WPA transient workers are seen building a stone bridge below the dam during the Gardner Lake construction years from 1934-1939.  Transient camp superintendent, Jack Chesbro, watches from the stone stairs on the west hillside.  This photo is one example of the many rare images featured at the Gardner Historical Museum at 204 W. Main Street beginning June 17, 2022.   Photo courtesy of the Linda Chesbro Wedman family archives

The rich and colorful events surrounding the construction of Gardner Lake will be the focus of the 2022 featured exhibit at the Gardner Historical Museum located at 204 West Main Street. The exhibit will open on Friday, June 17 at 4:00pm. Primarily a pictorial exhibit, rarely scene photos will be on display along with newspaper commentaries and hard artifacts. The exhibit celebrates the struggle and determination of a handful of Gardner men, and the community that rallied behind their efforts during the worst economic period in American history.
The method and means for the construction of the lake was born from the economic hardships of the Great American Depression of 1929-1939. Spearheaded by Gardner pharmacist, E. F. Alexander, the concept was sold to the Kansas Emergency Relief Committee in 1934 as a way of putting desperate and unattached men to work while creating a venue for recreation, a hedge against drought and eventually a source of water for the Olathe Naval Air Station and Gardner. In late 1936, the project was taken over and completed by FDR’s Works Progress Administration (WPA) as part of his New Deal experiment designed to mend the economy. The construction of the work camp, required to house up to 350 workmen, created a boom town of otherwise sleepy Gardner had proved to be quite effective at achieving all its original objectives. The presence of the Gardner State Lake, as the project was known at the time, resulted in the site selection for the location of the Olathe Naval Air Station which is currently referred to as New Century Air Center.
The Gardner Historical Museum was founded in 2002. The organization acquired the historic Herman B. Foster Home, built in 1893, and transformed it to house many collections related to Gardner’s rich heritage. The doors reopened on September 20, 2003 and the museum has served the community since. Museum hours are Friday from 4:00 to 7:00 pm.; Saturday & Sunday from 1:00 to 4:00 pm, or by appointment. For more information, visit our website at www.gardnerhistoricalmuseum.com or call 913-856-4447 to leave a message.