Created By: Wichita History Walk
(This site was located north of the bridge.)
In Wichita’s early days, there was a 56 acre island in the middle of the Arkansas River which extended from close to the confluence of the Big and Little Arkansas Rivers almost to the Douglas Street Bridge you are standing on. It was known as Ackerman’s Island, after the owner Joseph Ackerman. He owned a packing house opposite the island on the west bank and had purchased the island to expand. A fire at the packing house as well as the panic of 1891 prevented this.
In 1905, the Wichita Amusement Park Company opened “Wonderland Park” on the island, which was to be “the Coney Island of the West.” The many attractions there included a Coliseum which could seat 2,500 people and also served as a roller skating rink, a carousel, a roller coaster, billiard hall, bowling alley, Irish Café, Cessna’s Tour of the World, a Carnival, penny arcade, Fun Factory, dancing pavilion, and the Wonderland Park Theater. Among those appearing at the park were William Jennings Bryan and John Phillip Sousa. A big electric sign near the south side of the island could be seen the length of Douglas Street to College Hill. Later a ball park was added on the south end.
Wonderland Park operated from 1905 until about 1918. After that it was used by industry. In 1933, the city manager Bert Wells suggested filling in the west bank by taking soil and sand from the east side of the island. (The west channel only carried water in wet weather; otherwise it was primarily stagnant pools.) This became a project of the Civil Works Administration, putting 1500 unemployed men to work for 1.5 years, using pickaxes, shovels, and wheelbarrows. The cost was $750,000, primarily money from the federal government during the Depression.
This point of interest is part of the tour: Wild West Delano