Each week we’ll take a step back into the history of Great Bend through the eyes of reporters past. We’ll reacquaint you with what went into creating the Great Bend of today, and do our best to update you on what “the rest of the story” turned out to be.
President Franklin D. Roosevelt was still rolling out New Deal programs in a focused effort to pull the United States out of the Great Depression. Public Works projects were being planned to put people back to work, and National Recovery Act groups were working to get compliance with a request to lower the number of hours job-holders were required to work, while raising wages to a livable rate. Industries were in discussion, working out deals between labor groups and management. And Prohibition was being debated on a national level. Almost a majority of states were ready to end the ban on the sale of alcohol, but Kansas was still firmly a dry state.
A pool too cool
This is the week, in 1933 that voters in Great Bend turned out three to one in favor of building a municipal pool.
“Great Bend citizens voted “wet” yesterday,” the story said, with an obvious reference to ongoing debates about ending Prohibition. “But they had their minds on a swimming pool, not intoxicating liquor. By a vote of 869 to 310, they approved issuance of $30,000 in bonds for construction and equipping of a municipal pool at the City park, providing federal aid is obtained for 30 percent of the amount or $9,000, reducing the indebtedness to the city for its erection to $21,000.” Not bad, by today’s standards anyway, for a pool measuring 200 by 100 feet.
The aid was part of the National Recovery Industrial Act. By providing funds for public works projects the federal government was attempting to alleviate the unemployment situation.
“A rain storm that broke about 3 p.m. threatened to keep voters at home but skies cleared about 5 p.m. and election officials were kept busy the remaining hour meeting requests for ballots,” the story said. The vote was compared to that cast earlier in the spring against the construction of a municipal light plant.
“The pool question was probably the most public spirited one ever presented to Great Bend voters,” the story said.
Funds were awarded and the pool was built. Major upgrades were made in 2005, creating today’s Wetlands Aquatic Center. Once again, the pool at Great Bend is a regional draw.
“We get a lot of visitors from St. John, Pratt (and other cities),” Public Lands Director Terry Hoff said in an article found in the 2013 Barton County Source. “It’s not unusual to get groups from Dodge City.”
One brief editorial in a section titled “They Say” remarked about the search for a place to store artifacts, while poking fun at a certain Judge of the county.. “We don’t know what the Barton County Historical Society has done toward arranging a place in the courthouse for the safe preservation of historical objects and mementoes but we believe if such a place was arranged, many interesting things could be gathered together that would be of particular interest and value to future generations. Among them, a parchment deed made in 1700 in England which Judge E.C. Cole displayed in this office yesterday to several interested persons and might be persuaded to make as a gift provided it is kept safely.”
It would be many years later that the BCHS would find a home. Probably because in the middle of a depression, followed by a war effort and exploration for oil, the people of the county had more to do than they had time to do it with, and likewise with their money.
In 1993, Mae Weaver, a retired home economist, wrote a brief history of the Barton County Historical Society. It was loosely founded in 1931. A few exhibits were kept in storage and brought out for display on occasion, once in the Barton County courthouse, and once at the public library.
It wasn’t until 1960 that the Society became more formalized, with representatives from most cities in the county signing on. After incorporating in 1964, it was then able to acquire property. Five acres were purchased south of Great Bend, and historical buildings, starting with St. Paul’s Lutheran Church were moved to the site. Storage buildings were erected, and finally permanent displays were assembled.
All buildings and displays have been donated. In 1971, the county allowed the BCHS to collect 1/10 mill tax levy that pay for three part-time workers and basic operations.
“The County Historical Society now coordinates with the County economic efforts, Convention and Visitors Bureau, the local Chambers of Commerce, Kansas Travel Tourism and Kansas State Historical Society and others,” Weaver wrote.
Coffee in Kansas
In the midst of the Depression, the creative and inquiring spirit of some still could not be squelched. Kansas farmers were still experimenting with crops they could grow in the newly broken prairie soils. Word got out the summer of 1923 that a Clay Center farmer had successfully grown coffee. According to the story “Coffee grows in Kansas”, “Charles Hofmann of (Clay Center) has some matured coffee plants from which he expects to reap a considerable harvest this fall. The hot summer weather was just what the coffee plants needed for proper development, Mr. Hofmann says. He ordered the seed from an eastern seed house and planted it last spring.”
Perhaps Mr. Hofmann was a little premature in declaring to his neighbors his success with the trees. A cursory search on the internet brought up nothing about coffee production in Kansas, so needless to say, no farmers chose to switch from wheat or corn to coffee beans. Still, the thought of growing coffee at home is intriguing, and possible. TalkAboutCoffee.com offers information and a public discussion forum on how to grow coffee shrubs from seed, in fact. According to their website, a single plant can produce two to 10 pounds of raw beans in a year.
Price of Wheat up $.04
One thing that was of concern to Barton County farmers in 1933 was the price of wheat. Recent acreage reduction programs put into effect were finally starting to see results. According to the Associated Press story, dateline Chicago, “Grains broke the shackles which a lethargic demand had riveted on trade and today ran higher in price in brisk dealings.”
The acreage reduction program was part of Roosevelt’s New Deal plan to find ways to increase the prices paid for agricultural products. By doing so, farmers would be encouraged to try again, despite drought and grasshopper plagues. A public information campaign helped to drive the point home for the general public. An illustration that ran in the paper showing how the buying power of wheat had eroded. The number increased almost three times as much over a 19 year period from 1914 to 1933.
“Giving wheat the same buying power that it had in the period before the World War is the goal of the Agricultural Adjustment Administration...In 1914, eight sacks of wheat would buy a pair of shoes, a barrel of flour, a chair and a plow,” read the cutline under the illustration.
Today, the ratio between oil and wheat is a more relevant measure than that of goods. According to the Earth Policy Institute, founded by environmentalist Lester Brown, the author of Full Planet, Empty Plates: The New Geopolitics of Food Scarcity, and a pioneer of the concept of environmentally sustainable development. In an excerpt from his latest book, Plan B 2.0, Rescuing a Planet Under Stress and a Civilization in Trouble, Lester said from 1950 to 1973, a bushel of wheat traded evenly for a barrel of oil. Since OPEC in 1973, that ratio has been steadily climbing in favor of oil. In 2005, it took 13 bushels of wheat to buy one barrel of oil.