The Legend of Catfish Cabin

The dust and devastation of our nation’s Great Depression of the 1930s brought on hardships unimaginable to us today.  Starvation and deprivation swept through the Midwest already ravaged by years of drought.   The small rural town of Gardner, Kansas was in terrific distress as local wells dried up and livestock perished.   Although the town held up pretty well, failing farms were a common sight and the rarity of cash resulted in neighbors surviving by bartering alone. 

This bleak situation set the stage for a handful of town leaders, spearheaded by E.F. Alexander, the local druggist, to generate a grandiose plan to build a lake a few miles north of town.  A lake would serve to lift spirits as well as provide much-needed water control and supply. 

First, land had to be acquired which would take capital that simply didn’t exist.  So, in 1933 a non-profit organization was established to raise the money to buy 359 acres.  The Gardner Lake Corporation (GLC as it was known), was comprised of 12 members tasked with raising the $18,000 necessary to acquire the acreage.   They were given 18 months to get this accomplished. 

Lots were plotted out in the Kill Creek Basin of approximately 50’ wide by 150’ deep.  Tickets were sold for $100 each utilizing a payment plan of $10 down and $5 a month.  This was a terrific amount of money at the time and was asked of a citizenry that numbered between 300 and 400 at the time.  Even with the net thrown wide to include many Kansas City-based businesses and individuals, they came up $6,000 short.  Four of the members ended up mortgaging their personal property to make up the difference.    

The majority of the acreage, once purchased by the GLC, was donated to the State of Kansas for construction of the lake by the Kansas Emergency Relief Corp.   Transient Camp No. 9, as it was known, was established by the KERC on Lake Road 5 in May of 1934.  The population of the camp varied constantly between 100 and 300 men.  They constructed the camp and cleared 75 of the 158 acres by 1935.   Alexander had ties to the Roosevelt administration and influence with the organizers of the new Works Progress Administration.  The work force was comprised of unemployed and desperate, unattached males, many of which were WWI veterans from the Kansas City and Topeka areas.  The WPA assumed the project from the KERC and the dam was completed in 1938.  The scope of work also included a beach house, boat dock, boat house and picnic areas complete with gazebos, latrines and stone picnic tables.  

The Kansas State Game and Fish Commission stocked the young lake and a huge celebration was planned for the opening of the sparkling, blue jewel in Johnson County’s crown. 

Previously, on April 18th, 1937 the lottery tickets were drawn from a glass jar and lot locations were assigned to the ticket holders.  Among the investors was George and Irene Rollheiser of Basehor.  They secured lot 14 in Block 16 on Lake Road 11 and, with the help of George’s brother, commenced to building a fine stone and frame picnic pavilion, once very typical at the lake.  In 1941, with the war ravaging Europe at the time, George felt compelled to join the Navy and put the little shelter on the market.

In August of 1941, Scottish immigrant, John M. Rankin, who was finding his fortune in Kansas City land speculation, purchased the cottage with his wife Edith and deeded it over to their daughter and son-in-law, Mr. and Mrs. Hugh Stewart.  They, in turn, left it to their only child, Charles Rankin Stewart and it remained in that family, as so many other lake properties have, for decades.  

During the Stewart’s time, the cottage was enclosed, enlarged, plumbed and wired for electricity although it still just remained a weekend retreat.  During the total restoration accomplished in 2017, extensive fire and termite damage was revealed and threatened the project, but lake resident and contractor, Dave Young, persevered and completed Phase 1.  Phase 2, to commence in 2019, will restore and update the back deck and complete the project in its entirety. 

Now, beautifully positioned on Haderway Point adjacent to Pirate’s Cove, home owner Amy Heaven and inn keeper Dr. Sandra Liperuote proudly offer Catfish Cabin for your relaxation and reflection in an authentic, quiet and charming setting.