellis County celebrated its 100th anniversary with a week-long celebration around the Fourth of July. The first event was a Governor’s Ball, with Gov. Robert Docking in attendance. A performance depicting the evolution of Hays was held at FHSU’s Lewis Field Stadium every night, and fireworks concluded each day’s activities.
The committee’s goal for the 150th anniversary is to attract visitors from within and outside the county, to celebrate the history of Hays and help generate revenue for local businesses. They are encouraging businesses to use 1867 as a theme in 2017, from special brews or food to other merchandise.
“We want to raise awareness and create a better profile regarding the history of Hays,” said Don Westfall, executive director of the Ellis County Historical Society. “We hope the sesquicentennial attracts tourists to Hays for the celebration.”
The historical society and the Fort Hays State Historical Site are planning activities throughout the entire year. The society is sponsoring a look-a-like contest of three well-known historical figures — Buffalo Bill Cody, George Armstrong Custer and Wild Bill Hickok. Potential event ideas include another Governor’s Ball, a Sesquicentennial parade, ghost tours, a chili cook off, quilt making and a prairie dog eating contest (hot dogs). Historians and authors from surrounding counties will attend to help educate the public and tell stories from the early days of Hays.
In June 2017, the Little Big Horn Associates, an organization dedicated to preserving the history of Gen. Custer and the Battle of Little Bighorn, plans to hold its annual conference in Hays. About 800 members are expected to attend.
The Sesquicentennial Committee encourages all local businesses and the university to get involved in the celebration of the history of Hays.
“The celebration belongs to the community,” said Winchester. “I hope people get together and make it a memorable one so they can say ‘I was there.’ ”
The next meeting, open to the public, will be at a brown-bag lunch at noon, Wednesday, June 10, in the Ellis County Historical Society Museum.