Debate over stones dominates commission agenda

Harry Bennett, Marion, appeared before the Marion County Commission Monday to voice his frustration about the use of historical stones taken from a demolished bridge southwest of Marion.

The bridge had been designed by architect Fred Lewis in the 1880s.

Bennett presented to commissioners a letter from Marion City Administrator Dennis Nichols, requesting use of the stones at the Brooker Memorial in Marion Central Park.

Lewis was known for many stone architectural designs, including Plumb Hall at Emporia State University, the first bridge over the Arkansas River in Wichita, and the Hill school building which is part of Marion High school and is the oldest operating school building in Kansas.

In 1995, Jack Swain and Harry Koslowsky went out to the bridge site to mark the arch stones for possible reconstruction at a different site.

According to Gerald Kelsey, county road and bridge supervisor, at the time the bridge was demolished Bennett asked that the stones be saved for a possible reconstruction project or other type of memorial to Lewis.

Kelsey said he offered to move the stones, which were already close to Bennett’s house, to his property for storage, but Bennett did not want the stones stored on his property.

The county commission granted permission for the county to store the stones until they could be used in a special project.

In 1997, Bennett’s wife took a high school class to count and label the stones, numbering the stones which were least damaged by the demolition. According to Bennett the class numbered 110 stones.

Bennett said he had tried a number of avenues for use of the stones, but had very little interest in the beginning of his search.

As co-chairman of the Marion Historical Preservation Committee, he continued to look into programs, grants, and other possible historical uses for the hand-hewn stones.

He told the commission in the summer of 1998 he noticed that some of the stones had been moved on the county site.

Kelsey told Bennett there was a sign in that area limiting it to employees only, and that Bennett had taken people back there to see the stones without contacting Kelsey or the department.

Bennett went on to say he wanted the stones to be preserved in a public place as markers or for landscaping, “or whatever,” in the city of Marion or somewhere in the county.

Last summer, Bennett went before the commission to get their approval to use about 15 of the stones for building a stand on which to place the Marion County Museum bell. The project was completed and dedicated at Old Settler’s Day 2000.

Bennett said this April he attended a foreign language banquet at the Marion County club and was surprised to find four of the stones in front of the clubhouse.

“I even found a number on the side identifying it as one of the bridge stones,” he said.

When asked how the stones got there, he was told Kelsey had given permission for the stones to be moved. Bennett also learned there were about 30 stones stored on the country club grounds.

When Bennett asked why or how Kelsey had the authority to do move the stones, Kelsey said he had been told by former commissioner Linda Peterson during her time in office, that Bennett’s time was up for a stone project.

“And you wanted it on public ground,” Kelsey said, “and that’s a good place to have it. People are out there, and golf tournaments bring more people in who will see them.”

Peterson said later she thought the commission had given Bennett a certain length of time in which to use the stones, “but if it’s not in the minutes, it’s not official,” she said.

Peterson also said there was no formal appointment of Bennett as caretaker of the stones.

“We had a mutual understanding that we would store them and he would use them in a limited amount of time.”

Bennett said he was also pursuing plans to use the stones in several other possible Marion sites, including the Marion County Courthouse, and at the new library.

After discussion, Commissioner Chair Leroy Wetta said, “If (Nichols) wants (the stones) let him come and get it, and if he doesn’t get them, then he doesn’t get them.”

Commissioner Bob Hein said he thought the courthouse was a good idea for placement of the stones.

Wetta then told Bennett it wasn’t a matter of using the stones in Marion County, they just need to be moved because the county needed the space.

The value of the stones currently being used and stored as the Country Club is about $5,000.

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