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THE KANSAS LIFELINE

July 2018

Kansas Legislature, in 1855, Marshall

had a county laid out with the Big Blue

River running through the center and

established the county seat at his

northern ferry location naming the

town Marysville, in honor of his wife,

Mary.

Emma Fortner wrote in her History

of Marshall County, Kansas, that Perry

Hutchinson, a native of Chautauqua

County, New York, arrived in the

community in October 1859, where he

initially worked as a field hand. He

purchased 80 acres of land on both

sides of the Big Blue River located 1.5

miles west of Marysville and began

construction of the dam. In 1864, after

serving a 20-month stint in the Kansas

Infantry, he completed the dam and

built his first sawmill on the east side

of the river, which reportedly supplied

all the lumber used in building the

stations of the Holliday Stage Line,

between Marysville and Denver. Later

that same year he opened the first flour

mill to be operated west of the

Missouri River. His flour was initially

sold as far east as Lawrence and wheat

was brought to the mill by growers

from a 150-mile radius. A grain

elevator was built on the site in 1877

with a capacity of 50,000 bushels. A

rail-spur from the St. Joe & Western

Railroad was then constructed to the

elevator and mill in 1878.

Fortner further indicates that the

remodeled operation, named the

Excelsior Roller Mills, was the first in

Kansas to be equipped with such

improved rollers. A few years later, the

Marshall County Newsof October 5,

1883, reported the capacity of the mill

was up to 300,000 barrels of flour per

day. Flour from the expanded mill was

sold principally to large baking entities,

with St. Louis being the chief market

and receipts totaling $400,000 per year.

The census report from that time

indicates there was an abundance of

water year-round and that a large

amount of water “runs to waste” over

the “loose rock” dam throughout all

seasons. Like Marshall, Hutchinson

also served in the Kansas Legislature,

having been elected to the senate in

1880. He died in December 1914.

In 1929, the Big Blue Power

Company was formed, and

construction began on a double turbine

hydro-electric power plant adjacent to

the Excelsior Roller Mills on the west

end of the dam to provide electricity to

the city. At that time, the dam

reportedly consisted of wood cribs

filled with rock. With the construction

Big Blue River as it appeared on October 3, 2014, with approximately 9,000 c.f.s.

spilling over the dam. Erosion of the face of the dam is clearly evident on the far

end. Streamflow over the dam on May 4, 2018, when it ultimately failed was

approximately 4,000 c.f.s.