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Kanopolis Lake Legacy Trail

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Kanopolis Lake MarinaThe Kanopolis Lake Legacy Trail, developed by the US Army Corps of Engineers, provides a peek at the rich history of the area before the construction of Kanopolis Dam. This self-guided auto tour starts at the Kanopolis Lake Information Center, and travels to 27 historical sites before returning to the Information Center. The complete route is approximately 80 miles. Utilizing existing paved, gravel roads, and graded dirt roads, the time to complete tour will vary, but, it is recommended to allow at least three hours. It is also best not to venture onto dirt roads during poor weather conditions. 


#1 Kanopolis Lake Information Center - The Kansas River Basin is subject to infrequent but surprisingly destructive floods. In 1826, a solid wall of water from the Kansas River reached the Missouri River and submerged the bottoms at 10 to 12 feet. In 1844, William Bent, in traveling across the plains, had to follow the divides between rivers as "every river was full from bluff to bluff." The newly established town of Ellsworth was flooded in 1867, causing the town to relocate to its present site. Following the destruction of the 1938 flood on the Smoky Hill River, public sentiment turned in favor of flood control. The first project selected for the Kansas City District of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers was Kanopolis Lake. Construction activities began in 1940, but were halted in 1942 due to World War II. Construction activities began again in 1946 and the project was completed in 1948.

#2 Cooley's Crossing - This river bridge spans what was once known as Cooley' s Crossing. In the north bank of the river, one can still see the remnants of the wagon cuts. Lycuryus J. Cooley settled with his family on the south bank in 1882. Local homesteaders used the Cooley Crossing to travel to Marquette to obtain supplies and to grind their wheat at Bacon's Mill.

#3 Gile Family Cemetery - The small cemetery located just east of the road on private property is the final resting place of William S. and Adaline P. Gile, early pioneers of the
Smoky Hill River Valley. The Giles settled on their ranch in 1872 and lived there until their deaths in 1904. Prior to coming to Kansas, Mr. Gile was an employee with the freighting firm of Irwin, Jackson, and Co., which transported military supplies to posts west of the Missouri River. He was responsible for locating winter feed in the Des Moines, Iowa area for 6,000 oxen. After receiving a serious injury in opposing a cavalry charge during the Civil War, Captain Gile came to Kansas and settled a farm which was located on both sides of what is now the Kanopolis Dam.


#4 Venango Post Office - Leaving Venango County, Pennsylvania, Ellis Hughes homesteaded in the Smoky Hill Valley in 1868. As the prairie population grew, the Federal Government appointed postmasters to disperse the mail. In 1875, Hughes was appointed postmaster. He named the post office after his former home of Venango County, Pennsylvania. The Venango Post Office was a sandstone structure which served both as a post office and farm dwelling. It was located approximately in what is now the Venango swimming area near the north end of the dam. During construction of the Kanopolis Dam, the former post office was used as a project office for the Corps of Engineers.

#5 Riverside Division - One of the largest ranches in Kansas began on this site in 1897. The ranch became known as the Sherman Ranch. The Sherman Ranch headquarters was located at this site from 1889 to 1902. As the ranch grew to 40,000 acres, the original headquarters became known as the Riverside Division, one of eight divisions of the ranch. The ranch was at the forefront in agricultural technology. The extensive farm and hog operations of Riverside boasted a modern feed mill (foundation may still be seen), storage for 40,000 bushels of ear corn and 20,000 bushels of wheat, and a hog house in which over 1,000 pigs were farrowed every year.


#6 Loder Point/Early Settlers Dedication - Loder Point was named after the Loder family, early Ellsworth County farmers and stock men, whose farm was located below this point prior to construction of the Kanopolis Dam. The farmers and stockmen came to the area with the establishment of Fort Ellsworth. They became the keystones to the population base along the river valley. As the farms and ranches grew, the Smoky Hill Valley gained a reputation of prosperity . Area farm names reflected the pride in their accomplishments and optimism for the future. Among the many stewards of the Smoky Hill Valley were: Cedar Lawn Farm, Elmdale Guernsey Farm, Shady Glen Stock Farm, Side View Farm, Happy Hollow Farm, Horseshoe Bend Stock Farm, Spring Valley Stock Farm, and Sunny Slope Farm. This site is dedicated to the settlers of the Smoky Hill Valley.




Petroglyphs at Kanopolis Lake, Kansas#7 Anderson Stage Station/Petroglyph Site - The true origin of the name "Horsethief Canyon" has been lost in history, but one of the versions begins with the second wave of settlement following the establishment of Fort Ellsworth. Harry Thompkins Anderson built an inn/stage station along the proposed site of a military road near this creek. Anderson had once been deputized to track down some horse thieves. Finding them in Lincoln County, he shot them and returned with the bodies for identification. They were buried in the canyon, thus giving rise to the name of Horsethief Canyon. The 40-foot bluff rising from the shore to the west is known as Inscription Rock. Native American people are known to have lived in central Kansas for nearly 5,000 years, but the rock carvings (petroglyphs) are estimated to be no more than 400 years old. The site was first photographed in 1868 by Union Pacific Railroad photographer, Alexander Gardner. The Inscription Rock has been described by authorities as "probably the outstanding petroglyph site in Kansas." Unfortunately, weather conditions and changes in lake elevation have taken their toll and access to the bluff has been closed to the public. A display in the Kanopolis Lake Information Center shows the rock's artwork of these earlier peoples.


#8 Rangeland Vista - The rangeland to the west is a good example of the Smoky Hill uplands characterized by thick sandstones of the Dakota formation. The hills and buttes that rise above the surrounding plains once furnished excellent vantage points for explorers and raiding parties of Indians. Used today as rangeland for cattle, travelers may still enjoy the scenic beauty of the Smoky Hills seen by early buffalo hunters and settlers.


Crumbling building near Terra Cotta, Kansas#9 Terra Cotta - To the east along the railroad tracks, the town of Terra Cotta was laid out in 1878. It was located halfway between Brookville and Ellsworth, along the Kansas Pacific Railroad track. The town was named for the red clay that was shipped to pottery makers. Between 1886 and 1912, the stockyards of Terra Cotta and Brookville were said to be the busiest between Kansas City and Denver.


Terra Cotta alone shipped three times more cattle than Brookville. A railway station, store/ post office, community hall, elevator, lumber yard, and hotel once comprised the town of Terra Cotta. Today, nothing remains except the railroad track.


Carneiro, Kansas#10 Carneiro - The Smoky Hill Trail crossed Elm Creek at the site of the present town of Carneiro. In 1866, the Kansas City and Santa Fe Stage and Mail Line began to travel the military trail. While escorting a stage between Salina and Fort Ellsworth in September of that year, a squad of five soldiers passed the time with target practice on buffalo along the trail. When Indians attacked, the soldiers had used all of their ammunition. Four soldiers were overtaken and scalped. E. W. Wellington from Boston and others developed the Carneiro townsite in 1882. Several extensive sheep ranches were established in the area. Carneiro, which means sheep fold in Portuguese, grew into a center of commerce for the sheep men.

Mushroom Rock State Park#11 Mushroom Rock State Park - Mushroom Rock State Park is a geological phenomenon of sandstone spheres balanced on softer pedestal s of sandstone. The power of erosion weathered away the softer portions of the sandy rock. The spheres of the cemented portions of the sandstone are what we see today. The Smoky Hill Trail crossed in this vicinity and travelers would venture off the trail to visit the rocks. Many interesting displays of artwork from days past are recorded . Please do not add any of your own.

#12 Faris Ranch/Clear Creek - In September 1860, a group of buffalo hunters settled on Clear Creek at the site of the military road . There were no others in the area except at the Smoky Hill Crossing and the Thompson Creek settlement. The three hunting ranches worked closely together. Time was spent hunting buffalo and wolves, smoking the meat , and curing the hides. Corn was planted and prairie hay was cut and stacked at all three ranches. In the summer of 1863, " Jay hawkers" held Irwin Faris (one of the Clear Creek hunters) prisoner while sacking the house. After releasing him, they went on to rob the ranchers at the Smoky Hill Crossing. The same Irwin Faris was bitten by a rabid skunk while on a hunting trip and died of hydrophobia in June 1872.



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