New exhibit explores Franklin County’s relationship with the Marais des Cygnes River

The Old Depot Museum’s summer exhibit is all about the river. “Crossings: Getting Over, Around, and Through Water in Franklin County” will open with refreshments and live music by Larry Lintner on Sunday, June 4, from 1 p.m. to 4 p.m. Admission to the museum will be free that day.

“We have a complicated relationship with our river,” said Diana Staresinic-Deane, manager of the Old Depot Museum. “We depend on the Marais des Cygnes River to sustain us with drinking water. Historically, Franklin Countians have paddled boats across it, fished from its banks, and baptized church congregants in its waters. Yet when the river floods, it can be dangerous and destructive.”

The Locust Street Bridge opened in 1885. It was torn down in 1961 to make way for flood control construction.

One of the exhibit’s most important features is a large floor map of the Marais des Cygnes River, which spans the 34’-long exhibit room at a scale of 18 inches equaling a mile. Visitors are invited to walk the river and study places where historic roads and current bridges cross the waters as well as find other features, like dams, fords, and “the Island.” The exhibit will also feature a clevis from the original 1869 Main Street suspension bridge, audio recordings of 1951 flood survivors, and the development of the flood control project.

The museum is hosting several free events in conjunction with this exhibit. On Thursday, June 8 at 7 p.m. at Neosho County Community College, Susan Metzger & Tracy Streeter of the Kansas Water Office will present “Water for Tomorrow: A Long-Term Vision for Water Supply in Central Kansas.” On Friday, June 16, the museum and City of Ottawa are partnering to offer tours of the Water Treatment/Reclamation Plants (please call the museum to sign up). On Thursday, July 6 at 7 p.m. at NCCC, Jay Antle will present “Irrigation in Kansas.”

Water fills the streets of Ottawa during the 1951 flood. Photo by J.B. Muecke.

“This exhibit is part of a much larger conversation about water happening in Kansas during the next year and a half,” said Staresinic-Deane. “A traveling Smithsonian exhibit called Water/Ways will make several stops throughout the state, and many other locations have received grants to tell their local water stories. The Franklin County Historical Society was fortunate to receive a grant. The stories being told are as diverse as the participating locations.”

“Crossings” is made possible thanks in part to a Water/Ways partner site grant from the Kansas Humanities Council. Support for the Water/Ways initiative has been provided by the Sunflower Foundation. Additional community support for the Old Depot Museum’s exhibit comes from the former Franklin County Convention and Visitors Bureau, Ottawa Library, City of Ottawa, Franklin County GIS, and Water Systems Engineering.

Founded in 1937, the Franklin County Historical Society strives to preserve, present, and promote the history of Franklin County, Kansas. The Old Depot Museum is part of the Franklin County Historical Society.

For more information, contact the Old Depot Museum at (785) 242-1250 or

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