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.

And a link to the KC Public Library's Winnwood Beach items not available online is a wonderful site.