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A forgotten store in a forgotten town makes a comeback

Volland 9.jpg
Lu Anne Stephens

A couple breathes new life into a former general store in a forgotten town.

Even in its heyday in the early 1900s, Volland was barely a speck on the map, tucked away in the middle of the Flint Hills. And at the town's core was the Volland Store.

The town has since disappeared, but the Volland Store has come back to life. Of course, first, you have to find it.

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Lu Anne Stephens

It's fair to say that the Volland Store is off the beaten path. Way off.

But the drive through the Flint Hills to get there is part of the experience. And no matter which route you take, you'll wind through rippling hills and prairies dotted with cattle and sprawling ranches.

And just when you think you couldn't be anymore lost, there's the store.

"It was a general store in a little railroad town in Kansas," explained Patty Reese. She and her husband, Jerry, own the place.

"It was where cattle were delivered and then shipped from. So it was the center of commerce, but it was also a center of socialization and entertainment, school board meetings, everything that happened in a rural community."

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Lu Anne Stephens
Patty Reece

About a decade ago, Reese and her husband discovered the old building, which closed in 1971.

"We began to hear stories about the store we had driven by," she said. " … And they would just light up when they would have those memories and tell those stories to us."

The building eventually came up for sale and in 2012, the Reeses bought it.

"It had good bones. The walls were strong," said Patty Reese.

"The interior was a disaster. The roof had fallen in and with it, both of the floors; everything was in the basement. We didn't see that before we looked, but I don't think it would've made a difference, honestly."

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Lu Anne Stephens

By then, the dream of reviving the building as a community gathering place had taken root.

Today, the Volland Store is once again a community hub. Only now it's an art gallery, a place to hear lectures, meet touring authors, see a concert or film – and sometimes, some local theater.

People gathered for two events on a recent summer weekend. A local theater production at the recently renovated "Ruin" – the foundation and cellar of what had been the original store owner's home – and a curated exhibit of 10 Flint Hills artists.

Gary Coats drove down from Manhattan.

"It's beautiful," he said. "You get to see the countryside in new and different ways to experience a kind of almost … pilgrimage to come to a place that's far away and yet very close."

The Volland Store also has begun an artist-in-residence program; the first one was in the spring with another lined up for this fall.

The store is starting to see visitors from beyond the community and surrounding towns, with a few from other states or even other countries. The most common word they use is surprise.

"It's such a wonderful place, apparently in the middle of nowhere," said one guest from overseas.

"But it's like a lot of things in Kansas, you know? You don't expect it. It's just wonderful. Yeah."

Lu Anne Stephens is KMUW's Director of Content Strategy. She has held many positions over many years at KMUW. Lu Anne also produces KMUW’s New Settler's Radio Hour and the Hidden Kansas segment for KMUW’s weekly news program The Range.