Archive for Thursday, September 18, 2008

Hotel, bathhouse plans washed out

September 18, 2008

A century ago, Bonner Springs was buzzing about its bright future and the prospects of a world-class hotel and bathhouse. The idea was gaining momentum and promised prosperity for the city. But, as has been the case in many communities over the decades, things simply didn't work out.

Ella Mae Mitchell, local historian, loaned me a copy of a 1907-08 prospectus that explained the project and offered shares in the company for $20 each. There is a note in the back of the booklet which states: "Think of it! $44,000 in four years with only $750 capital." Of course that didn't happen and probably none of the investors made any money.

The booklet was written by John Morgan Shook, described as "Late Lieutenant U.S. Army." He also wrote another booklet describing Bonner Springs as the "Kansas Karlsbad," apparently comparing our city to the great white sand desert in New Mexico. That should give you some idea about the level of exaggeration. Shook was listed in the booklet as vice president. There is a handwritten note stating that he retired due to ill health.

Actually, Bonner Springs had a lot going for it a century ago. The city had a "population of 2,000, good streets, cement and brick walks, telegraph and telephone service, natural gas, electric lights, ice plant" just to name a few assets. In addition, there were several factories, a good newspaper, splendid schools and "nearly all the leading secret societies."

The hotel and bath house company was capitalized with $100,000 in preferred stock and $100,000 in common stock. Probably what amused me the most was the following paragraph: "Bonner Springs is not a summer resort only, its waters being as efficacious one season as another. The summer months are pleasant and one finds comfort in the woods about the lakes and along the Kaw. These large bodies of water keep the temperature down at all times. There is no dust, noise, malaria or mosquitoes." I suspect that the writer wasn't here on a hot August day when the mosquitoes were busy making life miserable. Or, maybe, hot weather and mosquitoes are just modern problems.

The prospectus points out that Hot Springs, Ark., Mineral Wells, Texas and Excelsior Springs, Mo., all make huge profits and Bonner Springs had the same potential. It also states that 15 million people lived within a 15-hour train ride to Bonner Springs.

There is little doubt that they were proposing to build a state-of-the-art facility. The building was designed by James Oliver Hogg, architect, and had three stories and a basement. All rooms had telephones, water closets, hot and cold running water. The brochures says, "the springs and mattresses will be such that the most nervous will find soothing sleep." In addition, fire gongs added to the safety of the hotel. There were massage and exercise rooms on the basement level. Dr. Konrad Biorck, a graduate of the Institute of Massage and medical Gymnastics, Stockholm, Sweden, was in charge of the bath house. Incidentally, they point out that the average cost of a bath is $1 and locally it would be only 75 cents, apparently they believe that would be a big draw.

Rooms were to rent for $2, $2.50 and $3 per day. Using various examples, it was pointed out that if the hotel grossed $30,000 it could turn a profit of $19,000.

There are several pages of endorsements ranging from the Army to local churches. Pastor Otto C. Moomaw, First Christian Church, Father M. Simmer, Sacred Heart Catholic Church and the Rev. E. M. Daniels, Bonner Springs Methodist Church all wrote letters of endorsement. Moomaw even added that "no liquor is sold" in Bonner Springs.

The directors were a "who's who" list for the area, including E. E. Richardson, president; J. E. McDanield, vice president. Four Bonner Springs doctors, E. L. Matthews, publisher, and Mayor Philo Clark were among the members of the advisory board. The book has many great photos taken by Urban Rudell, Ella Mae's father, who was a professional photographer in the city for many years.

So, what happened? Apparently, the project never really got going; all that ever happened was the building of the foundation. In a history of Bonner Springs written for the Chieftain in 1998 as part of the centennial celebration, Ella Mae wrote that Lakewood Park, which was part of the development, became a huge tourist attraction. It was the site of parties, dances and other celebrations for many, many years.

The prospectus provided a great look at Bonner a century ago and also proves that advertising hype is nothing new.

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