Tag Archives: Douglas County

Smithsonian Water/Ways exhibit is now traveling Kansas #thinkwater

None of us can live without water, and a new traveling Smithsonian Institution exhibit examines the role that water plays in our lives. Water/Ways is part of Museum on Main Street, a program that brings big topics to smaller towns all over the United States.

The Smithsonian Institution’s traveling Water/Ways exhibit is as beautiful as it is informative.

Water/Ways is currently traveling through Kansas, Alabama, Tennessee and Virginia. It’s a beautiful hands-on exhibit that looks at all of the ways we need, use, and interact with water. Water decides where we live, what we grow, and even our recreation and spiritual activities. Too much or too little water can be devastating.

Learn things you might not have known about water. Endorheic watersheds are made of water that drains to a basin instead of a river or the ocean.

In Kansas, we’re constantly thinking about water. We get too much rain. We don’t get enough. Our rivers are up. Our water supply is low. Our water mains break. Our reservoirs silt up. Zebra mussels threaten our water towers. We worry we’ll deplete our aquifers.

The rest of the world is having conversations about these things. too.

This display helps you understand how much water it takes to produce everyday things, like apples, blue jeans, and cars.

The Water/Ways exhibit looks at where we find water on earth and how human activity impacts our water resources. Learn how much water it takes to grow an apple, built a car, or produce a pair of blue jeans. Try your hand at developing good water policies that protect our water supply while supporting cities AND agriculture. [Hint: It’s super hard.] Discover the water challenges faced by people, plants, and animals around the globe, and how living things have adapted to them.

Try your hand at creating public policy that will both protect the water supply AND meet water demands.

It’s a small but powerful exhibit.

In addition to the traveling Water/Ways exhibit, the Kansas Humanities Council has also awarded grants to numerous sites around the state to tell their own water story. [Disclaimer: The Old Depot Museum, where I work, received one of these grants!] The local stories are amazing and demonstrate how our own state can have very diverse water experiences.

The Smithsonian exhibit is on display at the Eudora Community Museum through August 6. If you can’t make it to Eudora in time, you can catch the exhibit in other Kansas locations through 2018.

There are also three local stories being told during the summer of 2017:

At the Mercy of the Kaw: Eudora’s Relationship with Water,” the story of Eudora’s relationship with the Kansas River (Eudora Community Museum, Eudora, Kansas)

Crossings: Getting Over, Around, and Through Water in Franklin County,” the story of the love/hate relationship between Franklin County and the Marais des Cygnes River (Old Depot Museum, Ottawa, Kansas)

Dam, That Took a Long Time,” the story of the construction of Wyandotte County Lake and Dam (Mr. and Mrs. F.L. Schlagle Library and Environmental Learning Center, Kansas City, Kansas)

Upcoming local stories look at floods, failed canals, desegregating swimming pools, and artesian wells.

This is a powerful traveling exhibit and worth seeking out before it leaves the state.

Sunday Snapshot: Shoaf Monument at Union Cemetery

The twin columns of the Shoaf monument at Union Cemetery in Douglas County, Kansas.

The twin columns of the Shoaf monument at Union Cemetery in Douglas County, Kansas.

We were on our way home from a weekend drive–the storm clouds to the east of this monument would eventually produce a tornado near Atchison, Kansas–when we spotted this unique monument. Twin columns, twin urns.

Twins. Lost.

The epitaph for Ulles Uriar Shoaf (April 17, 1866–October 26, 1882) and Susan Marria Shoaf (April 17, 1866–November 20, 1882), reads:

They were lovely and pleasant in their lives.
By death they were not long divided.
Twin Son & Daughter of
Solomon & Margaret

Sunday Snapshot: On this lonely road, I see the river through the trees

As we drove through Lecompton, Jim and I saw a sign for a “Scenic River Road” and had to follow it. The old road, probably an old wagon trail, twists and turns and winds its way into the hills. Connecting historic Lecompton with Topeka, part of 2190 Road is also marked the Kansas Capitol Trail.

A canopy of trees close in over "Scenic River Drive."

A canopy of trees close in over “Scenic River Drive.”

Old trees and older hills shadow the path, but when you look north between the trees, you realize that more than 100 feet below, the Kansas River meanders through sandbars, the water flowing from Topeka to Lawrence.

Trees grow along the steep bank to the Kansas river.

Trees grow along the steep bank right bank of the Kansas River, which can still be seen through the leafless woods.

Sunday Snapshot: The tree stump monuments at Clinton Cemetery

A local weather forecaster suggested that Kansans needed Dramamine in order to survive the roller coaster that is March weather in the Midwest. When I woke up this morning, there was snow and sleet on the ground. But Friday was beautiful and warm and Jim and I went for a drive to take in the sunshine. We found ourselves driving around Clinton Lake.

Clinton Lake at dusk.

Clinton Lake at dusk.

I have a few childhood memories of Clinton Lake, but I did not know back then that the lake was relatively new, having been completed by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in 1977. The town of Clinton survived; some other unincorporated communities vanished into the watershed district. Near the town of Clinton, though, is Clinton Cemetery, which turned out to be a treasure trove of gnarled trees and old and interesting graves.

Except for in communities with easy railroad access or a local stone mason, elaborate monuments are scarce in Kansas before the 1890s. Headstones celebrating those with birthdays before 1800 are also scarce west of the Kansas City area. And yet, here in Clinton Cemetery, there are several examples of beautiful tree stump monuments, stones with embedded porcelain photographs, and other creative and intricate markers. There are graves for children of men who fought in the Revolutionary War and there is at least one marker for a former slave born in 1799.

Nickerson Cowan (also listed as Cowen in the cemetery records). "Passed to the Spiritland of the 17 Day of May 1886, Aged 87 Years. A slave till Lincoln's proclamation on 1 January 1863.

Nickerson Cowan (also listed as Cowen in the cemetery records). “Passed to the Spiritland of the 17 Day of May 1886, Aged 87 Years. A slave till Lincoln’s proclamation on 1 January 1863.

Should you find yourself at Clinton Lake this summer, make a little time for the museum (which is open May through October) and this cemetery. It is worth a visit.

Sunday Snapshot: Coal Creek Library

Last weekend when the weather was relatively nice for a January in Kansas, Jim and I wondered down some previously unexplored roads in Douglas County. We stumbled upon the little community of Vinland, Kansas. In a space smaller than two city blocks, we found two historic churches (including the church where basketball legend James Naismith was once a preacher), a Grange Hall on the National Historic Register, and the oldest library in continuous use in Kansas. Across the street from the town was a mowed-grass airfield for small planes.

Coal Creek Library was founded in 1859 and was considered the oldest continuously operating library in Kansas and was run by the oldest continuously working woman in Kansas.

Coal Creek Library was founded in 1859 and was considered the oldest continuously operating library in Kansas and was run by the oldest continuously working woman in Kansas.

The town of Vinland was settled in 1854, and its community members were generally strong abolitionists. Its citizens fought along with John Brown at the Battle of Black Jack, and they believe that area-resident Charles Dow was the first person to die in the Civil War in 1855.

The citizens of Vinland were an educated bunch, and they established a library early in the town’s history. Founded in 1859, the library was in continuous use until recently, when it was turned into a museum. One of Kansas’ oldest citizens, Martha Cutter Kelley Smith, was still assisting patrons at the 3,700-volume library with a potbelly stove in 2008, when she was 102 years old, and Kansas honored her as the oldest female worker in the state. Her Vinland roots run deep; Martha’s own family had homesteaded near Vinland in 1866.

As we drove around Vinland and admired the architecture and the history, we had no idea that the town was in mourning. Their elderly librarian, Martha Cutter Kelly Smith, had passed away the day before our visit at the age of 108.

Vinland is still an active community and holds an annual fair. You can follow Vinland on facebook. The library museum has been open to the community on summer weekends in the past, and we hope to make a trip back to see the library museum soon.