A smallish rural town nestled in the approximate center of Miami County, Kansas--just about 20 miles west of the Kansas/Missouri border. Paola serves as the county seat and contains a population of roughly 5-6,000 people. That number inflates to about 10,000 if one includes the surrounding rural population which claims the Paola zipcode, 66071.

Paola is 20 minutes south-by-southwest of Olathe, Kansas, (depending on your chosen average driving speed) which puts the town within a stone's throw of the Kansas City metropolitan area. As such, the town has taken a developmental turn towards the familiar metamorphosis into an average suburbia, with many of the incoming population being made up of folk who chose to relocate from the richer, more densely populated Johnson County to the north.

Or, if you are of a traditionally more negative bent, the town is being invaded by low-income trailer trash from Osawatomie--Paola's chief athletic rival--to the immediate south (or, as some former residents would call it: "Prime, Grade A Springer Country").

Paola, KS, has a few minor claims to fame:

  1. It is the home town of Danny Carey, illustrious drummer for the metal/progressive rock band, Tool.
  2. It is the home town of Steve Pepoon, a hollywood writer who worked for the television shows ALF, Roseanne, and the short lived Tom Arnold Show--which had its brief run on CBS in the early-to-mid-90's. As chief writer and co-creator of the aforementioned Tom Arnold Show, Mr. Pepoon actually set the show in Paola, with several landmarks and local items being referenced in the scripts.
    (Note: the Tom Arnold Show did so poorly that few of us living in Paola or the surrounding vicinity were even aware of the show's location until shortly before its cancellation.)
  3. The abolitionist drama Ride With the Devil, dealing with the early days of Kansas and border struggles between the proslavery Missourians and Kansas "Free Staters" in the 1850's was filmed in the rural areas immediately southeast of Paola. The film featured several local residents in bit parts, and a few of my friends who enjoyed living history and partaking in Civil War Re-enactments.
  4. During the aformentioned days of Bleeding Kansas the town of Paola was a frequent haunt of noted abolitionist John Brown.

The immediate local rivals of Paola are located seven miles south, in Osawatomie, KS. This rivalry stems partly from both cities being strategic points along the Kansas/Missouri border while pro-slavery and anti-slavery groups duked it out. Popular local belief has it that most of the pro-slavery folk rounded up in Osawatomie, while the abolitionists shored up their defenses in Paola. The area was considered an important watering hole on the way to Lawrence, Kansas, which is roughly 45 miles to the northwest. (See also: Quantrill's Raiders)

The other part of the rivalry issues from the fact that, being at an impasse, the towns of Osawatomie and Paola decided to leave the issue of which town would be county seat up to a simple horse race to the state capital in Topeka. Osawatomie lost.

Some people feel they have been patently bitter about it ever since.

One thing this place doesn't have enough of is indian burial grounds. It seems that, in Paola's neverending drive to become the "Johnson County of Miami County," almost every new construction project on the town's edges has dredged up another new field of Native American corpses. This seems to be indicative of poor record keeping on the part of the community's founders--or purposeful ignorance advanced by the same group. The surrounding rural area is also dotted with supposed burial sites, with a certain number of them possibly being little more than local folklore.

As for the Indians themselves, there is virtually no living trace. After being kind enough to not kill the encroaching settlers, and allowing said settlers to build the original town, most of the indigenous population was summarily shipped off to Oklahoma in the late 19th century. The town was nice enough to name a street after the Indian chief, Baptiste Peoria, even though this name was not his given name, but rather a Christian one accepted by him. A vacant lot in the southern portion of Paola, once housing a school and conceded to the town for "educational use" as a provision of Peoria's will, has been legally subverted and is now a housing development.

The highest point in Paola's vicinity is John Brown's Hill, which is held by local folklore to be a location used by Brown as a lookout from which he could spy bands of pro-slavery raiders moving through the countryside. Before someone bought the land and built a house on its peak, it was also a popular place for bands of local high school students to hang out, smoke cigarettes, moon trains which passed along its base, and do the nasty.

"Doing the nasty," has now most likely become the distinction of what was once the second choice for local teenagers: Miola Lake, which lies a few miles north of town--almost in a direct line with the current high school--and serves as Paola's primary source of drinking water.

A check through local history at the Paola Free Library reveals that, actually, no one is really quite sure how the town ended up being named "Paola"--though legends of Italian immigrants and Spanish Conquistadores abound.

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