Dam, that Took a Long Time

The Wyandotte County Lake Dam under construction (Photo courtesy Mr. and Mrs. F.L. Schlagle Library & Environmental Learning Center)

The Wyandotte County Lake Dam under construction, c. 1938. (Photo courtesy of Schlagle Library)

Each year, thousands of anglers, hikers, and boaters enjoy Wyandotte County Lake, a manmade lake that has been a getaway destination in northeast Kansas for nearly 75 years. Today, life on the lake is carefree, but building it was a different story. The process was so long and difficult that, at times, it looked like it would not happen at all.

Wyandotte County Lake Park was dreamed up in the early 1930s, when Wyandotte County, like much of the country, faced the dueling problems of economic depression and drought-induced scarcity of water. After finagling, political maneuvering, and some help by banker Willard Breidenthal, the Board of County Commissioners passed a resolution on September 24, 1935, to buy 1,400 acres of land near Marshall Creek to build a county lake and park, simultaneously solving the problems of lack of jobs and lack of water; the New Deal’s Works Progress Administration (WPA) provided labor.

But building this landscape wasn’t all a dream. In July 1936, the first of a number of strikes took place, as the WPA laborers picketed for a raise. They also demanded that only Wyandotte County residents be hired, at least until the labor pool ran dry. Although such issues were eventually resolved, it did not end the strikes. Nothing, however, could prepare workers for the disaster ahead.

On September 19, 1937, when the dam was 90 percent complete, and with water about 30 feet in the adjacent lake, several motorists sightseeing on a nearby road noticed a crack in the pavement. Wisely, they fled. The dam collapsed in a massive landslide. 300,000 pounds of earth fell 50 feet, causing the land to the north to shift and close a 16-foot drainage ditch. The collapse also made the highway over the spillway impassible.

WPA and Wyandotte County officials put the project on hold while they tried to figure out what to do. The construction of the new dam started nine months later at the end of July 1938, just south of the dirt pile where the first dam once stood; it was completed in 1942.

Today, the Wyandotte County Lake enriches the lives of Kansas City residents. Jennifer Kilburg, education specialist at the Mr. and Mrs. F.L. Schlagle Library and Environmental Learning Center in Wyandotte County Lake Park, asserts:

“In a county that is very urban, Wyandotte County Lake is a place to get away…the lake is continuously busy with fishermen and boating. We have over 11 miles of hiking and many people comment that it has the best trails in the area! Birders from all over eastern Kansas come out to the lake to see the migrating waterfowl. None of these activities would be possible if this lake were not here.”

Learn more about the history of Wyandotte County Lake at the Dam, That Took a Long Time exhibition, on display at the Mr. and Mrs. F.L. Schlagle Library and Environmental Learning Center from June 24 to August 6, 2017.

Learn more about Kansas’s water history at the Smithsonian Institution’s traveling exhibition Water/Ways, on display in Eudora during these same dates.

 

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Taking Pictures, Speaking Out

Photo of the Delaware River taken by one of the Photovoice project participants. Image courtesy of Felicia Mitchell.

University of Kansas social work doctoral student Felicia Mitchell handed out disposable film cameras to members of the Kickapoo Tribe in Kansas, all of whom “lived or worked” on the Tribe’s reservation in northeast Kansas. Mitchell asked the Tribal members to take pictures illustrating the relationship between health and water in their community.

The distribution of the cameras and the associated research formed the backbone of Mitchell’s dissertation. Recently completed, it’s a study using a qualitative research method called Photovoice. Invented in the 1990s by Caroline C. Wang at the University of Michigan and Mary Ann Burris at the Ford Foundation, Photovoice aims to enable participants “to represent their communities or express their points of view by photographing scenes that highlight research themes.”

In inviting the Kickapoo to photograph the connection between water and health in their community, Mitchell empowered them to voice their own concerns and interests. A small tribe, with around 1,600 members and about 600 reservation residents, the Kickapoo are uniquely affected by water issues, and Mitchell wanted to let the Tribal members explain exactly how.

The Kickapoo rely on the Delaware River for nearly all their water use. This reliance leaves them uniquely positioned for certain water challenges. First, surface water is subject to drought and climate change, often leading to low flow. In fact, in 2003, the Delaware ran completely dry and the Kickapoo had to ration their water, spending thousands to truck in over 7 million gallons of water. Another drought in 2012 affected everything from livestock to swimming pools, fire departments to car washes.

Further, non-source contamination from pollution and runoff upstream affects the quality of the water. Often the tap water on the Kickapoo reservation tastes bad, and those who can afford it use bottled water, itself posing a host of environmental issues. Additionally, tainted river water can lead to health concerns like eczema and even cancer.

Yet, when Mitchell handed out the cameras, she left her Photovoice question broadly phrased, not explicitly mentioning any of the Kickapoo’s previous water issues. In this way, Mitchell ensured that the results wouldn’t be tainted by her own interest, theories, or previous research. Mitchell says she “left it open-ended on purpose. I was careful about not leading them to any visuals.” So it’s all the more striking that nearly every camera came back with a picture of the Delaware River.

Water is central to many if not all indigenous populations — a common saying across indigenous peoples is “water is life.” The Kickapoo Tribe has only been in Kansas — and by extension, along the Delaware River — since the 1800s, when they were relocated to their current reservation in Brown County. Therefore, going in to her Photovoice study, Mitchell wasn’t sure how central the Delaware would be. Turns out, it was. The river, according the Mitchell, is “connected to a lot of aspects of the livelihood of the community,” even if the Delaware wasn’t the Kickapoo’s by choice.

The Kickapoo people Mitchell spoke with raised many concerns. Some discussed how much more uncommon swimming was these days. Others worried over contamination in the springs used for ceremonies and rituals. Many raised the specter of being unsure whether the river caused cancer.

Yet Mitchell’s goal is more than learning about the issues facing the Kickapoo; she also aims to raise awareness to a broader public. She say “the purpose of the study was to engage the community in participatory research by collecting these photos and stories about health and water that can then be shared with a wider audience.”

With the wider audience in mind, Mitchell secured a Kansas Humanities Council grant to design and mount an exhibition of photographs the Kickapoo participants took. She enlarged the photographs and quotes from her research and displayed the exhibition in the senior center at the Kickapoo Reservation. After the exhibit, Mitchell solicited feedback from the participants and Tribal members to make sure she got the story right. Soon, she hopes to mount a public exhibition to make the Kickapoo water story more widely known.

Learn more water stories of Kansas at the Water/Ways Smithsonian exhibition that is touring Kansas through June 2018..

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A Deluge of Things to Do

Photo provided by Eudora Area Historical Society

Photo provided by Eudora Area Historical Society

In mid-July 1951, Hazel Harris went to visit her husband Jerry in the hospital in nearby Lawrence, just west of their home in Eudora. Any other day the drive would have been a piece of cake, but on this particular day, she cruised the nine miles down Kansas Highway 10 in a boat – that day, several feet of water covered the road.

Elsewhere in Eudora, Bob and Lois Neis needed to get their 200 chickens to safety. As the waters rose, brothers Clarence, Floyd, and Oscar Broers came to help the family pack. With no time to properly bag the chickens, they simply placed them in the back of a truck. As the brothers pulled away, one chicken fell out, but luckily Clarence managed to save it. From that moment on, the chickens sat perfectly still on the truck’s stock racks, even after the poultry-rescue wagon reached dry land; with the help of the Broers every chicken survived.

The Monday July 16, 1951, editorial in the Lawrence Journal-World, published at the end of a chaotic weekend full of mud and water, proclaimed:

“Amid all the uncertainties, one thing is certain: people are impatient to get at the task…from the moment the river began to fall, those persons hardest hit by the overflow began making plans to return to their flood-battered properties…others, fortunate enough to have suffered no direct flood loss, are considering means by which they may continue the exercise of neighborly helpfulness, so notably in evidence in the dangerous crisis of the flood.”

Ben Terwilliger, executive director of the Eudora Area Historical Society, says the flood “submerged the entire northern portion of the Eudora Township, as well as significant parts of the city limits in Eudora.”

Visit the Water/Ways Smithsonian Institution traveling exhibition and At the Mercy of the Kaw: Eudora’s Relationship with Water exhibition, both on view at the Eudora Community Museum from June 24-August 6.

Special thanks to the writing of Patty Neis Johnson for sharing her story.

Topeka Gives 2017

The Kansas Humanities Council is participating in Topeka Gives, the one-day event celebrating community charitable giving is June 6th! The event is sponsored by the Topeka Community Foundation and encourages Topekans to support the good work happening at nonprofits across the city.

Large-Print Books Needed

Every year, the Kansas Humanities Council makes sure residents at Aldersgate Village and Brewster Place have good books to read and good discussions that follow. Residents enjoy the books and the talks, but some struggle with reading the small print. Our goal is to raise $1,000 in June to buy new, large-print books and make them easily available to our readers.

Will you support our goal during Topeka Gives on June 6th?
The Topeka Community Foundation will match your donation.

“It was like a history lesson and a book discussion all in one, and it was special.”
Coordinator at Aldersgate Village after reading Snow Falling on Cedars

Research shows that access to learning opportunities, like reading books and talking about them with others, is critical to healthy aging. Medical research suggests:

  • adults with active minds are less likely to suffer from Alzheimer’s and other ailments.
  • frequent cognitive activity is associated with less rapid decline in cognitive function.

Aging Well, “Learning for a Lifetime” (July / August 2009)

Participate in Topeka Gives

Please stop by Fairlawn Plaza Mall at 21st and Fairlawn on June 6th between 7 am and 6 pm to make your donation. Click here for a donation form or you can pick one up at the event.

Thank you!

Kansas Humanities Council Awards Five Grants

The Kansas Humanities Council recently awarded $36,464 in Heritage and Humanities grants to five Kansas organizations. Local contributions to the project are estimated at $323,886.

Goddard Woman’s Club ($3,000)

“Historical Preservation Project”
A project to preserve and share historical materials documenting the Goddard Woman’s Club’s community work dating back to the 1930s. Lisa Stoller, project director.

Kauffman Museum, North Newton ($10,000)

“Voices of Conscience: Peace Witness in the Great War”
An exhibition and series of public programs exploring the stories of conscientious objectors during World War I. Annette LeZotte, project director.

Northeast Kansas Topeka Chapter #14 American Historical Society of Germans from Russia ($3,464)

“Oral History of Topeka’s Germans from Russia”
An oral history project documenting the stories of Topeka’s Germans from Russia, a group whose ancestors originally settled in the city in the 1870s. Vera Kononova Brown, project director.

University of Kansas Center for Research, Inc., Lawrence ($10,000)

“Exhibiting African American Story Quilts at the Spencer Museum of Art
An exhibition featuring 400 years of African American history as depicted on story quilts. Saralyn Reece-Hardy, project director.

William Allen White Foundation, Lawrence ($10,000)

“William Allen White Sesquicentennial Film”
A documentary film exploring the life, work, and legacy of William Allen White, owner and editor of “The Emporia Gazette.” David Seaton, project director.

The next deadline for Heritage and Humanities grants is May 25, 2017

Bill of Rights 225

Kansas libraries and museums in 13 communities commemorated the 225th anniversary of the ratification of the Bill of Rights with “The Bill of Rights and You,” a special pop-up display from the National Archives.

“The Bill of Rights and You” at the Topeka & Shawnee County Public Library.

Over 45,000 Kansans viewed “The Bill of Rights and You,” including participants in public programming opportunities that ranged from writing workshops, presentations on the Constitution and the Bill of Rights, and KHC Speakers Bureau topics related to free speech. Host organizations have plans to share the display at other locations in their communities and plan to incorporate the pop-up display into Constitution Day and Bill of Rights Day activities in 2017.

“The Bill of Rights and You” sparked conservation and reflection about the Constitution and American democracy among visitors. According to Jacqueline Suptic of the Johnson County Library-Lackman Branch in Lenexa, “the timely arrival of the Bill of Rights display here allowed our patrons to see specifically what those rights are and how they apply to daily life.”

“The Bill of Rights and You” is part of Amending America, a National Archives initiative to explore the importance of the Bill of Rights, its history and implementation, and its impact today. The Kansas Humanities Council presented “The Bill of Rights and You” through a partnership with the National Archives and the Federation of State Humanities Councils.

 

 

 

Humanities Happenings – Kansas Day Edition

The “Langston’s Lawrence” documentary short film premiere on January 27 kicks off a Kansas Day weekend of hometown humanities.

Sunday, January 29th marks 156 years of Kansas statehood. What better way to celebrate than with a weekend of hometown humanities events highlighting the Kansas stories that move us and make us?

Lawrence: Langston’s Lawrence

The Watkins Museum of History’s Art of Conversation series features the debut of “Langston’s Lawrence.” The documentary short film about the life of young Langston Hughes is followed by a panel discussion with Hughes scholars Randal Jelks, Edgar Tidwell, and Carmaletta M. Williams. The film project is supported by a KHC Humanities grant. Friday, January 27 at 6:00 PM at the Watkins Museum of History. Details here.

North Newton: Head ‘Em Up & Move ‘Em Out

The early days of ranching and trail driving required stamina and determination. The drover of yesteryear had little choice but to face the elements placed before him if he was to get his wild cattle to market. A thousand miles on the trail brought him into contact with all that nature could throw at him: lightning, flooded rivers, tornadoes, and stampeding cattle. Jim Gray’s Speakers Bureau presentation explores this exciting story of cowboys, cattle, and the steak on your plate. Saturday, January 28 at 11:00 AM at Kauffman Museum. Details here.

Derby: Kansas Weather in Life, Literature, and Photography

When it comes to talking about the weather, we have a lot to say in Kansas, and for good reason: not only is our weather some of the most dramatic in the world, but our relationship to weather shapes how we see ourselves. Caryn Mirriam-Goldberg’s Speakers Bureau presentation opens with weather chaser Stephen Locke’s vibrant images of Kansas paired with poetry by contemporary Kansas writers inspired by the drama that unfolds in the Kansas sky. Saturday, January 28 at 10:00 AM at Derby Public Library. Details here.

El Dorado: Community Writing Workshop with Kim Stanley

Just as William Allen White defended free speech “by voice, by posted card, by letter, or by press,” participants in this Community Writing Workshop are welcome to express themselves through essays, poems, letters to the editor, memoirs, fiction — any way they so choose. Part of the Pulitzer Project in Kansas: William Allen White and Freedom of Speech. Saturday, January 28 at 10:00 AM at Bradford Memorial Library. Details here.

Paola & Wichita: Poet Laureate of Kansas™

Join Eric McHenry, Poet Laureate of Kansas™, for readings and discussions about poetry in two Kansas communities this weekend.
Saturday, January 28 at 1:00 PM at Paola High School. Sponsored by Paola Chamber of CommerceDetails here.
Sunday, January 29 at 2:00 PM at Wichita Public Library. Details here.

Stockton: Lawbreakers for the Common Good

In the mid-1800s, some Kansans defied federal, state, and territorial laws in pursuit of a common goal: liberty for all. Anne P.W. Hawkins’ Speakers Bureau presentation explores true accounts of little-known operatives who worked illegally on the Underground Railroad in Kansas, a clandestine network that helped guide enslaved people to freedom. Sunday, January 29 at 2:00 PM at Rooks County Historical Society & Museum. Details here.

Find more hometown humanities events on KHC’s Calendar.

Can We Count on You?

News outlets recently began reporting on the possible plan to eliminate funding for the National Endowment for the Humanities, the National Endowment for the Arts, and other important agencies critical to our American democracy. Many of us thought the same thing: We won’t let this happen. Kansans depend on the humanities.

At this time, the threat of elimination exists in a report and not in an actual budget. We remain heartened by the bipartisan support we have seen for the humanities in Congress over the last 45 years. We’ll work hard to make sure it stays that way, but we are going to need your help.

Are you willing to speak up on behalf of the humanities and the Kansas Humanities Council? Click here and let us know. When the time is right, we will call on you first to share our story with your member of Congress.

Here are two things you can do right now:

  1. Sign up to be the first to know.
  2. Share this message with a friend.

Thank you for your support of the humanities!

Inside the Dam

The Milford Dam logbook, charting every change in flow levels since 1968

The Milford Dam logbook, charting every change in flow levels since 1968

Ken Wenger, Park Manager at Milford Lake in northeast Kansas, loves that every day his job can look different. One day he can hop in the pickup and patrol the park, another day he can be on a boat inspecting the lake and 32 acres of the dam facing the lake. Today, his job is to lower the dam’s outflow, from 8,000 cubic feet per second (CFS) to 200cfs.

The Milford Lake Dam operates a sophisticated flood control system with gates that allow water to discharge into the valley below through a conduit under the dam. Levels vary based on the depth of the lake, the amount of water flowing into it, and the wildlife and water supply needs downstream.

Today, though, Ken needs to stage down the outflow a little bit every hour in order to dry out the conduit. To go from 8,000cfs to 200cfs at once would not be good for the downstream river channel or the fisheries program.

Once the conduit is dry, for the first time in ten years, government inspectors will need to walk through it to assess the systems and status of the Milford Dam. Ken is excited to see this rare view of the dam where he has worked for so many years, and his enthusiasm bubbles through his normally measured demeanor.

He heads out of the office and across Highway 57 towards the dam itself. He opens one barbed wire gate, unhitches a cable and opens yet another barbed wire gate. Security is important, as any tampering with the dam could lead to catastrophic flooding for the cities downstream, including Junction City. It has only gotten tighter since 9/11, and he will not allow any photos to be taken inside the dam. He used to give tours to elementary school students, but soon that too ended.

He opens a heavy, groaning steel door into a tall, cavernous concrete shaft that looks like something from another world. He descends down a narrow staircase spiraling around the outside of the shaft until he reaches the control room, where twin sets of levers sit in the middle of a concrete floor. It’s technology from the 1960s, original to the dam – a paper tape with a series of numbers indicates the flow level, and Ken pulls a lever while he watches the tape crawl by. When it hits the desired level, he releases the lever – one small motion controls the massive gates that hold back unimaginable amounts of water.

After returning to the office building, Ken displays the log book where he records such adjustments. It is the only logbook Milford has ever had, filled with scrawling handwritten data on every single adjustment made to the dam since it opened. It’s decidedly analog and old-school in a charming way, just like pulling a lever and watching numbered paper tape scroll by. But old school or not, it works – and you could say the same thing about Milford Dam.

To learn more about Kansas’s water story, visit the Smithsonian’s Water/Ways touring exhibit, on display at the Geary County Historical Society & Museums from January 6 to February 18, 2018.

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12 Months of the Humanities

Happy New Year from the Kansas Humanities Council!

As we embark upon a new year, KHC has 12 months of hometown humanities experiences to keep you engaged and inspired in 2017.

12-months-of-humanities