History of Rocky Ford Fishing Area

Some of the larger streams and rivers in Kansas once powered saw and flour mills to serve the state’s growing population. The remains of one such mill can be seen at Rocky Ford Fishing Area, along the Big Blue River northwest of Manhattan. The river was once called the “Merrimac” of Kansas, referring to the Merrimak River in New Hampshire and Massachusetts which powered a number of 19th century textile mills. The Little and Big Blue rivers were considered to be among the finest mill streams in the U.S.


Under normal conditions, Rocky Ford’s flat rock bottom made it a safe river crossing for Native Americans and early pioneers. The Rocky Ford Mill and dam was built on the east side of the river in 1866 at a cost of $100,000, and was used as a saw and flour mill. The dam was 342 feet long with a ten-foot fall and was made of stout oak timbers and rock. The dam was called “superb,” and the mill reportedly had enough reserve power to run a string of mills all the way to Manhattan (about three miles at the time). The four-story, 40x60 foot mill was built on solid rock, and its cement walls were four feet thick up to the second floor.


In the early 1900’s, the dam was reconstructed in concrete, and the mill was converted to a power plant by the Rocky Ford Milling and Power Company. The new dam was hollow, a feature used by employees to walk to and from company-owned housing on the west side of the river to their work stations at the power plant on the east side.


Rocky Ford Fishing Area was donated to the Kansas Forestry Fish & Game Commission (now the Kansas Department of Wildlife and Parks) by Kansas Power and Light in 1967. In 1988, a retaining walkway was constructed below the dam, improving angler access and fishery habitat. The dam and mill’s foundation still stand, dominating the Rocky Ford Fishing Area