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Bowersock Mills & Power Company records

Call Number: 1990-06-22-KC


This collection consists of financial records, correspondence, journals, customer information, and other records from the Bowersock Mills & Power Company of Lawrence, Kansas, mostly dating from the mid-20th century.


  • approximately 1890s-1970s (bulk 1920s-1960s)


Conditions Governing Access

No access restrictions.

Conditions Governing Use

Spencer Library staff may determine use restrictions dependent on the physical condition of manuscript materials.

History of the Bowersock Mill & Power Company

After Lawrence, Kansas Territory was settled in the 1850s, industrialists and businessmen such as Orlando Darling needed a power source to run their manufacturing and other businesses. Depleting the wood located close to Lawrence by the 1870s, Lawrence citizens turned to building a dam over the Kaw River to generate hydropwer. Orlando Darling signed an agreement with the city to build a dam in 1872.

Unfortunately, in 1873 an ice gorge in the river destroyed a large part of the dam. Construction started anew under the company he had created to fund the dam initially, the Lawrence Land & Water Company (LL & W Co.), without Darling's involvement, and construction was completed in 1874. However, floods continued to cause damage to the dam, and by 1876 the LL & W Company was in receivership.

In 1879, Justin DeWitt Bowersock took control of the company, and repairs made in 1878 to the dam held until 1885. The 1885 break, however, was much smaller and more easily repaired than any previous break, and Bowersock was able to sell mechanical power to Lawrence merchants. Power from the dam made Lawrence a novelty, being one of only two states in 1880 using water power west of the Mississippi.

In 1888, after another major ice jam caused considerable damage to the Douglas County Mills--located with the dam, which did not receive much damage--Bowersock decided to improve the mill, most significantly by installing four dynamos that could turn raw hydropwer into electrical energy.

The mill and dam held until the flood of 1903, when Bowersock again rebuilt. He also made sure all buildings associated with Bowersock Mills & Power were rebuilt as concrete and brick structures, rather than wood, between 1903 and 1916.

By 1941, only the Lawrence Paper Company (another company originally owned by Bowersock), Lawrence Iron Works, Bowersock Mills, the ice plant, and the hydroelectric plant were using electrical power from the Kaw River and the dam. The Lawrence Journal-World offices and newspaper printing plant, which replaced the Lawrence Iron Works buildings, also used power from the dam.

The 1951 flood completely submerged the dam but caused far less damage than the 1903 flood. By 1968, Bowersock Mills & Power ceased all operations as a mill, and any energy still being generated from the water wheels after 1972 was sold directly to the Kansas Power & Light Company.

The fossil fuel energy crisis of the 1970s resurrected the mill, however. In 1977, the city came to an agreement with the Hill family--descendents of Justin Bowersock--to turn over six acres of Bowersock land to the city to contruct a new city hall; in return, the city agreed to maintain the dam. Also around this dam, blighted buildings located downtown were being torn down, the Eldridge Hotel was being renovated, and Liberty Hall reopened as a movie theater and event space, these combined efforts revitalizing Lawrence's downtown.

A new hydroelectric power plant was built in 2012 by Bowersock Mills & Power Company on the north bank of the Kansas River. Bowersock is the only operating hydroelectric plant in Kansas.

[Information retrieved from Bowersock Mills & Power Company, "Our History,"]


141 Linear Feet (Approximately 141 linear feet - 57 boxes + 124 volumes)

Physical Location


Physical Location


Immediate Source of Acquisition

Materials removed from Bowersock Mills structure in spring 1978 before it was torn down.

Processing Information

This collection has been minimally processed, and records have not been physically or intellectually rearranged from how they came to Spencer Research Library. For questions about access, contact staff at or (785) 864-4334 for assistance.
Guide to the Bowersock Mills & Power Company Collection
Bowersock Mills & Power Company records
Finding aid prepared, 2007, 2020. Finding aid encoded by mwh, 2020.
Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description
Finding aid written in English.
Finding aid permalink
Preferred citation
Bowersock Mills & Power Company records, 1990-06-22-KC, Kenneth Spencer Research Library, University of Kansas.

Repository Details

Part of the University of Kansas. Kenneth Spencer Research Library Repository

1450 Poplar Lane
Lawrence KS 66045-7616 United States