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Bones of Bygone Days

Bones of Bygone Days
Linen postcard of the pavilion at Lake Wichita, circa 1930s-40s.

Linen postcard of the pavilion at Lake Wichita, circa 1930s-40s.

William Howard Taft was President, Henry Ford sold his 10,000th automobile and Phil Parmelee piloted the first commercial air cargo flight for the Wright Co.–two bolts of dress silk delivered from Dayton to Columbus, OH, in one hour and six minutes for $5,000–in 1910 when the Lake Wichita Pavilion opened for funny business. A jewel in her day, the two-story colonnade playground offered swells and not so swells alike escape from summer’s heat through the 1920s and into the ’30s.

Flash forward 100 years and nothing remains of her but old dry bones.

Weathered wooden pilings are all that remains today of a once regal, recreational palace.

Weathered wooden pilings are all that remains today of a once regal, recreational palace. Photo by Jim Miller

One of the first man-made lakes in Texas, Lake Wichita resulted from a dam being built across Holliday Creek southwest of Wichita Falls. Completed in 1901, the project was undertaken by Wichita Falls founding fathers Frank Kell and Joseph A. Kemp doing business as Kemp’s Lake Wichita Irrigation and Water Company to provide fresh water for people, cattle and crops. At its peak the lake boosted a 14,000 acre-feet capacity with 2,200 acre surface area draining some 143 square miles.

Dry bones

Dry bones

The pavilion proper featured a skating rink and a cafe on the first floor and dance hall on the second. Kemp and Kell quickly expanded the entertainment complex to the adjoining lake shore to include a penny arcade, racetrack, ballpark, a hotel and even some summer cottages.

The Lake Wichita Trolley shuttled folks between town and lake. At the height of summer seasons, special excursion trains brought in visitors from Fort Worth.

Fire destroyed the hotel in 1918. It was never rebuilt although the remaining attractions continued going strong until the Great Depression. The grand lady herself, the great pavilion was the last to go, her ruins consumed by fire in 1955.

Pavilion 1-6-2004 10-21-06 AM

The bare bones footings of the old pavilion viewed through reeds.

Now the lake itself is close to fading into history because of exceptional drought conditions. While the City of Wichita Falls stopped using the lake as a water source years ago, Lake Wichita remained an attraction for boating, fishing and bird watching. Fresh water mussel shells litter the now exposed lake bed, along with the bones of fish, turtles, tracks left by whitetail deer, raccoons and coyotes and human-deposited trash.

Unless drought-busting rains come soon, the future of this valuable natural wetland appears darkly bleak. The thrill-seeking amusement park days may have closed forever, but many of the old lake’s friends and fans believe she can rise again as a treasured natural resource.


 Hendrickson, Kenneth E. Jr., Wichita Falls (Images of America), Arcadia Publishing

“LAKE WICHITA,” Handbook of Texas Online (, accessed January 10, 2013.

© Jim Miller 2013


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Posted by on January 10, 2013 in Nature


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The New Camping for a New Mother Nature

WOW, what a night, huh?  Thunder rollin’, light’nin’ flashin’!  Had a little dab of rain, pinch of pea hail and a whole lot of wind.  Thank ya, Lord!

Naturally enough, our good rain brought others’ pain and suffering.  Huff Post is reporting five people killed in a tornado that swept through Woodward, OK, early this morning.  Judging from all the weather chatter yesterday ahead of overnight storms that swept the Plains and Midwest, casualties and property damage could have been much higher.  Scant comfort to those who lost loved ones, homes and jobs.  We’re prayin’ for them, too, this morning, Lord!

The TV talkingheads were talking yesterday about the importance of having a NOAA weather radio in times like these.  I say, first, get yourself a top notch weather guy!  My go-to guy on the Rolling Plains is Meteorologist Bryan W. Rupp over at KFDX-TV 3 (NBC) out of Wichita Falls.  Don’t let Bryan’s Tim-McGraw-style fedora fool ya, the boy knows his weather, not to mention our weather.  He’s tireless, too, in pursuit of the wildest weather–he’s a chaser in addition to being a savvy reporter–and constantly sends out critical updates on all the leading social channels.  Like Good Old Joe Brown used to say, I’m proud to recommend Bryan to ya, and, no, Bryan is NOT paying me to say that, damn it.

We were all set to camp out at the lake this weekend.  That, of course, didn’t go.  OMG (that’s “Oh, my gosh” for the hypocritical social police set out there who may be reading this but don’t want any of their fellow travelers to know it), we have not had a good escape to the woods since Horny Moose Camp in…when was it?…’96?  That was a weekend!!

Ended up staying home and turning to busy-looking chores in the back quarter (as in the 1/4-acre patch behind our socially-respectable-looking house); reassessing garden plots and raising the eye pokers, low-hanging branches that exist solely to fetch out an eye of a daydreaming mower.  Kept wondering to myself, there is the faint solitude of our backyard, what would I be doing if I were out at the lake?  Probably puttering around with busy-looking camp chores while really keeping a watch on the developing weather; thankful, I pray, to be clear of all the power mowers screaming and rubber-tires whining along Speedway!

OH, SHIT!!  Damn near half past ten and I haven’t yet checked in on Big Red and Ezra!!  Pardon my French, children, but this pair of red-tailed hawks have a nest of three eggs that will begin to hatch any day now.  We’ve been watching these two going on three weeks, now, starting shortly after Red laid her 2nd egg.  The nest is in Ithaca, NY, 80 feet in the air on a light pole overlooking a parking lot on the campus of Cornell University.  Live 24/7 streaming is being provided by the bird nerds who run the Cornell Lab of Ornithology here.  No hawklings yet….

AS I was saying…we puttered around the yard most of yesterday, waiting to see what the weather was gonna do.  Early afternoon Bryan posted expectations of a high-end tornado watch being issued by the Storm Prediction Center up in Norman, OK.  First I’ve ever heard the modifier “high-end” applied to a weather alert.  Seems the folks at the SPC coined the term during the 2006 outbreak, referring to storms packing especially severe (F3 or higher), life-threatening tornadoes, plural.

Our east-side neighbor lady has this tree with small clusters of white blooms hanging over our privacy nook where the A/C compressor lives.  I was going to trim some low hangers back when I noticed a mob of red admiral butterflies storming the blossoms.  Wind was gusting pretty steady around 40mph out of the southwest, so I was kind of surprised to see this level of butterfly activity.

A couple of red admiral butterflies out of several working on Latin Lady's tree.

Given the windy conditions, got me to wondering if this was some kind of swarming behavior, seeking a place to hole up until the blow was over.  Seems I’m seeing considerably more butterflies working our patch this season.  Mostly I’m seeing scores of LYBs (little yellow bastards) working the dandelions and what remains of the grape hyacinths. Also seeing a ton of  crane flies  this year.   I know, folks call these fragile fliers mosquito eaters, but that is a misnomer, children.  Adult crane flies do not eat at all–thus, they cannot bite you!–and the larval stages feed primarily on decomposing matter.

We thought about taking a cruise in the Blazer toward evening just to get clear of the city for a couple hours.  But by the time we had wrapped the yard chores, dark was setting in, not to mention the fatigue of the aged.  Ended up calling it a night, as usual, in front of the TV with nothing on worth watching.

So it was a stormy night in River City.  Love lying in bed during  a rip rumbling thunderstorm, which, truth be told, beats lying in a leaky tent during same.  The morning woke to partly cloudy skies painting swatches of yellow sunlight on sparkling greens.  The doves and mockingbirds were in fine tune, too.  Bacon from the oven, pancakes in a cast-iron skillet and coffee out of Black and Decker tastes almost as great as breakfast around a campfire.

Maybe we will take that drive out to Lake Arrowhead this afternoon.

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Posted by on April 15, 2012 in Genesis


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The Happy(?) Homesteader: a positive guide for the End of the World

The Mayans got it right! The end of the world as we know it is here; these are, indeed, the End of Days (EOD).

So what are you going to do about it?

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Posted by on February 2, 2012 in Genesis


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