With a ribbon-cutting on Saturday, Marion City Library opened its month-long Water/Ways exhibit that highlights three profound encounters with water and its impact on the city.
The three encounters are Chingawassa Springs, a mineral water resort north of Marion in the early days; the 1951 flood that devastated the city’s business district and prompted the third encounter: the construction of Marion Reservoir for the purpose of flood control.
City leaders had hoped to be a recipient of a grant from the Smithsonian Institute to host the organization’s Water/Ways traveling exhibit when it would come to Kansas, librarian Janet Marler said.
But when the city was informed Marion hadn’t been selected as one of the six host sites, they found out they had been approved as a “partner site” under the Water/Ways umbrella to tell their local story.
“We were disappointed not to get a grant from the Smithson, but what happened is we created our own exhibit that is going to stay here, is close to home—it is home,” Mayor Todd Heitschmidt said during his remarks at the grand opening.
The planning group did receive a small grant from the Kansas Humanities Council.
Murl Reidel, director of grants for KHC, told the small group who came for the opening: “We all live in Kansas and we know how critical water is. It’s perhaps our most precious resource.
“Water shapes every facet of our lives, it transports goods to distant lands, it provides us with food and relaxation, it draws boundaries between states and countries, and shapes the very layout of our large urban cities. Water purifies, but it also destroys our homes and our roads.”
The local planning group created a team for each of the three exhibits, which were led by volunteer leaders.
Bill and Debbie Darrow spearheaded the Chingawassa Springs exhibit.
“They did lots of research and put it all together,” Marler said. “We’ve got some great history with this.”
In addition to historical notations about the springs, the exhibit highlights Chief Chingawassa of the Great Osage Nation, the development of the springs as a tourist resort, the location of the springs, and even a piece of rail from the track that transported visitors to and from the springs via train until it was closed.
Doug Marler headed the team planning for the 1951 flood exhibit. The exhibit displays actual newspaper articles from that time, as well as several large, full-color photos taken from an aerial perspective.
Gene Winkler contributed his video skills by interviewing several residents who were living in Marion at that time, and shared their memories of survival and response.
Janet Marler said, “We found a 1951 phone book and found out the names of all the businesses in town. We labeled each one where they located in 1951. A couple went of business, but not that many.”
Development of the story about the construction of Marion Reservoir was led by Neal Whitaker and Shari and Bruce Padgham, who were employed at the lake for many years.
Also include in the exhibit is a display of zebra mussels attached to a solid object, teeth from a drum fish and a full-sized transit level like the ones that were used to make critical measurements during the construction project.
In addition to the physical exhibits now on display in the Santa Fe Room during usual library hours, Janet Marler said they have scheduled two experts for speaking engagements:
◼ Rex Buchanan will speak on, “Water in Kansas, Past and Present” at 7 a.m. March 13.
◼ Roy Bird will speak on “Remembering Marion County’s ’51 Flood” at 7 p.m. March 20.
“Although we didn’t get the Smithsonian’s actual exhibit, I think this is just as nice—and it’s more personal and definitely a lot of history,” Janet Marler said.
“My thing is we’ve got all this information saved now, and it will be preserved so future generations will be able to see and know the history.”
In his closing remarks, Riedel said, “I think your story is powerful, and I think your exhibit did a fantastic job with that. We are so pleased to be working with the Marion City Library. The effort that you’ve put into this has been outstanding.”