Five things you might not know about Bonner Springs
Just about everyone knows some of the major points of Bonner Springs’ early history.
Most know that the Chouteau brothers established a trading post in 1812, building four log cabins near Front and Second street and operating a ferry across the Kansas River.
They also know Henry Tiblow, a Delaware Indian, took over the ferry in 1830 and gave the settlement the name “Tiblow Landing.” They know John McDanield began developing the town of Tiblow around 1866, and then Philo Clark took over in 1885 and renamed it Bonner Springs.
But with the help of Wyandotte County Historical Museum volunteer Monte Gross, The Chieftain tried to find a few lesser-known historical items from the first 50 years of Bonner Springs history.
A popular park
Lakewood Park, located in the region of present-day Lions Park and extending north, used to attract thousands of picnickers from all around the area until it closed in the 1950s.
The park began as one of two lakes created by city founder John McDanield, dubbed Lake McDanield, and then named Lake of the Woods by Philo Clark. Many of Bonner Springs’s famous springs were located around the lake.
City developers used the park to promote the city as a resort, and in 1906, plans were formulated to build a hotel and bathhouse in the park. Those were never constructed, but the park eventually contained a dance pavilion, a pool, a miniature train, a ferris wheel and a merry-go-round.
In November 1918, after World War I ended, The Chieftain reported a crowd of 15,000 went to the park to celebrate the war’s end. The Union Pacific Railroad had a picnic there in July 1920, which The Chieftain reported drew about 25,000 people.
The Retail Grocers Association of Wyandotte County for years held its annual picnic in the park. In 1925, the picnic took place on the 4th of July and was reported to bring out about 20,000 people.
A dark element
But Bonner’s parks unfortunately were also open to one group who certainly would not be welcome in the city now. The July 5, 1925, Kansas City Kansan reported that the Retail Grocer’s group was joined by another picnicking group in the city on Fourth of July: the Wyandotte Ku Klux Klan.
The article doesn’t clearly define where the Klan met other than to say it was the “playground park,” which was identified as being in the “other end of town” from Lakewood Park and was reportedly owned by the school district.
The article states that the group brought an estimated 8,000 to 10,000 picnickers. The gathering featured a baseball game, a band, fireworks, and speeches on “Americanism” and “Patriotism.” A “huge, fiery cross” was even burned on the “heights above the playground” while the band played the national anthem.
The proceeds of the picnic were given to the Parent-Teachers association of Bonner Springs.
Springs of Bonner Springs
Most people know that the springs of Bonner Springs were promoted as improving health, but the city even had a break-down of the mineral content of each spring.
The Bonner Springs Improvement Club, in 1907, created a promotional brochure touting the city as the “Kansas Karlsbad” and listing the contents of five springs near Lake of the Woods: Big Chief, Little Chief, Papoose, Old Squaw and Minnehaha. They listed “grains per gallon” of things like potassium sulphate, carbonate of iron, and chloride of sodium for each.
Big Chief was noted to be “splendid water for anemics, supplying the necessary properties for good red blood and driving out the dead and impure corpuscles.”
Old Squaw was reportedly so named because “the old women of Indian tribes once living in Kansas found relief from their intense dyspepsia caused by their heavy meat diet and little or no exercise.”
Bonner in bloom
Bonner Springs was reportedly home to the first commercial nursery in Kansas.
Operated by H.H. Kern, it was founded in the 1880s, covering about 35 acres and specializing in hardy perennial plants.
The Kansas City Kansan reported Feb. 4, 1923, that the Florists’ Review, a Chicago magazine, ran an article about the Kern Nursery stating “We never have seen such splendid fields of peonies and irises … the flowers are the most perfect and largest we have ever seen.”
The nursery’s exact location isn’t known, but Wyandotte County Museum officials say it was north and east of downtown Bonner.
Kern was a notable citizen, having served as a director of the Kansas exhibits at the Chicago World’s Fair in 1893 and also associated with P.S. Morgan in writing a book on the history of Wyandotte County.
In October 1908, 19 to 22 businesses in the 100 block of Oak Street were destroyed by fire, causing $77,000 in damage — about $350,000 in today’s dollars. There were no water mains at the time, even though the city council had debated the issue for some time.
A bucket brigade from the Kansas River couldn’t contain the fire, but somehow it was stopped. A fire truck was sent from Kansas City, but it was reported that by the time it arrived, the “citizens practically had it under control.”
The Kansas City Advocate reported on Oct. 14, 1908, that it was believed the fire was caused from spontaneous combustion in the rear of Kelly & Pettit’s drug store in the center of the 100 block, and high winds fanned the flames beyond control. That paper reported damage estimates of $120,000, but said insurance would only be able to cover $61,000.
Mayor Philo Clark assured that rebuilding would begin immediately. “We don’t intend to let any grass grow under our feet,” he said.