Amy Heaven and Rick Poppitz
Special to The Gardner News
Sitting under a protected covering in Cornerstone Park is a historic railroad bell that was once mounted on a 1920’s era Sante Fe steam engine. Most Gardner residents have probably seen it, but some might not know why it is there.
Thanks to the research of Mica Marriott in 2009, we now know the origin of the bell monument in Cornerstone Park is tied to Gardner Lake history.
Construction of Gardner Lake
Gardner Lake is a 100 acre manmade lake constructed in the 1930’s.
The project roots go back to 1934, during the Great Depression, when the Civilian Conservation Corp (CCC) and the Kansas Emergency Relief Corporation (KERC) adopted an effort to employ struggling artisans, craftsmen and laborers.
In 1935 the Works Progress Administration (WPA) took over the project.
The WPA was created by President Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1935 as a response to the massive unemployment caused by the stock market crash in 1929. The WPA was established to provide basic work for the high number of unemployed.
The construction of Gardner Lake was the largest of 12 WPA projects commissioned in Johnson County during the 1930s.
Prior to building the lake, a camp was built to house the 200+ transient workers who would live and work there during construction.
Known as “Transient Camp # 9,” it included a mess hall, bath houses, barracks, a kitchen, hospital, waterworks and recreation hall. An impression of the original mess hall and kitchen are still visible today, if you know where to look.
The laborers were provided food shelter, clothing, medical care, and were paid $1 to $3 per week.
Excavation began in 1935. By May 1936 there were 235 men working three daily shifts to build the dam.
They constructed the dam, spillway and contributing stone structures around Gardner Lake, such as the Beach House, gazebos, picnic pavilion, tables and latrines.
Originally, the lake was intended to be donated to the State of Kansas to operate as a state park, but the state was unable to accept the property. Some early documents refer to the property as the Gardner State Lake.
Lake front lots began selling before the project was completed, as early as 1934. By 1937 120 ots had been sold for $100 per lot.
In 1937 KCPL installed the first electric lines around the east side of the lake.
The Bell in Cornerstone Park
Thanks to the research of Mica Marriott, published in a 2009 column in The Gardner News, more details surrounding the bell are now known.
The bell in Cornerstone Park is connected to the construction of Gardner Lake in the 1930’s.
Jack Chesbro was the project superintendent at Transient Camp No. 9.
Joseph Jurovic was the electrician on the project. He and Chesbro struck up a friendship during the time they worked together on Gardner Lake.
The men went their separate ways after the Gardner Lake project.
Jurovic was originally from Pennsylvania and spent his later years in California. Only a few years were spent in Gardner, but the friendship that developed there was never forgotten.
Jurovich acquired the bell from the Sante Fe Railroad in the late 1940’s. It came from a Santa Fe Railroad steam engine that was destined for the scrap yard.
After storing it for years, and declining many offers from organizations and collectors who wanted the historic bell, Joe decided to bring it to Gardner where he had met Chesbro.
Jack Chesbro died in 1955 at the age of 69.
In 1991, 36 years after Chesbro ’s death, an elderly Jurovic traveled 800 miles from California to Gardner, with the bell, to commemorate their friendship. He donated to to the city of Gardner and asked to place it in Cornerstone Park with a brass plaque recognizing his friend. It’s still there today.
Jurovic died in California of old age in 2000.