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North Kansas City, Missouri, United States
Since 1981, I have gained a vast amount of area history, almost effortlessly, just by keeping my eyes and ears open. Now it has become my "Magnificent Obsession."

Search KC History Guy--Darrell L James

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Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Winnwood Beach--"The Atlantic City of the West"

I first heard of Winnwood Beach, an amusement park formerly at I-35 and Chouteau, while standing in the Clay County Annex Building one day, getting license tags. There is an impressive display case and a large mural in the lobby, installed in 2000.

A printed single-page history of Winnwood Beach, by Reta Jo Mitchell, was also available. Her research is remarkable.

According to a monument plaque in front of the Chouteau Drive Blockbuster store, Winnwood Beach was the inspiration of Frank and Janet Winn, both grads of William Jewell College, and well-known hog breeders.

In the early days, 1911, it was very basic, having just a lake for fishing and ice skating. But in 1913 the Interurban Railway came through the area, connecting Downtown to Liberty, (following basically the path still taken by Interstate 35 today) and this enabled Winnwood Beach to thrive.

The area soon encompassed 165 acres, bounded by 39th St. and 47th St. on the north and south, Winn Rd. on the east, and roughly Chouteau on the west, although past today's Chouteau. There were 3 lakes, Winnwood Lake, Lake of the Woods, and Lake Janet.
Note to married fellows: If you have the opportunity to name a lake, do like Mr. Winn and name it after your wife--You'll be puttin' deposits in the bank o' love.

Remants of the smaller lake or lakes can still be found, as fishing ponds just west of McDonald's and the office building nearby. The big lake would have been somewhere on the campus of Target and Festival Foods, and was not drained till probably the 1970's.

"At Winnwood lake there was built a 1,500 foot long boardwalk, and 1,850 feet of sandy beach."

"In the years that followed, there came a 3-story bathhouse with 3,000 lockers, an impressive lake-spanning pier, water wheels, a daring flume ride, (First picture) a fun house, a zoo, and two roller coasters."

"Hundreds of cottages sprang up, financed at no interest by Mr. Winn." Wood for the grills was free, as was ice water. Attractions were about a nickel. Bathing suits could be rented (Ick!) and teens were employed to launder them for a penny each.

In the 30's, not only the economic depression hindered the park, but an explosion, at least two fires, and the collapse of the boardwalk one busy July 4th, battered its existance.

A new buyer purchased the park in 1942 and was able to keep swimming, dancing, skating, and the free outdoor movies going, into the 1960's. But crumbling dams, the building of Interstate 35, and other factors basically finished off the park.

The monument marker is difficult to read, as it has been marred by skateboarders, but is very informative. The park's main years for adding attractions seem to have been 1913 to around 1928, but it was still a healthy business beyond that, even if not in expansion mode.

So next time you drive on I-35 towards Liberty, and see the familiar Winnwood Skate Center on the hill, or Winnwood Baptist Church, or shop at Target or Festival Foods, or any of the many shops at Chouteau Crossings, pause and think of a simpler time, when families would swim and play in this area.

If you'll excuse me, I have an appointment at the IHOP restaurant over there, right now.

Here is a link to a Clay County resolution, honoring Reta Jo Mitchell.
http://webdocs.claycogov.com/resord/docserv.php?id=2004-366

And a link to the KC Public Library's Winnwood Beach items not available online
http://www.kchistory.org/cdm4/results.php?CISOBOX1=winnwood+beach&CISOOP1=all&CISOFIELD1=CISOSEARCHALL&CISORESTMP=results.php&CISOVIEWTMP=item_viewer.php&CISOSUPPRESS=0&CISOROOT=all

OldKC.com is a wonderful site.
http://www.oldkc.com/images_missouri_amusementparks.htm

4 comments:

Anonymous said...

I spent alot of time around that lake in the early 70's. I actually took swimming lessons as a child in the old pool. We would go fishing on the SW side of the lake and my parents were friends with the owner at that time. Now I wish I could go back and ask Mr.Young what history he knew or if he had old photos. That was when I was between the ages of 4-13. It's to bad people don't think more about history in the present and the present as history.

The DLC said...

I came across this photo and wondered if it was in fact Winnwood Park as the record surmises. Looks like it could be because of the beach/roller coaster combo.

Anonymous said...

I grew up a block from the lake. Like the other poster, I took swimming lessons in that pool in the early 70's. My grandparents used to talk about the lake and amusement park; I wish I'd spent more time picking their brains. So much of history is lost. It really is a shame.

jerrykelley39@gmail.com said...

My memories of this park were of it as "Fairyland Park" back in the50's It had an olympic sized pool, and my father won awards there for the high dive. It had 3 diving boards. The highest was about 30 ft. My aunt won awards for the underwater distance swim. The mens dressing room was very large, and the roof was open. There were lockers, and you wore the key on an elastic cord around your ankle. I spent many days there,all day long. It was a great place with many rides, and a favorite, the machine gun bb guns where you shot up sm. boars in a pond. Jerry Kelley. jerrykelley39@gmail.com