Chilly temperatures and cloudy skies couldn’t keep a crowd of families away from opening day at the Deanna Rose Children’s Farmstead this week.
After all, there were baby goats to feed and ponies to ride and fish to catch. Oh, and don’t forget strolling down Main Street.
On Tuesday afternoon, more than 1,400 people walked through the gates at the farmstead to learn about early-20th century Kansas and to ogle baby animals.
On a typical summer weekend, the park usually sees 3,000 to 4,000 guests per day, said Kerrie Nichols, the park’s public program supervisor. For a brisk school day in the spring, 1,418 was a good turnout.
The 12-acre farmstead has several new attractions this year.
A photo parlor, barbershop, and blacksmith shop— all set in the early 20th century — opened this season, thanks to fundraising efforts from the nonprofit Friends of the Farmstead and private donations. The three new buildings join the recently built general store, ice cream parlor and bank.
In the new photo parlor, guests pose in front of a green screen that puts them into a scene of their choice, such as a tornado or sunny farm with friendly animals. Photos cost $7.50, or two for $12.
“So far, kids and their parents are really excited about it, so I think it’s going to be one of our biggest hits,” said Alex Hicks, who works in the photo parlor. “It’s been really cool to use modern technology to bring historical farm scenery to life.”
Next door, in the barbershop, guests can make free appointments for a lively historical presentation by Chuck Evans, who dons early 1900s barber attire. The shop features antique barber chairs, colorful mugs and hair-cutting tools genuine to the time period.
“Researching for this role has been a hoot,” Evans said. “I’ve learned so many interesting facts and I can’t wait to share them all with the kids.”
Nearby at the blacksmith shop on Tuesday, a row of mesmerized little boys stared over the wall as iron was carefully heated in a small coal fire.
“We’re more than just a petting zoo, and people coming here today are wowed by how much we’ve changed in the past few years,” Nichols said. “With the completion of our Main Street and our additional historical presentations, we’re giving kids a fun, well-rounded learning experience.”
The final touches on Main Street were not the only renovations this year.
The farmstead’s playground received new equipment, including a tractor for kids to climb and new, toddler-friendly slides and tunnels, thanks to funding from the Overland Park Rotary Club.
Near the playground, several Harmony Elementary School students picked up trash as part of a community service project on opening day.
George, Liz and Katie LaHood, three siblings from Overland Park, said they enjoyed cleaning up the park they’ve grown to know so well.
“We’ve been coming here since we were really little, so it makes me happy to help out,” said George, a fifth grader.
His 9-year-old sister, Liz, was excited to see all the changes this year.
“The blacksmith shop is so cool and I can’t wait to see the barbershop and photo store,” she said. “I really want my photo taken.”
They all have plans to come back for fun, and even for more work.
“When I turn 14, I want to volunteer here,” said Liz, a 7-year-old with a bright grin.
Their enthusiasm put a smile on their mother’s face.
Christy LaHood has been coming to the farmstead since she was a little girl, and she thinks the hands-on learning aspect is more effective than reading a textbook about life on an early-20th century Kansas farm.
“Honestly, Deanna Rose Children’s Farmstead is one of the fine jewels of Overland Park and I am so proud to bring my family here every year,” she said. “The new attractions are just fantastic and it’s exciting to have a piece of living history right here in the suburbs. I think it’s important for kids to learn the values and experiences our country was built on.”
Nichols said the farmstead staff worked in bitterly cold temperatures over the past few months to ensure opening day would go off without a hitch, she said.
But the work isn’t over yet. The farmstead is expecting to start the season with six to seven field trips per weekday and at least 10 birthday parties today alone.
And the farmstead is gearing up for more renovations.
The next project on the list is turning the former east entry into office space for staff and volunteers, plus incorporating a guest feature there — maybe a farmhouse kitchen with live cooking demonstrations. Those renovations are expected to be complete by 2016.
“We’re always a work in progress,” Nichols said. “And we never lose sight of our main goal, which is to create a fun and lively experience for people each year.”