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Ellinwood: The Crossroads of History and Technology

Covid-19 had made access to internet more important than ever, as communities  and individuals across the nation struggle to stay connected during a time of social distancing. Rural communities who have limited or no access to high-speed internet have been particularly challenged by the pandemic, but in Ellinwood, Kansas, H&B Communications, a local telecommunications company, made investing in high-speed internet for their region a priority.  The result, as you can see in Humanities Kansas’s online exhibit “Ellinwood: Continuous Innovation,” is a town that has been able to stay current and connected to the rest of the state, the nation, and the globe, but, most importantly perhaps, to each other—even in 2020.

Visit the Online Exhibit

“Ellinwood: Continuous Innovation” Crossroads: Change in Rural America, Humanities Kansas's statewide initiative anchored by a Smithonian exhibition of the same name. Crossroads tell the story of how residents are keeping the rich history and vibrant traditions of Kansas rural life alive for future generations. 

“Ellinwood: Continuous Innovation” shares how the Ellinwood community’s commitment to keeping their rural Kansas community vibrant, adaptable, and competitive with the rest of the world has led them to embrace ingenuity and change.  In Ellinwood, places like the Historic Wolf Hotel embrace their past—which includes a series of underground tunnels constructed for the transport of bootleg hooch during the prohibition era that can still be visited today!—while renovating to keep up with the present.  Other local businesses, such as the Kansas Earth & Sky Candle Company and the Calamity Jane Salon see Ellinwood’s unique combination of rural history and cutting-edge innovation as good for business.

Group of people at a bar

Staff at Wolf Hotel, Ellinwood

Questions for Discussion:

After exploring “Ellinwood: Continuous Innovation,” consider the following questions: 

1. The internet can be both a help and a hindrance to small businesses.  While the internet provides small businesses with unprecedented access to their customers, their suppliers, and a variety of business services, it also gives their local customer base access to online competitors so large that they can easily out-perform small businesses on product variety and low marginal costs—think Amazon and, among others.  How do you think small businesses in rural America should address this challenge?

historic building

Calamity Jane's, Ellinwood

2. Towns like Ellinwood succeed, in part, due to their ability to balance the past and the present, tradition and innovation.  Why is this balancing act so valuable to small-town America?  Which side of this equation—tradition or innovation—is more important to the success of rural communities in your opinion?

historic photo of hotel in Ellinwood KS

Wolf Hotel, Ellinwood

3. In the Crossroads: Change in Rural America video found here, we learn that many choose to live in rural America because of the sense of community that can be found there. What is it about rural communities that makes it easier to have this sense of communal identity, support, and wellbeing?  It is that these towns are smaller, more removed from the stresses of urban life, or more connected to nature and, sometimes, less connected to modern technologies?  What do you think makes the sense of community in rural America such a special draw?

building on main street in Ellinwood Kansas

H&B Communications, Ellinwood

Join the Movement of Ideas

The following activities are designed to help you think more about our changing understanding of community today—especially in the time of COVID-19:

  • Explore the Ellinwood Historical Society’s online photograph collection.  Many of these photographs feature groups of central Kansans poised for collective portraits.  In a world increasingly inundated by “selfies,” what is the role of the group photo in creating our shared sense of history, memory, and identity with others?  As we approach a holiday season in which in-person family photographs may be supplanted by screenshots of virtual zoom rooms, what do we make of the history and future of the group portrait?
  • In order to combat the isolation that many may experience this holiday season due to the pandemic, communities and organizations across the country are getting innovative—just like Ellinwood!  Often that means turning to virtual means of connecting.  Humanities Kansas’s Crossroads Playlist makes it possible to share one of humanity’s most popular ways of feeling connected—music—with loved ones far and near.  
  • Alternately, you can still get your holiday drama fix (even without the in-laws!) by downloading Humanities Kansas’s Love at the Crossroads Readers’ Theatre Script. Act it out with those in your household or do a virtual performance via Zoom or Facetime.  And yes, your mother-in-law would make a great Jessica Kring but inviting her is entirely up to you.
  • Finally, we know that many want to feel that sense of holiday connection right now, but digital just isn’t their thing.  We’ve got you!  Try our Humanities Holiday Hotline to hear stories about the wintering prairie, a Christmas bird count, old holiday traditions at Marymount College, and the traditions of Kwanzaa.  Just dial 1-888-416-2018—hotline stories are available 24/7 and are always completely free!

Whatever you do, we want to hear about it!  Share your version of a 2020 holiday group photo—in-person, virtual, or something else entirely—by posting it on Instagram and tagging us @humanitieskansas, #crossroadsks.  Feeling brave? We would love, love, love to see a bit of your Love at the Crossroads performance.  Post your video and tag us on Instagram or Facebook  @humanitieskansas, #crossroadsks, #storychasershk.  Happy holidays to you and yours from the Kansas crossroads!  We’re thinking of you, Kansas!



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