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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.

Sources:

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

“LAKE WICHITA,” Handbook of Texas Online (http://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/online/articles/rol85), accessed January 10, 2013.

© Jim Miller 2013

 

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Posted by on January 10, 2013 in Nature

 

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When Extreme Drought Hits Home

Dry cattails line the dry and barren bed of Lake Wichita.

Dry cattails line the dry and barren bed of Lake Wichita.

As the old saying goes, Lake Wichita is but a shadow of her former self. Once a grand jewel of a tourist attraction and the first man-made lake built to provide fresh water for the residents of Wichita Falls, Texas, this dear old lady languishes in the final throes of becoming a dry wetland.

mussel shell 1-21-2004 3-37-06 PM

Fresh water mussel shells and decades of debris and refuse from boaters and fishermen lay exposed as the lake’s waters continue to recede.

The amusement park and pavilion with its dance halls, restaurants and docking piers that once drew thousands of summer visitors from far and wide across the Southwest faded into history long ago. Remains of fresh water mussels, desiccated fish bones and tons of trash and debris litter the lake bed today.

rusted drum remains 1-21-2004 3-35-15 PM

The rusted top of a 55-gallon drum lies buried in the lake bed, typical of the tons of debris littering the lake.

As extreme drought conditions continue to hold going into 2013, the future of Lake Wichita and the surrounding wetland marsh is uncertain. Located on the southwestern edge of the city and almost completely surrounding by urban neighborhoods, the lake is the property of the City of Wichita Falls. Lake Wichita Park and the Circle Trail for hiking and biking line its northern shore. Fresh deer tracks and other signs of active wildlife attest that the old lake is still an attraction and not just for people.

With a lot of tender loving care from her friends and visitor, this old lady has another hundred years and more of life potential in her yet.

fish bones 1-21-2004 3-23-13 PM

© Jim Miller 2013

 

 

 

 
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Posted by on January 3, 2013 in Genesis

 

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Introducing Science Friday and “What on Earth?”

Good Morning, Children!

Here’s a site I think you will find fun and informative.

http://www.sciencefriday.com/blog/2010/11/gambling-with-our-water-supply/  Check ’em out and let us know what you think!

See ya!

 
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Posted by on February 3, 2012 in Some of our friends

 

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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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