Ceremony marks upgrades to park, honors its history

By Bryan Richardson

Long’s Park was dedicated in a ceremony Thursday to honor its recent makeover.

Park planner Wyatt Thompson said Long’s Park is now safer and more usable.

“It’s been here for a while, and it was in need of a little TLC,” he said.

The tender love and care came in the form of the installation of restrooms, the creation of an accessible walking trail, renovation of the picnic shelter and installation of new playground surfacing material.

The restoration, which started in 2012 and wrapped up in April, was made possible with Community Development Block Grants from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.

The dedication ceremony recognized the history of Long’s Park — named for Archie W. Long in 1952.

Long owned Long Oil Company in the early 1900s and served as Manhattan’s mayor from 1909 to 1911. He established the park in 1926 on one of the city’s original public squares, next to his filling station, which he built in 1917, and grocery store.

Ben Eckart, a historian who has collected historical petroleum-related artifacts from Long Oil Company, said it became a traveler’s park as the station was near the main highway at the time.

“(Travelers) could come here and cook their dinners,” he said. “A.W. was a smart business man. He put a grocery store on the corner.”

David Dary, Long’s grandson, described the condition of the land prior to making it a park.

“This land we’re on right now was then kind of swampy,” he said. “He decided it needed some work and beautification.”

As described in a eulogy delivered by Ira C. Snyder in 1932, Long transformed the area into “a park of rare beauty and peace, the daily refuge for tired and weary souls to rest.”

Long died a couple of years before Dary, a Manhattan native and Kansas State University graduate, was born.

“I never had the pleasure of knowing him, but I’ve taken a lot of time to look into his life,” said the journalist, historian and author.

Dary said Long initiated paved streets and the sanitary sewer system in the city as mayor. He said his grandfather believed in service stations, growing his business to 70-plus stations between Kansas City and central Kansas.

“Automobiles at that time were really beginning in the United States,” he said.

Dary said Long “made this station special” with the park, where thousands of people stopped each year during in the late-1920s and 1930s.

At the end of the ceremony, Dary and Eckart removed a cover to reveal a plaque that details the history of the park and Long’s contributions to the community.

“Once I started to understand and learn the history of this place, I wanted to find a way to tell that story,” Thompson said.

Thompson said he comes to the park often with his family, and he has noticed the difference the improvements have made.

“I have never seen the park more busy than this since we’ve completed the improvements,” he said.

Mayor Wynn Butler said he probably first came to Long’s Park about 50 years ago.

“We used to live just down the street, and my father used to bring me up here,” he said.

Butler singled out restrooms as an addition he would have liked back then and praised the rest of the project as well.

“These improvements are really astonishing compared to what was here 50 years ago, that’s for sure,” he said.

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