This history is very much a work in progress. Dick Dawson is providing the initial thoughts. I (Chip Buckner) am questioning, challenging, soliciting and editing. Please send questions and clarifications to chipATthebucknerhomeDOTcom (replacing the capitalized words with the appropriate symbols) so that we can build a comprehensive history of residential camping at Swope Park.
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The camps in Swope Park go back to the very earliest days of the park. The president of the Kansas City Humane Society, Edwin R. Weeks (for whom the Camp Hope dining hall is named), was instrumental in talking Col. Thomas Swope into donating his large farm acreage to the city. Many people opposed to the city accepting responsibility for land that far away---the north boundary would be at the level of 63rd street, and cattle were still grazing on farmland at 32nd (Linwood) at that time. One of the points made for the acquisition was that the land would make a nice place for the hard-working carriage- and wagon-pulling horses to have a holiday, recuperate from their hard lives, and eat fresh food. So Col. Swope specified that the city should operate a camp---for horses---on the hillside in the southeast. People would bring their horses out, ford the creek by the lake, and then go up to the hill with their tents and camp out and ride around the area, and the horses would have fresh grass to graze on. This was the beginning of the Humane Society connection; by the 1950's, the "Humane Society" was made up of a board that supported the camp operations by actions and by appropriation of money from a trust Col. Swope started by donating a building in the West Bottoms whose rental income would go to support the camp; it had lost its connection to the usual animal-welfare meaning of the term "humane society."
The size of trees on the hill indicates there were probably not many there in 1900; even by 2000 there are prairie patches remaining, especially on the dry south hillside above Oldham Road, but also scattered bluestem and Indian grass clumps in the woods and long the road. At that time (what time? 1900? 1900-1951? 2000?) the eastern boundary of the park and the city was along the fence and stone gate east of what we remember as the commissary (What we remember as the commissary? Does this mean the commissary is not there? What is there?) from the 1950's to the 1990's. The stone building by the stable (what stone building by the stable?), used in our day (when is "our day"?) as a nature lodge and then as for maintenance storage when Lakeside Nature Center was opened, was owned by a Mr. Foster (the area (the area being what I know as "the Hill" or the area near the stables?) for decades was known to old-timers as "Foster Hill"). The story is that it was used for gambling parties, and that the indentations in the iron shutters are from gunshots.
Sometime in the 1930's or early 1940's, in the time of the depression when so many public works projects were being built--including the bear grottoes at the zoo--two dining halls, seven cabins, and the hogan were built. I believe at least some of the camp construction was done by students at the R. T. Coles Vocational High School of the Kansas City school district. The dining halls were U-shaped instead of T-shaped as the current ones are, with a screened-in eating room connected by a breezeway to an enclosed kitchen. I remember these dining halls from my time with the Burroughs Nature Club (KC Audubon Society) in the late 1940's.
Lake dining hall was where it is now, probably the kitchen was built on the foundation of what had been the dining area. The later Commissary was built on the Hope slab, and the kitchen was to the west. There were four cabins with pit toilets for campers at Lake of the Woods; the cabin Nelson and Velta Wieters lived in (and we did 1960-74) was one, there was one at Kaw (burned one winter in the 1950's when Boy Scouts who had rented the cabin pulled the beds up around the fire and then went on a hike---and thought the city should reimburse them for their losses!), one east of the dining hall used in the 1950's by cook Alice Miller and often thereafter called "Cook's Cabin", (I remember the name "Cook's Cabin", but can't place a structure. Can you help?) and the one at Franklin. The two cabins west of the commissary, Patti's cabin (Patti's cabin? Would that be Patti K? What position did this person have that warranted a Swope Park cabin) and the infirmary, along with the one between the commissary and stables (later the outdoor education office) are the ones I know of.
(Dick, I'm having a bear of a time figuring out what buildings are/were where. Is there a map somewhere?)
Around 1940, civic and religious leaders and the K.C.STAR rose up and voted out the spoils-oriented political machine which had dominated Kansas City for many years, and boss Tom Pendergast was sent to prison for income tax evasion. The Citizens Association slate was elected, headed by Major John B.Gage, and professionalism was the goal. The City Council chose L. Perry Cookingham to be City Manager. During his tenure, Cookingham, who was later known as the "Dean" of City Managers, trained many people who went on to manage the operations of other cities around the country. (No one likes to call attention to Democratic corruption more than I do, but is this the place to do that? Would it be sufficient to point out that the transition from the Pendergast era to the Gage/Cookingham era brought about many significant changes?) Cookingham chose Dr. Hayes Richardson to be director of the Welfare Department (in those days it had the aim of "providing for the general welfare"), and by the time I came on board Verna Rensvold was Superintendent of Recreation. John Banghart, a young social worker, was brought in to help develop recreation programs, and especially to put his mark on the resident and day camps.
The first thing I know about program at the camps is that in the late 40's LaVelle Hicks was director and ran a drama camp, where the kids would prepare a play and present it to the parents at the end of the session. About 1950, with the new dining halls being built, Mr. Banghart hired Nelson Wieters from the Sherwood Forest Camps near Swope Park to bring their model to Kansas City. (By bringing the model to KC, does this mean that Sherwood Forest Camps were near Swope Park, but outside the city limits? Or is Wieters bringing the model to the Kansas City camps?) The Sherwood Forest model centered on camp counselors who developed personal relationships with a group of a dozen campers, and led them through most activities, instead of turning them over to specialists to teach activities. The small-group dynamics of the clubs were designed to help boys and girls develop interpersonal skills and responsibilities. Wieters brought some Sherwood Forest songs such as "The Keeper" and "Robin Hood and Little John", but when I came (in what capacity?) in 1952 most of the songs were still of the "John Jacob Jingle Heimer Schmit" and "Bill Grogan's Goat" ilk. This was to change greatly later on when the influence of Oz Hawksley and Pete Seeger, put us on the cutting-edge of popularization of folk singing.
In the late 1940's the citizens passed a major bond issue for construction of needed improvements around Kansas City. Sometime around there, the area of Foster Hill, east to the railroad tracks, between Gregory Blvd. in Hazel Dell (Hazel Dell?) and Oldham Road, had been annexed to the city and the park. I remember going on a "botanizing" hike with John Banghart in that area, along the bridle trails that had been used by a private concessionaire. Around 1950, money from the bonds was used to build a new, larger Camp Lake of the Woods dining hall, sand filter systems for the kitchen (kitchen singular, meaning at Lake only?) and flush toilets at both dining halls, (we already have two dining halls and will, in the next phrase build a new dining hall for Camp Hope--does the preceding phrase refer to Lake dining hall and the Comm?) and a new Camp Hope dining hall located in the addition, along with shower buildings and flush toilets at the two new units at the new Camp Hope. The stables, which had been located across the road from Cabin #5 (Franklin) (All I remember across from Franklin are trees. Are you talking about what I remember as being the archery range, across from the hogan?) were relocated to the area we know, overlapping the new and old sections of the camp. The new Camp Hope, as the old one, was for colored children; Lake of the Woods was the white camp. I heard that the first overnight sleepout was held sometime in the 1940's when a group of girls from Lake of the Woods slept in the Hogan around the indoor fire, while fathers slept around the outside to guard them.
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