Thursday morning, at Great Bend’s Santa Fe Trail Park located at the intersection of 10th and Frey St., Great Bend Foundation representative Bob Parish was on hand as historical signs were erected which tell about the trail and how Lt. Zebulon Pike of the U.S. Army passed this way in 1806 while exploring along the Arkansas River. The foundation funded the sign project which will help visitors and residents alike to have a deeper appreciation of the historical significance of Great Bend, Parish said.
The park, constructed when the city built The Front Door, features a fountain that reminds visitors of the nearby Arkansas River. Shortly after the water feature and landscaping was complete, a Santa Fe Trail stone marker was moved a short distance to the park. Originally placed a few blocks from where it stands now, a neighborhood grew up around it.
“The marker was kind of forgotten where it was, but here, it makes sense,” he said.
Markers were placed in the early 1900s when local chapters of The Daughters of the American Revolution, realizing the historical significance of the trail to the country, led a drive to raise money to mark the trail, according to Karen Neuforth, historian with the Barton County Historical Society museum. Children collected pennies and the stones were engraved and placed. Over the years, several have been lost, Parish said.
The trail began at Kansas City, then Westport, and took a 900 mile southwesterly route past Great Bend to Santa Fe, N.M. It was a major commercial highway and route for settlers, all traveling by foot, horse, or wagon.
“Where you are standing, you can see where the trail would be,” Parish said. “Before it was called the Santa Fe Trail, it was called the road to Santa Fe.”
The arrival of the Atchison, Topeka & Santa Fe railroad at Great Bend in 1872 marked the beginning of the end of the wagon trail, but portions of the trail to the west continued to exist until 1880.
The Great Bend Foundation, not to be confused with the Golden Belt Foundation, is a 501 C 3 foundation created to benefit the city of Great Bend, Parish explained.