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MEMORIES IN FOCUS: The ebbs and flows of Marion's rivers years ago

MARION HISTORICAL MUSEUM PHOTO

Sadie Keller, Anna Hoch, and an unidentified friend met up with classmate and former resident Avery Dudley for a boating excursion along Luta Creek in Marion's Central Park in August 1900. Rivers that once meandered through Marion's valley were deepened and straightened in the 1920s to reduce flooding.

Straw hats, neck ribbons, frilly blouses, and floor-length skirts aren’t the only things that have changed when recent high school classmates gather along Marion’s Luta Creek for an informal Central Park reunion.

In the past 120 years, the river itself has become at least as different as the fashions followed by twenty-somethings visiting it.

In August 1900, when recent graduates Sadie Keller, Anna Hoch, and an unidentified friend met up with classmate and former resident Avery Dudley, a talented musician and Presbyterian minister’s son who had moved to Emporia and eventually would relocate to Illinois and then California, it was an almost formal affair when they decided to take a boat ride in Central Park.

Not only did they dress for the occasion. They didn’t have to walk far. With shallow banks, the river meandered across the middle of the park, providing easy launching at a location about where the Central Park stage now stands.

At the time, both Luta Creek (the confluence of Mud and Clear Creeks from north of town) and the Cottonwood River (entering the city from the west) traversed the city that way.

Easily accessible, they were favorites for casual boaters even if the boaters’ fashions seem a bit formal by modern standards.

The rivers — and, for that matter, fashions — changed markedly starting in the 1920s.

The quaintly crooked rivers snaking through Marion’s original settlement areas in the valley proved so slow-moving that even modest rainfall could produce flooding.

In the 1920s, before modern project like Marion Reservoir and a dike and diversion channel around town were possible, both Luta and the Cottonwood were both deepened and straightened so rainwater could more quickly move downstream without spilling out onto city streets.

The park, once bifurcated by the river, no longer had a stream running through it to the historic springs that original settlers had camped near. A loop in the river was eliminated and filled, and a new, straightened channel was created in its present location to the west.

Work at the park was among the least ambitious parts of the project, however.

The Cottonwood, which had meandered along what now are known as Jex Addition and Billings Addition (which actually was part of the original Marion Town Company addition), was completely relocated west and south of inhabited portions of the city.

North of the park, a meandering section of Luta that extended from its present location to Valley School (now Bown-Corby Apartments) and the municipal water plant, still located in that spot, was replaced by a straightened channel.

What’s now known as Dogfish “Island,” originally platted as a residential area with street names like Humboldt, Herchel, Brown, Christie, Howe, Hickory, and Chestnut, became largely isolated farmland, accessible only by fording the old river channel near the waterworks.

Until after the dredging and digging by huge steam-powered equipment, the main way out of town to the south was not 3rd St., as it is today. That street dead-ended at the Cottonwood, much as Main St. did to the west, making Santa Fe St. the main route into and out of town from that direction.

To the south, drivers would have traveled on Burbage St. at the south end of Jex Addition or Commercial St., better known as the “low road” to the county lake.

The most controversial portion of the dredging and channelizing project was the elimination of what had been the town’s signature feature — a narrow, stone-arch bridge over the Luta on Main St.

The bridge slowed the flow of water so much that a more capacious concrete span was installed instead, despite objections and even lawsuits by city folk.

The concrete span survived until water from Luta essentially was diverted west of town in the late 1970s by a dike and diversion channel project.

Unlike the old Cottonwood, which was left to go dry after its path was moved to bypass town, Luta was transformed into a pond, controlled by gates upstream and downstream, was allowed to remain as it is today, and a new culvert-style crossing was installed.

Last modified Dec. 19, 2019

 

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