I recently read the comments of Walter Roscoe Stubbs, who was the 18th governor of Kansas from 1909 until 1913. The occasion was a dinner meeting in October of 1909 that celebrated the 50th anniversary of the Kansas Constitution at the Scottish Rite Temple in downtown Kansas City, Kan.
Stubbs was very complimentary of Kansas City, Kan. After all, it was the largest city in the state with about 100,000 people. The city had gained about 25,000 people since 1900. Perl Morgan, a newspaperman and historian, reported on Stubbs’ speech in his book on Wyandotte County history.
“The citizens should take an interest in the development of the Missouri River,” Stubbs said. “Don’t you know that seagoing vessels ought to be able to come up the river and touch Kansas soil.”
The confluence of the Kansas and Missouri rivers, as discovered by explorers Lewis and Clark in the early 1800s, provided an excellent development site. A few years after Gov. Stubbs’ speech, industrial development started in the Fairfax area. One of the earliest companies was a flying school that E.J. Sweeney owned at Sweeney Air Port.
When I was researching information for my book on the 1950s in Wyandotte County, I recall the effort of business and political leaders pushing for upstream reservoirs that would protect Fairfax and other parts of Wyandotte County from floods. About 20 percent of the county was under water during the 1951 flood.
Flood control levees now protect Fairfax and most of the county. But geologists I interviewed questioned whether if all this flood control was good public policy.
For example, the Tuttle Creek reservoir near Manhattan, Kan., suffers from an extensive amount of silt—something that is very expensive to remove. And geologists have discovered the Tuttle Creek dam is on an earthquake fault. I recall what I learned in geology class when I was at the University of Kansas at Lawrence in the early 1960s—when you alter the natural flow of water, eventually you will pay the price—Mother Nature bats last.
The Missouri River is a commercial shipping waterway that has barge traffic, some of which may end up down stream in places such as St. Louis and possibly on to New Orleans.
Gov. Stubbs went on to estimate that Kansas City, Kan., could grow to be come a city of 400,000 or 500,000 people. Of course, that growth never occurred—it peaked at about 180,000 in 1970. Had city officials here been more alert in the mid-1940s and bold enough to have jumped into Johnson County, maybe Gov. Stubbs would have been a little more accurate in his prediction.
People in the older areas of Northeast Johnson County were afraid of being annexed into Kansas City, Kan., according to an article that I read that Tom Leathers wrote in The Johnson County Squire. That fear was what prompted the incorporation of cities in the late 1940s. It is interesting to note that the population of Johnson County today is about 550,000.
Murrel Bland is the former editor of The Wyandotte West and The Piper Press. He is the executive director of Business West.