Hays has a population of only 20,000, but the university is a substantial enrollment of 9,000 student. Thus, the university figures very large in the town's culture, even if it is not reflected in a lively downtown area. The liberal arts college has many locally quarried limestone buildings of substantial architectural interest, which was the focus of my first visit. However, I have provided in the link below, the university website. In this tip, I present Picken Hall, with it's fountain, and the massive Sheridan Coliseum. The Sheridan Coliseum has recently been renovated and turned from a sports to theater venue. The architectural style employed in most university buldings apears to reflect the sort of crenulated defensive structures found in fortresses; hence the link to the original Fort Hays from where the land grant for the college has it's origins.
The wealthier neighborhoods of town appear to cluster mostly on the west side, particularly off Hall Street, but these are newer homes of lesser architectural interest. Uptown, particularly along Fort Street leading toward Boot Hill, are only a few homes of architectural interest, while there are a few more of interest along 7th and 8th streets between downtown and the university. One important only relic has been converted into the Mary Elizabeth Maternity Home. Overall, in my first appraisal of Hays, I have to admit that except for the beautifully brick paved streets and available open spaces neighborhood architecture was pretty bland. I will explore more later as I must have missed some important vintage neighborhoods. Meanwhile, these images will have to do as presentation of what one might find during a walk around downtown.
At 305 West 7th Street, only a few blocks from the university but still in downtown, the First United Methodist Church has a venerable old structure of considerable architectural interest. The church doesn't have a website, so I wasn't able to determine the providence of this massive structure. At the time I walked by, members, a couple had their contribution for a "potluck" celebration. The husband carefully carried a foil wrapped hot dish prepared by his wife.
Next to the authentic and old Presbyterian church is a deceptively old appearing Volga German Haus. This and the variety of other out buildings in this pioneer field museum, are replicas of the structures built by the Volga German immigrants. Included among the images here is a unidentified stone structure and staircase from the area that is clearly of early vintage. Behind the Presbyterian church are two tombstones of Volga-German immigrants. I was there on a Sunday when the haus and museum were closed, unfortunately.
In 1873, toward the end of the lawless period, a group of Presbyterians under the leadership of "Grandma" Annie Wilson formed a congregation to reform their brethren in town, and by 1879, the limestone church shown here was built at 100 West 7th Street. This structure, one of the few dating to this period in Hays history, remains also one of the oldest church buildings in western Kansas. The larger Gothic style brick building was added around the turn of the century. Today, the Ellis County Historical Society operates a museum, mostly oriented toward German pioneer relics, and historical book store in both buildings, and nearby is a a Volga German Haus. In back are two Volga-German graves. The First Presbyterian Church congregation has long since relocated to a marvelous new building at 2900 Hall Street, within one of the more affluent neighborhoods in town not far from the university.
Hays has a relatively new public library  located on Main street which has a limestone bust of Buffalo Bill, sculpted by, guess who, local favorite, Pete Felten. Nearby is a replica of the Statue of Liberty, donated if I recall correctly, by the Boys Scouts. The library building has a memorial brick wall.
Hays is the Ellis County seat, the limestone faced Ellis County Courthouse  of some architectural interest. Also, note the Hays City Hall, which is located in the same building as the Hays Fire Department's Station #1. In front of the city hall is a Felten limestone statue of Wild Bill Hickok.
After seeing the magnificient St. Fidelis Church in nearby Victoria, St. Joseph's is a bit of a let-down, particularly on the inside. However there are a few religious wood carvings and significant stained glass windows. In the garden, where perhaps an earlier church building once stood, is a memorial and lawn where squirrels like to play.
On 13th street in downtown Hays is the venerable St. Joseph's Church. See the website for details about the history of the limestone church building, as well as the imposing limestone block "service" building across the street. Bear in mind that this is the center of rural America, where a majority of voters believe in creationism, so it seems by their school board policies about teaching high school biology. In any case, the church building is worth a look-over, if nothing else for the marvelous cast bronze front doors.
The original or traditional downtown of Hays is known as the Chestnut District. Although the district is loaded with old brick and limestone commerical buildings, as well as brick paved streets, downtown Hays is surprisingly quiet and lacking in the sort of vitality it deserves, especially considering this is a university town. Nevertheless, the architecture and history of this place deserves a good walk around. Don't expect any great diners for breakfast, but there are a couple of decent places for lunch and dinner. Mostly the town deserves interest for the volume of fine old buildings in need of restoration.
Between August of 1867 and December of 1873 there were over 30 homicides in and around Hays. Although other Kansas wild west towns have equal claim for having had "boot hill" cemetaries, that of Hays is the original and most authentic. The name "boot hill" has it's origins in the western duel where gun fighters died, not as old men in bed, but in the street with their boots still on. Needless to say, the funeral arrangements for many of these lawless men were as hasty as were their deaths, and so a mass burial plot was needed. However, many of those buried on Boot Hill were wandering pioneers or teamsters whose deaths were due to sudden disease, accident, or alcoholism. Some deaths were due to racial violence. Elizabeth Custer, wife of George Armstrong Custer, reflected that “there was enough desperate history in [Hays] in one summer to make a whole library of dime novels.” Mrs. Custer noted in her diary in the summer of 1869 there were already 36 graves in the Hays cemetery called “Boot Hill”. The Hay's Boot Hill is located at the corner of 18th and Fort streets. The corner of the city lot reserved for the memorial and has a Pete Felten statue, "The Pioneer", as well as a plate listing a few of the more than 80 known to be buried here.
These brass plaques are located along this one block area, marking the original location of these saloons, courthouses, grocery's, barbershops, etc. The original buildings were probably wood structures of hasty construction. Nearly all who were murdered were buried in mass at Boot Hill.
Parallel with the railroad is a block of particular historic interest. Most, if not all, of the original historic buildings are long gone and replaced by nearer commercial buildings, but the places have been preserved for all eternity. Read the stories on these plaques and understand the violence history of Hays away from the fort. These true tales reveal in stark terms the exotic nature of the wild west of which Hays played in central role. I've cropped and enhanced the plates for easy appreciation on VT.
Fort Hays had the mission of protecting from Indian marauders the stage lines and freight traveling along the Smokey Hill trail that led to Denver. But, the original location wasn't near enough to the railroad, and so in 1867 it was moved to the current location near Big Creek. The fort changed its name in honor of Civil War General Alexander Hays, who had been killed in 1864 at the Battle of the Wilderness. The life of the fort was, by comparison for instance with the northern plains fur posts, such as Fort Laramie. Fort Hays lasted only between 1867 and 1889. However, this fort was the post for many famous people, including Buffalo Bill Cody, General Philip Sheridan, Wild Bill Hickok, General Nelson Miles, and Lieutenant Colonel George Armstrong Custer. Today, there are only four buildings left, but there are a number of excavated flint hills limestone foundations that have been identified and marked for public appreciation.
I arrived on a Sunday when the museum was closed, but the grounds are open and easy to enter anytime. In fact, the fort has no defensive wall. The oldest building is the blockhouse, which was a defense structure from which a few soldiers could with their repeating rifles hold off an entire tribe of Indian warriors. Eventually, this building was converted to other purposes as it was no longer necessary.