A new exhibit and two special presentations at the Big Well Museum in Greensburg focus on the importance of water to small town survival in western Kansas
Water is a basic resource some might take for granted, but not Stacy Barns, Director of Greensburg Tourism and the Big Well Museum.
"Water has played a huge part in Greensburg's history and survival as a town," Barns said. "From our town's beginnings and the digging of the Big Well to conservation efforts in the rebuilding after the tornado, water has been vital to there being a town here."
A new Water/Ways exhibit at the museum, and another traveling exhibit in Dodge City, bring the focus of many back to the basic simplicities of water, and how important it is to the survival of many small Kansas towns.
"Are you curious about where your city drinking water comes from and how it gets to your faucet?" Barns asked. "We can answer that here with this new exhibit at the Big Well."
Two seminars at the Greensburg museum have also been scheduled to shed more light on the subject of western Kansas water. The first one on the Ogallala aquifer and other past and present water facts was last Saturday at the museum and it was sparsely attended.
"I am hoping we can get a better crowd for the second presentation this Saturday (10/7) at 2 p.m.," Barns said. "This is really very important stuff."
The second seminar coming this Saturday features the knowledge of Aaron Barnhart, who work as an author focuses on history, civil society, rural America and the importance of food ways.
"Natural resources are not only vitally important to the economy of Kansas, they have contributed mightily to the quality of life for generations of Kansans," he said. "And these resources are facing unprecedented challenges."
The traveling Water/Ways exhibit at Dodge City is sponsored by the Kansas Humanities Council and the Smithsonian Institution. It focuses on the ways water shapes human lives, including understanding where a community’s water comes from, what the future holds for water, and what visitors can do for water in their hometowns. Hands-on activities encourage visitors to follow Kansas’s waterways and watersheds on a giant floor map and to consider how much water is needed to produce everyday items like a pair of blue jeans or a gallon of milk.
The display is available September 30 to November 12, 2017, at the Boot Hill Museum, 500 W. Wyatt Earp Boulevard in Dodge City.
In Greensburg, the water exhibition is titled “Greensburg: Looking Down to Think Forward.” It tells the triumph of engineering in the digging of the Big Well that served as the city’s water source from 1888 to 1932.
"Hand dug wells were quite common back then as there is not much surface water (rivers, lakes) in western Kansas," Barns said. "The Big Well was dug for Greensburg's water supply and briefly served a rail line that ran through town just south of the well. 10 to 15 men a day were hired to work and paid 50 cents to $1 a day. They weren't trying to set any records for size. They just wanted a plentiful and reliable source of water for the growing, new town."
According to Barns, many towns had wells like this that were later filled in as modern wells were drilled. The Big Well quit being used in 1932 when the state banned the used of open wells for public consumption. Luckily for the city, it was not filled in. In 1939 it opened as a tourist attraction and brought in millions of visitors since then.
"Conversations about natural resources are always important, especially water," Barns said. "Often we take for granted resources we have until supplies are diminished or gone. It's good to discuss before problems occur, to learn more about where our resources come from and how to be good stewards of them."
The seminar led by Barnhardt begins at 2 p.m. this Saturday at the Big Well Museum. The traveling exhibit will be available for viewing during museum hours until November 15.