The city of Maryville owes its location and development on the banks of the Big Blue River to the nearby confluence with Spring Creek and the abundance of the surrounding fertile valleys. Frank Marshall’s ferry enabled westward pioneers to find footing on the far bank of the river and promoted the city’s growth. This temporary crossing and river it spanned have sewn the seeds of civilization. Though the ferry may be gone, the river has always been available to facilitate growth and development.

A saw mill was first constructed on the banks of the Big Blue at Marysville in 1857, harnessing the water’s power for industry. Soon Perry Hutchison’s expanded 1908 Excelsior Roller Mills ground flour to feed and sawed wood to build Marysville and beyond. During this time, Thomas Cooper erected a brick and tile works on the banks of Spring Creek, the water a vital ingredient for said enterprise. First the St. Joseph & Grand Island Railroad and later the Union Pacific Railroad utilized the Big Blue’s water in very active operations here, cooling steam locomotives that brought goods to town and carried local products to wider markets. The river brought all life to the people, crops, livestock, and industry of early Marysville.

After the installation of a hydroelectric dam by Kansas Power & Light in conjunction with the Blue River Power Company in 1929-1930, electric light illuminated the homes and workplaces of Marysville. With changing times and economics, the hydroelectric plant was taken out of service in 1965. The city of Marysville relied on the river as a water source until wells in the aquifer southeast of town went into service in the 1980s. The railroad grade separation and levy project of the early 2000s only increased the river’s alienation. Local connections to the Big Blue have been slowly severed.

It is time to reawaken the untapped potential for future growth that flows through western Marysville. Kansas communities as varied as Lawrence, Council Grove, Topeka, and Cottonwood Falls are working to develop their waterfronts for community benefit. Our waterways are an ecological and historical asset, and the river that once supplied drinking water and power can once again provide assistance in Marysville’s development. The Big Blue River will prove to be an able component of our community and its associated benefits an increasingly important economic firewall by diversifying Marysville as a destination. Recreation from fishing, to trails, to kayaking, to historical excursions will draw visitors to Marysville and hew a close connection to the many existing socio-historical features. Local leaders, historical and outdoor enthusiasts should work together to build a cohesive plan to integrate the Blue River Rail Trail, Alcove Spring Historic Park, and other local attractions, reconnecting the Big Blue River to our community. Marysville would not be here today without the river, and it’s time it returns to its pride of place in our community consciousness.

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