The History of Eudora, Kansas
The History of Eudora, Kansas
A landmark is an object that marks a locality or is a point of orientation for locating other place. While many might consider the K-10 Highway exits “Eudora Exit or Church Street Exit 1061/2200 Road” and “North 1400 Road Exit” as Eudora sign markings, an even earlier city reference point was the confluence of the Wakarusa River and the Kansas River. Since that time, things that can be used as a location reference have come and gone. Some in recent times might be the Sinclair Pumping Station three and a half miles south of Eudora built in 1923 with its many glass windows, or, according to one Baldwin baseball team, the former “totem pole” at the southwest corner of Twelfth Street and Main Street. A landmark also can be defined as a structure of unusual or historic interest such as the Pilla house at 615 Main Street, the Lothholz house, 1477 E. 2300 Road, or the since-demolished von Achen barn west of E2350 Road and N1400 Road. Eudora’s parks, bridges, and downtown area also are noteworthy reference points.
Parks. The city park area originally was between Fifth Street and Sixth Street and Main Street and another on Ninth Street between Maple Street and Locust Street. Since then, Eudora has gained more parks, which the Eudora City Council officially named in 2000 with input from Eudora residents:
Pilla Park, Sixth Street and Main Street, (2.8 acres) was named after Fred and Charles Pilla, who were town founders and operated a general merchandise store south of the park. Across the street to the east of the Pilla Park is more parkground that meets the front yards of the houses that back to Elm Street.
CPA Park, Ninth Street and Main Street, (1.9 acres) was named after the annual CPA Picnic celebration. The band stand or “gazebo” was built in 1909. In 2006, Tom Tucker, president of the Lions Club, helped start fundraising campaign for a statue of Paschal Fish and his daughter, Eudora, to be created by Jim Brothers of Lawrence. The city donated $30,000, and bricks were sold for $50 each as part of the fundraising. An honors donation program recognized contributions ($5,000 and more, platinum; $1,000 to $4,999, gold; $500 to $999, silver; $20 to $400, bronze).
Bluejacket Park, Twelfth Street and Cedar Street, (6.0 acres) is named for Bluejacket Crossing and the Bluejacket family who were Shawnee.
Paschal Fish Park, Fourteenth Street and Maple Street, (1.0 acres) is named after Paschal Fish, a Shawnee who sold land in Eudora to the German settlement company.
Lucy Kaegi Park, Seventeenth Street and Elm Street, (0.6 acres) is named for Lucy Kaegi, a lifelong Eudora resident who bequeathed $11,600 to the city of Eudora in 1971 for city park improvements, including this site. Kaegi was born May 29, 1880 and lived with her parents and eight brothers at 412 East Seventh Street her whole life. She worked as a housekeeper and went to work at Sunflower Ordnance Works at the age of 60.
East Side Park, 14th and Chestnut Lane.
Another “park” is the Eudora (Tributary) Access Park at Kansas River mile 42 via Wakarusa River. The access park is at Fifth Street and Main Street. Often the take-off point of motorized john boats and a favorite catfish fishing area, this access point is ¾ mile from the Kansas River. The next public access is the Cedar Creek Access Park located near DeSoto at river mile 26.5.
In May 1927, the Eudora school board bought the “Blechel place” between Locust Street and Elm Street and between Tenth Street and Eleventh Street southeast of the high school at the time. The land, later named Kerr Field, was leveled for use as a football field and a baseball field. In later years, it also has been the site of community sports practices and games as well as a landing site for medical helicopters.
City planners have continued discussions on the need for more parks in Eudora. One park originally planned by city founders turned into a land dispute from 1966 to 1969 involving the city of Eudora and Louis French. When French bought land for development from Mary Copp one block south of Fifteenth Street west of Elm called the “South Market Place,” the city brought suit. This land was laid out in the original townsite to be used as common ground for business enterprise similar to its counterpart, the “North Market Place,” across from City Hall.
City officials in 1969, according to the February 17 Eudora Enterprise article that described the case, regarded the land as city property and argued its case in District Court in 1967. When it lost, the city appealed to the Kansas Supreme Court that ruled against the city, citing an 1889 Kansas Statute G.S., 1889, Chapt. 261, Sec. 61.
Photographs, above from left: Kansas River bridge (1910); log jams at a Eudora bridge; Kansas River bridge (1967); railroad bridge over Wakarusa River (2007); Main Street bridge over Wakarusa River (2007)
Bridges. The Kansas Department of Transportation lists the following bridges for the city of Eudora: Highway K-10 and Winchester Road, Highway K-10 and County Road 1061 (Church Street), and Highway K-10 and County Road 442. Eudora has had several other bridges. For example, Amos Westerhouse constructed many smaller bridges south of Eudora in the first part of the 20th century, according to family reports, and a December 1, 1910news account reported of another: “A step on the right direction was taken by the board of county commissioners when they directed that the bridge crossing the small gully on the Eudora Road, a mile and half east of the city be built of cement. Graeber Bros. have the contract for the work and have commended the erection of small tool house and began hauling material to the ground.”
However, records have proven murky or hard to find concerning both these smaller bridges and even the city’s most noteworthy bridges. Eudora’s first recorded bridge was built by 1860, because Eudora city council records of May 7, 1860 refer to complaints about a “bridge below Hoppenau’s house.” The city financed another bridge around 1860. In 1859, the city council discussed the $2,000 trestle bridge designed by a Mr. Harterscheidt of Leavenworth. The Eudora Community Heritage Book says this 160-foot long bridge was completed in 1861. The location of this second bridge remains unclear. Around 1871, the railroad company built one or more bridges over the Wakarusa River west of Eudora. There was another bridge west of Main Street over the Wakarusa because an 1892 news account said that Peter Hartig, who lived by the railroad tracks on the west side of Main Street, was threatening to fence up “the bridge” to which the editor wrote: “Oh, Peter, go off and lay an egg.” An 1892 newspaper article also reported that floods washed away a bridge, which the paper didn’t name, killing two people on the bridge. The February 1879 Lawrence Tribune told of a “pontoon” bridge over “30 feet of water” in Eudora tipping over when a horse got its foot caught in one of the holes on the bridge floor. The Eudora Community Heritage Book refers to one of these bridges or another in a reference about flooding destroying a bridge over the Wakarusa River in 1903. For many years in the 20th century, a bridge over the Wakarusa west of Seventh Street on the west side of the city’s present sewage lagoons was the crossing used to travel to Fifteenth Street in Lawrence.
Later bridges such as the concrete bridge over the Wakarusa River constructed at the north end of Main Street in the 1950s, caused this Seventh Street bridge to be abandoned. Also, to the southwest, a 493-foot bridge at the west end of Tenth Street linked travelers on the first Highway 10 (now Douglas County Road 442) in 1932. Because large vehicles had difficulties passing through the bridge’s low truss system and the deck was said to be deteriorating, the bridge was torn down in 1998. The new $1.49 million bridge funded by Douglas County ($327,173) and the Kansas Department of Transportation took nine months to build.
When the Central Protective Association began holding festivities between the Wakarusa River and the Kansas River, news accounts said people got to the picnic site by a Main Street bridge, ferry, or Harry Hagenbuch’s foot bridge north and a bit west of the train depot or where the city buildings are now. Exactly when the footbridge operated remains questionable; however, Henry Hagenbuch, Harry’s father, built the family’s commercial ice house on the Wakarusa River in 1897, thus, it may been around this time. Anita Stadler, a long-time Eudora resident, estimated its operation between 1906 and 1908, and the Eudora local paper referred to it as operational again in 1910. Harry strung lanterns at night on the bridge and had benches on the bank for people to stop and rest.
About the ferry across the Wakarusa River, Ruth Neis wrote in a 1935 Eudora News article about Eudora’s history that: “The ferry boat which crossed the Wakarusa river was a city owned project, but it was managed by a ferry-man who was under contract for three months. The rates for crossing were set by the city. They were: Five cents for a single footman, ten cents for a single horseman, one team with two yokes of oxen, twenty five cents. In case of high water or a flood, the ferry man was allowed to set his own rate.”
As for the Kansas River bridges, Charles Lothholz and his campaign gets the credit for Eudora’s first Kansas River bridge, and also oversaw the building of a 42-foot by 12-foot ferry built in 1889 to cross the river. Before the ferry and bridge, people crossed the river by boat. Grace (Schellack) Musick, wrote John Musick Sr. in Douglas County Family History, said when she lived north of the river before the bridge, people would boat across with their farm animals, furniture, and other possessions, dodging logs on the way. The boats were only a few inches above the water and used by any who wanted to cross. Sometimes, Musick said, men would take an old boat to where a boat was being washed downstream, exchange it for the better boat, and let the old leaky boat go downstream. Besides the early Shawnee, too, others operated ferries.
For instance, David Coop petitioned and received a license to run a ferry across the Kansas River at Black Jack, Eudora, and Leavenworth State Road. He had to be bonded and pay $10, according to the Leavenworth Weekly Times (April 20, 1876).
The $4,000 bridge was built across the Kansas River in 1892; however, in May of that year, high waters caused driftwood to slam into the bridge and tear out all but the trestle. Henry Hagenbuch, Fred Brender, and Nelson Hillyer saved 100 feet by overtaking it in their boat and pushing it to river banks. When done, Eudora held a “Bridge Celebration” day October 6, 1893, that started with a gathering at City Hall at 8 a.m. and a march to the bridge for speeches. After lunch, speeches in German were featured and races of all sorts at 3 p.m. Not too long after the celebration, the city of Eudora sold the cable for its Kansas River ferry to Lecompton to use for its ferry.
An 1898 news report said the Kansas River bridge north of Eudora and spanning Leander Island, north of the present Kansas bridge, was in dangerous condition and cited its oak “stringers” as rotten and unsafe. New planks on the north side of the bridge put up that year were not sufficient. The next year, the Missouri Valley Bridge Company of Leavenworth spent two weeks putting up 15 new piling and replaced rotten caps and timbers. Charles Megner, the bridge watchman in 1899, lived on Leander Island.
Ice almost took out the Kansas River bridge in February 1910, but the ice was blown up with dynamite before the jam could crash into the bridge. In 1913, a horse partially fell through rotted flooring on the south side of the bridge, which was out of commission for a couple of years starting in the spring of 1915. High waters at that time changed the river channel, thus, jetties were put in to prevent further cutting of the banks, and took out the north approach. After lengthy squabbling between Douglas County and Leavenworth County commissioners about splitting the cost of repairs, the Supreme Court forced Leavenworth County to contribute to repair and upkeep, and a call went out for bids in 1917 for an estimated $10,000 worth of construction. After the ruling, one or more culprits tried to dynamite the north span of the bridges remnants in January of 1917. The two spans were bent and torn loose from the pier, hanging on by only a few inches. The explosion moved the steel pier about a foot from its permanent location. In May of 1918, the bridge finally was fixed; however, the piling used was considered inadequate and recommendations were made for a 250-foot steel span. A few months later, floods washed away the north edge of the bank and part of the bridge. The continual repairs continued, for example, the Brune brothers replaced the bridge flooring with white oak planks in 1926 and also installed new railings.
Another ice gorge on rising water slammed into and damaged the 200-foot iron bridge in 1936, which would be damaged by huge ice floes surging down the Kansas River in 1963, wiping out the Eudora bridge. In 1936, contractors built four jetties totaling 1,200 feet above the Kansas River bridge north of Eudora. The need for jetties has continued. According to “Kaw River Erosion-Control Project Ahead of Schedule, Under Budget” written by Mark Fagan for the Lawrence Journal World on March 14, 2002, the 2002 $2 million erosion-control project crew dumped 31,000 tons of limestone rocks into the river to build three dikes to protect the eroding riverbank from the river and keep the Douglas County Route 1061 bridge from wasting away. Rocks weighing between 50 to 2,000 pounds were used because the bank has been falling into the river since the flood of 1993, and the riverbend upstream from the bridge shifted more than a half mile east since 1941. This movement threatens the bridge, which carries about 2,400 vehicles a day. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Douglas County, and Leavenworth County shared the cost.
Photographs below, from left, 1903 flood, dried-up Wakarusa River in 1939 drought; Joseph Snyder ferry across Kansas River below the Wakarusa River mouth
On the afternoon of May 19, 1855, the first steamboat to ply the Kansas River, the EMMA HARMON, left Kansas City en-route to Topeka and other way landings. Stopping to re-supply wood around noon the next day, they slipped into the stream again and almost immediately were hailed by an Indian wanting a tow up river for his flatboat. They stopped, made the small boat fast and proceeded west up river. . . . .Upon reaching the confluence of the Kaw and Wakarusa, they cast the Indian loose in his craft. Amidst cheering and waving from the passengers, the red man poled his way up the smaller stream. (Kansas Historical Quarterly, V. 6, p. 17-19)
Photographs: Dug Smith (above); the confluence of the Wakarusa River and the Kansas River (above right)
An earlier fisher of note was Doug Smith. The Linwood newspaper reported he used hoops one day to catch a 99-pound catfish, a couple of 15-pound catfish, and several catfish that were 25 pounds. A trapper who sold his animal hides in Chicago, Smith, was well-known for his large catches. The May 10, 1894 Eudora News told of another catch by Smith: “’Dug’ Smith, a fisherman who resides here, but who fishes up and down the Kaw and Missouri rivers, one week ago last Friday caught a large catfish, weight gross 140 pounds, in the Missouri River, near Lansing, Kans. In the fish’s stomach Mr. Smith found a small bottle, containing a message, and the strangest part of the affair is that the message started on its downward trip from here. By river the distance to Lansing is about seventy miles. It’s, of course, impossible to tell where the fish swallowed the bottle; it may have been many miles down the Missouri and again it might not have left the Kaw river. Be that as it may, this message was found, securely bottled, in the fish’s stomach, seventy miles from where it started: ‘Eudora, Kans., 1894. Whoever may find this will please send it back to me. Hoping to hear from you in a year or two, as ever, your sincere friend. H. E. Pipes.’” [Pipes lived on the north side of the Kansas River in Eudora with his parents.]
The larger of the two rivers, the 170-mile Kansas River dips south to meet up with Wakarusa on its eastward flow before joining the Missouri River in Kansas City. About half as long, its tributary, the Wakarusa, originates from smaller Flint Hills tributaries southwest of Topeka. By boat, the confluence is a half mile from the access park southwest of the Wakarusa Bridge at 5th & Main Street. Between Main Street and the confluence, two other tributaries empty into the Wakarusa in the Eudora city area.
Although the Kansas Department of Health and Environment and the Kansas Department of Wildlife and Parks has issued advisories not to consume bottom-feeding fish, including channel and flathead catfish, caught in the Kansas River between Lawrence and the confluence of the Wakarusa River because of the polychlorinated biphenyls chemical found in the fish, fishing remains a popular Kansas River pastime. Tom Burns, a long-time area fisherman who lived in between Eudora and Lawrence, was one of the best known of the bunch. He said in 1999 at a Eudora Area Historical Society meeting that the best sight he ever saw was a school of flathead "as big as a football field, with every size you could think of just rolling around" when he pulled his boat to the bank at Linwood. Burns couldn't row through them. He went up the river to Les Kindred’s place in Weaver Bottoms and spent the night, tied in there. The next night he moved his boat to Mud Creek. As he rowed on up the river, the same school of fish was there, hundreds of them. It took the flathead a day to go from above Linwood to the bridge north of Eudora. Burns said, that a school of flatheads, which ranged from 10 to 60 pounds each, made it from Eudora to Mud Creek the second day. Burns noticed that when fish swim alone, they move from one side of the bank to the other. But when they travel as a group, they never move more than a space of about two feet wide. They just keep rolling in the same size area in a straight line. He has also seen walleye move as a school. Burns said the best fishing is where the creeks would join the river and the jetties around DeSoto and Eudora. Fish in the Kansas River include catfish such as blue, flat head, and channel; German carp; leatherback carp; native carp; shad good for bait; white perch; drum; and sturgeon. Once he caught a gar so big it would barely go into the trunk of his 1936 Chevy car. Burns said less fish are in the river now, and those fish are smaller. In the 1940s and 1950s, he caught fish that were about 70 to 80 pounds and once in a while a 90-pound one. Now the weight is often at 60 but mostly below 50 pounds.
A locally available building material, stone—individual surface stones or quarried blocks—was easily available from the numerous stone crops and quarries in the area. Often less expensive than brick or lumber, the area’s limestone and sandstone still can be seen in area houses, downtown buildings, retaining walls, churches, former one-room schools, and farm buildings. Much of the cutstone (a blue limestone) used in early Lawrence for window sills, paving stones, etc. came from the Eudora quarry.
In the time before highway signage, travelers recognized their location by natural geographic landmarks. Early travelers venturing through Douglas County, for example, oriented by Blue Mound, the imposing hill southwest of Eudora to reach the Santa Fe Trail or follow the Oregon Trail and its variations.
For travelers navigating to and through Eudora, the confluence of the Kansas River and the Wakarusa River distinguished Eudora from other sites. Lt. James William Abert recorded one of the earliest accounts of the city’s original landmark when writing of the June 29 crossing on Shawnee-operated flatboats of Col. Alexander W. Doniphan’s 1846 military movement that marched from Fort Leavenworth to invade Mexico from the north:
". . . The current of the river was very rapid, so that it required the greatest exertions on the part of our ferrymen to prevent the boats from being swept far down the stream. We landed just at the mouth of the Wakaroosa creek. Here there is no perceptible current; the creek is fourteen feet deep, while the river does not average more than 5 feet; and in some places is quite shoal [sandy].”
While crossing the Kansas River in the 1850s a few miles west, German explorer Heinrich Balduin Möllhausen wrote he and his flat-bottom boat “danced like a feather on the surging waves” and dodged huge, drifting tree trunks. Laura Calwell, Friends of the Kaw, says the same can be true today at the confluence.
“Sometimes the flow of the Kaw can push your boat a bit and if you aren’t prepared you might tip. There also tends to be logs either lodged in the bed of the river or floating at the confluence of the Wakarusa and Kaw, so whether you are entering or leaving the Wakarusa you just need to be careful.”
In 1854, W. H. Goode crossed “on the north side of the Kaw or Kansas River, through the Delaware lands” to visit the Wakarusa Shawnee Methodist Indian Mission, perhaps the first permanent structure built in the soon-to-be city of Eudora:
“. . .About three in the afternoon, much fatigued, we reached the Kaw River, opposite the mouth of the Wakarusa; but there was no boat, the only craft being a pirogue, and that fastened at the opposite shore. The tottering craft was brought over and our horses were swam by the side to the opposite shore in safety. Reaching the mission, we met a cordial reception from Dr. Still and his kind family.”
By 1861, a Lawrence newspaper wrote of a bridge “at the intersection of that stream with the Kansas River,” adding the landmark was at “one of the most picturesque and healthy locations in Kansas.”
Later travel guides continued the tradition of designating Eudora by the rivers’ joining, such as the 1888 Rand, McNally & Co.'s New Overland Guide to the Pacific Coast: California, Arizona, New Mexico, Colorado, and Kansas (“The landscape a few miles east of Lawrence, where the Wakarusa joins the Kaw”) and the 1946 Along Your Way Santa Fe Railway (“Wakarusa River empties into Kaw River here”). Margret Lynn, too, wrote of the confluence in her 1920 Free Soil novel (“Where the Wakarusa joined the yellow Kaw”).
Today the confluence best can be seen by boat or up-close along the tree-lined Wakarusa River bank on privately-owned land straight north of Peach Street. Because water moving across land surfaces meanders, the Wakarusa’s end now empties into the Kansas River about a half-mile east of where it did 150 or so years ago, according to the 1873 Atlas of Douglas County that puts the confluence directly north of the Holy Family Cemetery and present-day Burlington Northern Santa Fe railroad tracks. It may have been even further east a hundred years ago because a 1912 state history situates the confluence a mile from Eudora but doesn’t say exactly where in Eudora the measure was made.
“The confluence is pretty stable,” said Wakefield Dort, Jr., a retired University of Kansas geology professor and author of Historic Channel Changes of the Kansas River and its Major Tributaries. “While predicting a confluence’s change is a complicated question, change isn’t likely but the point of land extending downward may be cut off every once in a while.”
Seeking the path of least resistance, the rivers will continually migrate, shifting the confluence site. Although rarely seen by travelers now, from Eudora’s original landmark can be extracted the idea of coming together from different places, a legacy from which Eudora residents of all times can draw inspiration.
Today Kerr Field stands near the center of Eudora as an open green space used primarily by area soccer teams as a practice and game field. But from 1927 to 1976, this area of the 1000 block between Elm and Locust streets was one of Eudora’s busiest spots—the place to be on a Friday football night and the gathering spot for catching up with friends and neighbors or grabbing a treat.
Before 1927, early Eudora students used open spaces or farm fields such as the Schopper farm field north of downtown Eudora by the Kansas River for athletic practices and games. After a new high school was built in 1918 at Tenth and Main streets, the school board then bought and leveled the “Blechel place” across the street southeast of the high school. By 1927, this area was Eudora’s dedicated space for football, baseball, and track events. The addition of lights in 1935 made it possible to hold night games for decades to come.
Spectators would park in the gravel lot on the north end where a bus barn currently stands. From here, they would walk to the bleachers on the west side of the field for football games, to the east side for track events and to the southwest side for baseball games. At the time it was built, the field was a sprawling area just on the edge of town.
“The town basically ended at Kerr Field,” says LaDonna Snow Russell, who attended Eudora High School in the early 1970s. “For games, cars parked everywhere. But a lot of people walked, too, from their homes.”
Russell often would run one block north to and from the field to get to her job at Dari-Treat, a walk-up soft ice cream shop that William and Una Kelly opened in the 1950s.
“I played clarinet in the marching band and was scheduled to work at Dari-Treat on football game nights,” Russell recalls. “Wayne [Powell] would let me change into my band uniform, and I would cross the street to march at the high school football game. Then I would run back to work and change clothes. When the game was over, everyone would come over to Dari-Treat. That was a hopping place.”
During football games, spectators also could buy food at the field’s concession stand. And many families brought their own dinners and snacks. “My mom would pop popcorn on the stove and put it in brown paper bags for us to eat,” says Shannon Bond of her family’s 1970s Kerr Field football game traditions. “She would fry hamburgers and bring those with a bag of chips. We brought Mason jars, too, for our water to drink. After work, Dad would walk from our house on Maple Street to join us in our gold station wagon. We backed it in to watch my sister, MaxAnn, who was a cheerleader.”
There were other traditions of Kerr Field, such as the “soap scrimmages” that Bond recalls. “Everyone would bring a bar of soap. The soap went to stock up the showers for football players after the games.”
Whether they arrived with a bar of soap, a brown-sack dinner or simply as a Eudora fan, most of the crowds who gathered in the field’s first half-century would have simply known it as the high school fields. The name “Kerr Field” didn’t come until 1975 when it was officially renamed during the Eudora-Louisburg football game. At the half-time celebration, the Eudora school band formed a “K” to honor David Kerr, a chemistry teacher and the high school principal for 23 years, as well as the husband of Grace Kerr, a Eudora fourth-grade teacher since 1945.
Kerr, who also served as Eudora’s mayor from 1967-1976, would retire
both his civic and school posts in 1976, leaving a strong legacy behind. In a 2007 interview, Carrol Gerstenberger, a school board member from 1964 to 1973, said of Kerr, “He had no secretary whatsoever. He’d be up there at 11 o’clock at night, with lights on, doing all the bookwork. He was an ex-Army officer, kind of a hard kind of guy, a wonderful man if you ever got to know him. A real honest, sincere man.”
In the same year that Kerr retired, Cardinal Field, at 1428 Elm Street, replaced Kerr Field as the site for football games and track events. Twenty-plus years later, USD 491 renamed Cardinal Field in honor of Don Laws, a teacher and coach in the Eudora school system from 1971 to 1992. The Eudora District Stadium, at 2203 Church Street, replaced Laws Field as the site of Eudora school athletic events in 2010.
The name of the Kerrs, who are buried in Eudora City Cemetery, lives on in Kerr Field, an important green space in central Eudora that enhances the beauty of city neighborhoods and continues to provide recreational venues for residents.