Meade City Park
Meade City Park dates from 1920, when one Earnest Fletcher goaded the Meade Commercial Club into purchasing four acres of farmland from J.J. Stalder, christening it the Artesian Valley Camp Ground. The Club was well aware of the potential revenue generated by automobile tourism in those days, and became determined to build an “auto camping ground” to bring people in. Once the area was fenced in, they badgered residents to donate 30 ash trees to supplement the shorter-lived cottonwood trees already in place. If you volunteered a tree here, you were also expected to help plant it and take care of it.
By 1921, the city’s small bandstand was hauled over from the other side of town by two Fordson tractors. Three artesian wells were drilled in preparation for a swimming pool, which was to become The Big Deal of the park’s existence. The planned 50’x100′ pool was estimated to need 400 sacks of cement and 100 loads of sand. Being a private project, area farmers volunteered to haul sand and do grading work, among other necessaries. For example, Jake Cornelson, a farmer who lived 20 miles southeast of town, brought in a four-horse team and hauled sand for two days. By June, 1921, the forms were up and the concrete was being poured. Financial donations were sought, since the pool was estimated to cost a hearty $1,500 to create.
A shelter to house a sign-in registry book was volunteered as well (which is not the shelter you see in these pictures). The impact was immediate. The names of 1,932 tourists were recorded in the register between the July 1st, 1921, and January 1st, 1922. Fed from the three wells, the Meade Globe-News predicted that “This big stream of water will be continually running into the pool and will keep the water constantly fresh and pure.” It wasn’t much of an exaggeration – the first of the three artesian wells drilled naturally flowed 3 gallons per minute into the 200,000-gallon pool. Use of the new pool was free to anyone who cared to use it. Two bath houses were added in 1922, and the Artesian Valley Pool became the place to go on Sundays. 300-500 cars jammed into the few acres, at which point a special election gave operation of the park over to the City of Meade.
It’s worth noting that Route 54 once stayed at the west end of town before cutting north, so the park was not along the main drag at that time and had no natural traffic going by. The highway was not rerouted until the early 1950s.
New sanitation regulations in 1923 required that the pool be drained periodically, so the natural flow of the artesian wells was abandoned, replaced with water pumps to speed the refilling process up. One August Sunday in 1923, 320 cars showed up, with an estimated 2,000 people present. Looking this place over now, that’s a heap of cars and people! The Minneola Band showed up in preparation for the upcoming Meade County Fair, counting 50 of those cars among the entourage that followed them from that town. Between that and the abundant shade trees, Meade became a happinin’ place, drawing people from many miles distant.
The “shelter house” you see in the pictures, along with a smaller utility house and considerable spans of stone walls, were erected in the late 1930s by the Works Progress Administration and the Civil Works Administration. The stones came from the demolition of a large railroad water well to the east.
In 1956, the Kansas State Board of Health closed the swimming pool. Meade voters once again returned to the polls and construction began on a new pool in 1957 on land acquired specifically for it at the western border. By comparison, it cost $70,000. It was then renovated in 1993, including new bath houses. Being cinder block and of very simple, plain construction, I have to wonder what the original 1957 ones looked like. Or the 1922 ones, for that matter.
What gets me is the workmanship of the shelter house and its surrounding stone walls. Obviously wearing a durable new metal roof these days, the stonework and twin fireplaces display skills which, like much early architecture, are no longer feasible to duplicate. Even if you could afford it, changes in materials and methods have made the talent needed to do so as extinct as the dodo bird. It does not look as though it’s actually being used for anything, which is a shame. Though it’s a little large for my needs, it’s one of the very few places with so much charisma that I’d move in in a heartbeat! Charming. Maybe they’d consider what’s left of my 1994 travel trailer in trade? What? Somewhat unrealistic, you say? Well, that’s okay. I’ve still got a lot of “see the U.S.A” left in me, and parks like this are the highlights.