Crossings: Getting Over, Around, and Through Water in Franklin County

The Old Depot Museum’s summer 2017 was all about the river. “Crossings: Getting Over, Around, and Through Water in Franklin County” was on display June through August.

“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. Nothing was impossible. As the river is large, fishermen had ample opportunities to catch some of the many fish that were swimming beneath them. Some of them may have even enlisted the help of something similar to the best inflatable boat that they could find, to help them to navigate these waters, (only when it was safe to do so, of course). Although, this wasn’t possible all of the time as when the river floods, it can be dangerous and destructive.”

Ott Dam was a popular (and dangerous) fishing destination just west of the Santa Fe Railroad Bridge. The dam was demolished to make way for flood control project of the 1950s and 1960s.

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.

Water laps at the heads of parking meters at 2nd and Main streets looking north during the 1951 flood. Photo by J.B. Muecke.

The museum hosted 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 presented “Water for Tomorrow: A Long-Term Vision for Water Supply in Central Kansas.” On Friday, June 16, the museum and City of Ottawa partnered to offer tours of the Water Treatment/Reclamation Plants. On Thursday, July 6 at 7 p.m. at NCCC, Jay Antle presented “Irrigation in Kansas.”

“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” was 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.

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