History of Glen Elder State Park

The Waconda Springs Replica at Glen Elder State Park pays tribute to an ill-fated site of Kansas geology and Native American history. The park is located on the northern shore of Glen Elder Reservoir, which is also called Waconda Lake. As part of a flood control effort, the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation began building the lake’s dam across the Solomon River in 1964, and it was completed in 1968.


The resulting lake covered what once was an active mineral spring called Waconda Springs. The spring’s pool was said to be 50 feet in diameter, 15 feet deep and rich in a variety of minerals. Waconda Springs was a sacred, ceremonial gathering place for many of the Native American tribes that lived in the central plains, including Pawnee, Wichita, Kaw, Kiowa, Sioux, Arapaho, Comanche, the Miami, Crow, Cheyenne, Arapaho and others. Kanza tribe members reportedly called the springs, “Wakonda,” meaning “Great Spirit.”


In 1767, the first non-native person is said to have visited the springs. However, the first recorded visit by a non-native occurred in 1806, when General Zebulon Pike (for whom Pike’s Peak is named) altered his route to Colorado to visit the springs. Gradually, more and more non-native people began to migrate to the area and beginning in 1884, the Waconda Springs Sanitarium was built over a ten-year period. Although it saw a variety of uses in its lifetime, the sanitarium stood until it was razed in the early 1960s to make way for the lake. Rubble from the demolition was piled into Waconda Springs before the lake filled.


Also at Glen Elder, travelers can visit the historic Hopewell Church. The church was originally located south of Beloit and was completed in 1878 at the cost of $1,200. It was built by a dedicated congregation that was established in March1876 and met in private homes. By July 1876, the group had grown too large to meet in homes, so in August 1876 they decided to build a 24’ x 40’ frame structure with a six-foot vestibule at one end.


Building the church was quite a challenge. Lumber had to be shipped in, but the nearest railroad terminal was 80 miles away in Greenleaf. It took as much as two weeks to receive a load of lumber. It took two years to build the church and the first congregation met in the new building on February 22, 1876. A number of changes occurred over the subsequent century. The church congregation eventually dwindled and it was forced to close its doors in 1989 after 113 years of service.


In 1994, the church was moved 15 miles to its present location as the first step toward the Waconda Heritage Village Association’s goal of creating a "living" museum dedicated to pioneer heritage and Native American lore.


Engaging stories about Waconda Springs and Hopewell Church can be found on the city of Glen Elder official website at glenelder.com and on the Kansas State Historical Society website at kshs.org.