2022 Spring/Summer Program Guide
Please note that all events/programs may be subjected to change.
The mission of the Unified Government Parks and Recreation Department is to provide clean, safe facilities and well maintained green spaces for the public to enjoy. To make available recreation programming for youth, adults, seniors and our special needs population. To encourage partnerships and collaboration with other entities that will enable us to provide additional programming not otherwise available.
The Building Of the Lake
The Early Years Adapted from a speech by Wyandotte County Parks Ranger Timothy H. Johnson (June 1989 - August 1990)
Wyandotte County Lake Map(PDF, 455KB)
Public contact with Park Rangers is usually at one of the parks in a law enforcement capacity. However, rangers have a number of functions, one of which is to help interpret our parks for the public. One of our goals has been to develop our own understanding of the physical, historical, and biological makeup of the Wyandotte County Parks.
These remarks are on the general events leading up to and during the building of the Wyandotte County Lake and Park. Contact Parks & Recreation for specifics.
For the lake we need to consider the geographic or geologic makeup of the land. The lake is situated alongside the beautiful Missouri River basin, within eyesight of the state of Missouri. The river appears to have carved the basin out as it flowed to the east. The land below the dam to the north is fertile river silt from deposits over a long period of time.
The first bit of information concerning the lake site’s early years was the comment by (2) interview sources that there had been a race track in what is now the lake bed. This track is suggested to have appeared in the 1890’s and may have remained in the area until just before the 1920’s. Based on information passed to the family of John Barber, who farmed in the lake region from the Hornuff area, the track was used by Fort Leavenworth command staff to race their thoroughbred horses. The stock possibly came directly from England to be used for fox hunting and jumping. The horses were reportedly ridden by black jockeys who worked in the military stables.
Although unable to verify this through city directories or newspapers of the day, research at the Ft. Leavenworth Military Museum and the Leavenworth Command General College archives indicates such an activity could have been in operation. Zoe A. Tilghman, in a 1926 article for the Kansas Historical Society, “Quarter Horses and Racing in the Southwest”, provides a description that also indicates a strong possibility for such a dirt track. Here is one quote, “no bookmakers, no gates for admission fees, no professional jockeys, no scale of weights. Each race was a match in itself.” Other publications in the Kansas Historical collection have photos of horse and harness racing at the Leavenworth County Fair during the 1890’s.
In the early 1930’s, Wyandotte County, as did the nation as a whole, found itself in the stranglehold of the depression. People without jobs, families without income, many individuals almost without hope.
A second problem in the Midwest was a lack of water caused by drought.
As was the case in national government, state and local governments were searching for ways to create jobs and to establish water conservation, through impoundments.
One major solution was the building of the Wyandotte County Lake and Park. Many different sources point to area banker Willard Breidenthal as a leader in the movement to build the lake. Although some sources, such as the book by Joseph McDowell, “Building a City” and the Wyandotte West Newspaper in 1979, state that Breidenthal bought 1400 acres and then sold them back at cost to the county, park records do not verify this.
Park records do verify that payment was made directly to a number of landowners, both private and corporate. Some land was forced to be taken by condemnation. Breidenthal did own some land and retained some property alongside the current boundaries, which have been passed down through inheritance to grandson George Breidenthal. Part of Willard Breidenthal’s interest may have resulted from his serving as agent on a foreclosure of property from one Mr. Knowlen in February (28th) of 1929 for a bank.
Unquestionably, Breidenthal was instrumental in getting the project started and getting it finished.
1934 - 1935
September of 1934
County relief administrator Lester Wickliffe initiated a survey of lake sights to the county.
County determined that it needed appropriate tracts of land sufficient to form a bed for the lake and necessary approaches on all sides. The project was beginning.
Engineering surveys made of (3) proposed sites authorized by the Kansas Legislature, with $120,000 to be spent on costs.
September 24, 1935
The Board of County Commissioners passed a resolution declaring intention to purchase 1400 acres of land on and about Marshall Creek, south and to the east of Wolcott, for the purpose of a country lake and park.
Site selection was based on:
- Topography: desirable width, length and depth.
- Centrally located.
- Adjacent hillsides are heavily covered with native timber.
- The required right-of-way is in the hands of a few large owners available at reasonable values.
- Accessibility to existing state and county highways.
- The watershed size to for desirable depth.
- Borings indicate underlying strata adaptable to construction under economic conditions.
A factor not cited, but which later contributed to the success of the project was abundant wildlife and fish from Marshall Creek. In interview after interview, individuals have mentioned the good fishing in Marshall Creek before the lake.
There were also plenty of snakes, especially copperheads and rattlesnakes. Area farmer Bud Barber tells the story of a Frank Rabuzi who hunted snake on the bluffs in the area where the park was built. One afternoon after a successful hunt, he jumped on the Interurban trolley at the Loma Vista station for a ride back into town. An elderly lady commented how he must have had good luck fishing, as she observed the still writhing gunny sack on the trolley car floor. When told of the contents, she quickly moved to the opposite end of the car.
About 500 men began work on a (4) day per week shift, for the wage of $45 Transportation was the Interurban with a special 25-cent roundtrip fare.
1936 - 1937
January of 1936
Construction began with dredging of mud and debris from the Marshall Creek channel. Clearing went well and other preparatory work was started. Assistance was given in the planning stage form the national park service for shelters and park work.
Discovery of a human skeleton in a shallow grave. There was no record of any burials in the area and because of pearl buttons the remains were thought to be that of someone other than an Indian. No record is given for what happened to the skeleton or its identity.
One early problem was discovered to be the blue clay soil on which the dam was being built. It proved to have greater leakage or seepage than planned for. The US Army Engineers prescribed immense pilings to combat the problem.
July of 1936
The first of a number of strikes took place. At issue were wages of $1.25 for hoisting engineers, and $.75 to drivers, no one outside Wyandotte County to get a job until the labor pool exhausted, and employees must be hired by the Wyandotte County employment office.
There was steady progress on the dam, roadways, and preliminary buildings. Work was basically hand labor. Lumber was milled on sight, shingles carved on site, and stone gravel quarried from the pending lakebed.
September 19, 1937
Disaster. The dam collapsed. It was 90% finished. Several sightseers were driving across at the time when a crack appeared, but drove to safety.
The dam was estimated to weigh 2 million tons. The part, which fell, was estimated to weigh 300,000 pounds and it fell 50 feet. The drop caused the land to the north to shift completely, closing a 16 foot drainage ditch. The highway north of the spillway was made impassable when the dirt shifted. There was no quake, which caused the dam to fall; however the movement of the dirt caused a small earthquake of its own.
The old timers said, “I told you so.” There are indications that railroad engineers for the Missouri Pacific line which was just to the north had warned of problems with some underlying ground when putting in their track. Possible the old Missouri channel had robbed portions of the land of its solid moorings.
The project was in serious jeopardy.
It was several months before the work on the dam and park project was restarted. Basically, during the winter all work was halted as engineers, politicians, and WPA officials cussed and discussed matters.
Cost of rebuilding and completing the project was estimated at $2,611.839.77. I have no idea why the estimate includes $.77. Reconstruction of the dam alone was set at $1,873,900.00 dollars.
1938 - 1939
The WPA was very hesitant about approval and in March Frank Holcomb, Chairman of the County Commissioners was opposed to any large additional expenses. Some work was restarted in the summer of 1938 on shop buildings, etc.
Summer pay scales in 1938 were:
- Skilled workers (69 hours per month) = $78.66
- Semi-skilled workers (79 hours per month) = $62.40
- Unskilled workers (107 hours per month) = $49.25
As fall approached, large numbers of workers picked up until approximately 1400 men were on site. Short strikes by certain trade unions slowed progress for about one week each in October and November.
One death was reported in 1938, near the area of the spillway. Former KCK City Councilman George Dunn reports his father-in-law was a crane operator in the site area when it happened. A bulldozer operator parked his unit outside a work shed and went in. A mechanic went to the back of the unit to check some mechanical items, but the operator came back out and without looking drove backwards over the victim. The crane operator’s oilman wanted to look at the victim and after doing so missed (3) days’ work from the trauma he suffered.
Winter of 1938
Large work crews were kept on the job. Approval for the rebuilding came from President Roosevelt for the necessary WPA money. New dam plans called for the construction to be just south of the original dam. Army Corp engineers worked (18) hours a day which included spreading the dam out to absorb weight.
February of 1939
Fish hatcheries were started. Plans were made to keep only desirable fish in the lake.
March of 1939
Short strikes continued with various trade groups.
April of 1939
The county passed a resolution for money to keep 2,000 men on the payroll. A major problem for filling the dam was the dredging of sand from the Missouri River and moving it to the Marshall Creek project. Over 2 million cubic tons of sand was needed.
September of 1939
There was a shortage of workers.
1940 - 1941
Was a year when much of the project began to take on a look where people could recognize finished work. 7 1/2 miles of road were opened, which further aided maintenance. Stone rip-rap was added to the face of the dam to prevent erosion.
The announcement was made that the county would become owner and maintainer of the park by the WPA. $25,000 was given as the top cost for maintaining the facility. Frank Brown, county commissioner and Roy Ferguson, draftsman for the project pointed out that $25,000 was plenty for salaries of a supervisor, fish hatchery supervisor, caretakers, seasonal wood cutting, and lifeguards. They were somewhat over optimistic.
The spillway was a final problem for completion, as funding for it was separate from the dam and park project. At times it appeared it would not get completed to a lack of funding. Small strikes slowed work during the summer. A 50% reduction in WPA workers left staff at about 235.
Finishing work was completed on the project such as seeding the dam. The spillway was still no yet finished. Over six million dollars had been invested in the park project by all funders. About (1) million came from Wyandotte County.
the county agreed to fund the spillway work, which was halted when WPS funding was cut off.
1944 - 1945
April of 1944
Water was finally allowed to start impounding, and was 45 ft deep at the control tower and covered about 125 acres.
May of 1944
Trains put water over 5 highway’s old route. By year’s end, 200 acres of water covered the lakebed, the state fish and game commission had stocked the lake and the beach was 80% completed.
The final major problem of the dam project came in 1945
Seepage caused the lake to lose a large amount of inflowing water when the Wyandotte County Lake and Park was just about ready.
Dam Under Construction - Marshall Creek Project
- Back side of the dam under construction looking Southeast.
- Sand was dredged directly from the Missouri River through an elaborate pipe system.
- Looking North, lake beginning to fill with water. Missouri River in background.
Dam and Spillway Information
- The dam is rolled earth core with hydraulic fill sand shell.
- The length of the dam is 1700 feet.
- Base width is 1000 feet.
- Crest width is 30 feet.
- The original depth after construction was 84 feet by the dam.
- Spillway length is 279 feet and is 16 feet in diameter.
Dam construction began with dredging of mud and debris from Marshall Creek Channel.
The dredging of mud and debris from Marshall Creek Channel was nearing completion and filling of the ditch with material from the borrow pits was to begin the following week.
Construction of the dam was stopped temporarily. Safety was not a factor. The men in charge simply found that conditions were different than they anticipated at the start on the construction.
It was anticipated when construction was begun that the layer of blue clay on which the dam was being built would be impervious to water and that it would make an acceptable base for the dam, but after excavation was started it was found that the stratum might cause leakage. This was highly undesirable since it would cause the level to vary, producing an unsightly shoreline. The US Army Engineers were consulted and they prescribed that an immense piling be driven into the bedrock to key the construction. This was done at an additional expense of $75,000. After the piling was driven, construction was continued. There was talk of building a horseshoe shaped dam utilizing both ends of the present structure, which would apparently be laid on bedrock. Evidently, the ends of the original dam were built on solid rock.
The first of the sheet piling was driven into place on this date. The piling was 5/8-inch thick, 16 inches wide and from 25-65 feet long interlocking. A total of 1,130 linear feet of piling was purchased for the project.
One million cubic yards of earth and stone were used in the original dam. The interior of the Recreations Hall is black walnut and oak. The Recreation Hall is in its final stages. As of this date there were 30 feet of water in the lake.
Dam collapsed. The dam was 90% completed at the time of the collapse. Several sightseers were driving across the top of the dam. A crack appeared, but the people reached safety before the collapse. The dam was estimated to weigh approximately 2 million tons. The part, which fell, was estimated to weigh 300,000 pounds, and it fell 50 feet. The drop caused the land to the north to shift completely closing a 16-foot drainage ditch. The highway north of the spillway was made impassable when the dirt shifted. There were no quakes, which caused the dam to fall; however, the falling of the dam did cause an average-sized earthquake within the territory.
The Army engineers recommended the broadening of the base of the dam in order to prevent reoccurrence of the collapse of the dam.
The total cost of rebuilding the dam and completing the park was estimated at $2,611,839.77 in the application which was filed with the WPA along with the plans for the rebuilding and completion.
Cost estimate on Park project:
- 87% or $737, 939.77 from the Federal Govt.
- 13% or $92,603.25 from County Govt.
- Reconstruction of the dam is set at $1,873,900.
Wyandotte County’s share of the $1, 873,900 was estimated at $56,322.47. (The cost of the reconstruction of the dam). This estimate was taken from the application to the WPA. It estimated that the dam project would provide jobs for 984 relief workers for a 12-month period. $262,834.47 was allotted for the relief labor. Of the total reconstruction cost $364,404 was allowed for labor. The difference between the two figures is allotted for the salaries of the technical workers and supervisors.
The projects and plans for rebuilding the Marshall Creek Dam and completion of the park were approved by the state WPA office and sent to the district headquarters in Chicago.
The WPA hesitated in giving approval to the estimated cost of $1,872,900 for reconstruction and completion of the Wyandotte County dam and park.
WPA officials were here to check to see if the rebuilding could be done for less than the cost estimated by the investigation engineers. Of the total cost of $1,873,900 the WPA asked to provide all but $56,322.47 which will be provided by the county.
Frank H. Holcomb, Chairman of the Board of County Commissioners was opposed to any large additional expenses for rebuilding the dam.
As of this date, it was estimated that the date of completion of the dam would be July 1, 1939. The work came to a standstill during the winter of 1937.
WPA advised that President Roosevelt had OK’d the New Marshall Creek Dam project which means that $1,590,709 of WPA funds would be released from that office immediately.
The US Treasury Department handled the purchases of machinery and other equipment for the reconstruction of the dam. The machinery is to be used on all major items with only those items that can be done most economically by hand labor moved by hand.
Work on rebuilding of the dam was started in the middle of this week. Stripping at the upstream toe of the old dam started. The actual reconstruction will probably be started by August 10.
The American Sand Company of Turner today was given contract to supply 11,700 cubic yards of sand for the dam. The county required that the successful bidder on the cement must purchase the cement from the Lone Star Cement Co. When the bids were first submitted, the county received eight identical bids.
The new dam is to be erected just south of the original site. It will be constructed under the direction of the US Army Engineers who are working 18 hours a day. The base of the new dam is 1000 feet wide and will extend from bluff to bluff. There will be no steel core in the center as in the previous dam. The dirt used to rebuild the great wall will be carefully selected, placed in position, and rolled. Every bit of pressure placed on the new structure will be carefully checked. It is expected that the lines of the Missouri Pacific will have to be moved to the north of the present location. 400 men are employed at the dam site; nearly 1000 are employed in the preparation of rock and landscaping. Estimated completion date is 1940.
The lack of an economically available rolled fill material for the dam resulted in revision of plans. Sand was used for upstream shell fill as well as for fill for the downstream shell. The Missouri River division of Army engineers provided dredging equipment and dredge personnel for the sand project. The WPA handled the fill replacement and placing of the dredged sand. About 500,000 cubic yards of sand were used for the upstream fill; this was a part of the 2,010,000 cubic yards of the dredged sand to be used. Part of the sand was used to fill in the huge pit caused by the excavation of muck blamed for the collapse of the first dam.
After delays on August 21 due to blown fuses, the sand began pouring into the dam on this date.
Approximately 250,000 cubic yards of sand had been pumped into the dam by this date. This represented one-eighth of the 2,000,000 cubic yard total. Work was progressing on the dam, but work on the park itself was almost at a standstill due to lack of workers. Approximately 1250 men were employed as of this date, but the authorities were asking for 600 more.
Approximately 600,000 cubic yards of sand had been pumped for the dam. Work on the 10-mile road system was 50% complete.
Pumping was resumed for the sand after a two day shut down due to construction of a toe drain (1800 feet of 12" corrugated metal pipe placed in the downstream toe to drain off water seeping through the slope). The water draining off the slope was then drained into Marshall Creek.
The dredging which began at 8:30PM on August 7th, was terminated at midnight December 2nd for the winter. When the dredging stopped it was estimated that 100,000 cubic yards of the second million had been pumped into the dam.
The work on the rolled fill for the dam was started today. The actual dredging was to be started on April 8. 200 WPA workers were recalled.
The dredging was completed at 8:00AM.
Through the winter riprap stone work was to be done on the upstream sight of the dam to give protection to prevent wave action from cutting sand fill. About 20,000 cubic yards of native stone quarried in the park were to be used on the upstream slope. The downstream slope was to be sodded to prevent erosion. Work on the spillway was to be continued through the winter.
The work on the fill for the dam was stopped until spring, but the 600 present employees are to be kept during the winter to work on other projects at the dam site. E.J. Allison was superintendent of the project.
The pouring of the concrete on the spillway shaft was begun on this date. The shaft was sunken 85 feet in the west abutment of the dam; it was 16 feet in diameter at the bottom and 30 feet in diameter at the top.
The spillway tunnel 236 feet through the hill at the west abatement of the dam and the stilling basin 110 feet long which goes under the Missouri Pacific tracks were started within a few days of this date. The banks of the stilling basin were to be 20 feet high and vary in width from 20 to 30 feet.
530 cubic yards of concrete had been poured on the back wall of the spillway shaft was begun on this date. About 1200 cubic yards remained to be poured.
Between 2,000 and 3,000 tons of sand cascaded down the downstream slope of the dam as a result of the heavy downpour early on the morning of June 9. It was estimated that it would take three to four days to replace the sand. An earthen blanket was to be put over the sand after it was replaced in order to prevent washout occurring.
Dam proper was complete however the spillway and spillway tunnel was still unfinished.
The lake began to fill during the past week. A three-foot rock wall was being built on the lakeside of the dam to prevent anyone from tumbling into the lake.
January 23: The parapet wall atop the dam was finished by this date. Employment was then 235.
March 3: Grass and oat seeds were sown on the dam to prevent erosion.
May 15: Water from the Missouri River backed up into the spillway channel washing out a small levee in that channel and filling the stilling basin. The only damage resulting from the incident was the loss of time until the water could be pumped out.
December 15: The county ordered the spillway valve closed and water impounded following announcement by E.C. Reppart, state WPA engineer that all WPA projects had stopped and must be stopped before January 29. The spillway was still unfinished before January 29.
Despite orders by the county to close the valve in the dam, Reppart requested that this not be done due to certain work that needed to be finished. The only part of the dam which remained unfinished was a small section of the spillway; however, it was anticipated that it would be many years before enough water would accumulate to run over the spillway.
The county received bids for the completion of the downstream drainage. The county understood that upon awarding of the contract, the Army engineers would act favorably upon request to permit impounding of waters behind the dam. Before the actual work could be started permission from the War Production Board was required. The contract would provide for completion of the dam’s stilling basin, and construction of the drainage ditch and dike to carry the discharge waters from the dam to the Missouri River.
Construction resumed on the spillway financed through Wyandotte County after it was halted when WPA terminated work.
Two spillway valves were closed.
Final repair work on dam and spillway was completed.
The problem of seepage faced the recently appointed county park board. The seepage was lowering the level of the lake. Water was being lost through the adjacent bluffs; however, no funds were available to operate the park as desired not including the cost of financing and investigation by engineers, drafting, plans for repairs and the actual sealing work needed.
Several seal treatments were necessary to halt the seepage. The treatment would include the process of concrete grouting and pressure. Small holes would be filled with cement under pressure, the pressure would be maintained until the water seeping through the bluffs showed traces of the cement. The mixture would then be stiffened until the water flow stopped. The limestone in the bluffs between which the big earthen dam was built caused the condition; the limestone in this vicinity is quite porous. The water running through small channels in the rock strata caused the entire problem. The engineers reported that the condition might reoccur before the remedial treatment is wholly effective.
The grouting was begun during the previous week. The work was delayed because the county failed to get delivery on a drilling machine. One hole had been drilled; the second was halfway completed. The holes were drilled at ten-foot intervals for about 450-500 feet in a straight line beyond the dam. The holes were then filled with concrete under pressure. Roads at the north end of the dam were closed while the grouting was being done. The WPA did some grouting before the project was turned over to the county.
600 gallons of water escaped every minute of the day and night. Daily enough water escaped to supply a city of 9,000 people for normal day usage. Burns & McDonnell Engineering Co. were the engineer consultants for the job of stopping leaks. The county owned the equipment and employed the crew while Burns and McDonnell acted as advisors and supervisors. At the beginning of the project in
February 1946, 300 gallons of water was escaping every minute. Since that time the water level had risen six feet. With the increase in the water level, pressure increased; therefore, the seepage doubled the amount of water lost. The drilling test indicated that the trouble area was 400 feet on the east side of the dam. In order to find the route of the escaping water, the engineers mixed the water with fluorescein, a green dye, and forced it into holes, then they watched for escape of the water. After the routes had been traced, they put cement into the holes under pressure. The grouting not only was used to save the water in the lake, but to insure the effectiveness of the flood control program. At the rate the water was seeping out of the lake, the water was dropping 4 feet yearly.