Bluemont Youth Cabin

Project: Bluemont Youth Cabin, Manhattan, KS
Client: Goodnow Park Cabin Coalition, Inc.
Services by Spencer Preservation: Listing on the National Register of Historic Places
Date: 2013

The massive public and private investment in roads and cars is often attributed with the economic boom of the 1920s but regional trade centers like Manhattan, also benefitted from the economic well-being of Kansas farmers who profited from record-high grain prices during  World War I. 

Manhattan also enjoyed a boost from the war-time expansion of neighboring Fort Riley.  Rural trading centers like Manhattan were particularly hard hit during the early years of the Great Depression. Like the rest of the nation, President Roosevelt’s New Deal programs benefitted the citizens of Manhattan and Riley County and helped the community survive the economic challenges of the Great Depression.  The cityscape is dotted with buildings and parks made possible through the work-creation programs of the 1930s.  

The National Youth Association (NYA) was one of the many New Deal programs designed to create jobs contributing to a period of great construction activity across the nation.  The National Register multiple property document New Deal-era Resources in Kansas provides a summary of the various New Deal programs, their workings in Kansas, and a basis for listing these resources on the National Register.

The Bluemont Youth Cabin was constructed in 1938, one of several NYA projects in Manhattan, Kansas.  More than one hundred youth of Riley County took part in the construction and landscaping of the Bluemont Youth Cabin over a one-year period.  The NYA project served three primary goals:  providing part-time work for the community’s youth; valuable training in stone building construction, carpentry, woodworking, painting and house decorating, installation of water and gas, electrical wiring, grading and landscaping; and provision of a needed youth cabin.  Construction of the cabin provided a needed facility for the youth of Manhattan; it was designed for use by the Boy Scouts, members of the NYA, and the boys and girls of Manhattan. 

The cabin is an excellent representative of the social and recreational facilities made possible by New Deal-era programs.  The Bluemont Youth cabin was built of native limestone quarried from Bluemont Hill by the youth workers.  The design of the rustic cabin blends perfectly with its natural wooded setting at the base of Bluemont Hill. 

Bluemont Youth Cabin is significant architecturally as an excellent representative of a rustic park facility characterized by its natural wooded setting and its construction from local building materials.  Designed by City Engineer Harold Harper, the cabin was constructed of limestone quarried from Bluemont Hill by local youth guided by a NYA construction superintendent and City of Manhattan stone mason.

The cabin’s construction coincided with the establishment of Goodnow Park designed to provide expanded recreational facilities on the city’s east side. At the time, the City of Manhattan had the city park in the center of town and Sunset Park on the city’s west side where the zoo was located.  The new park would be established on the city’s east side at the south base of Bluemont Hill near the water plant.

Dedicated in May of 1938, the park was named to honor one of Manhattan’s early pioneers, Isaac T. Goodnow.  Goodnow was elected state superintendent of public instruction in 1862 and became secretary to the Manhattan Town Association in 1863.  He was one of three individuals responsible for the establishment of Bluemont College which later became Kansas State Agricultural College.  Stone piers inscribed “Goodnow Park” and “1938” were built at the entrance to the park at Fifth and Bertrand Streets. 

Goodnow Park became the site of the first known married student housing for Kansas State University in 1946.  The City Commission signed an agreement with the Federal Public Housing Authority allowing them to move army barracks to the park for use as housing for married students.  Twelve barracks each housed four families for a total capacity of 48 families.  Veterans of World War II and their families were housed in these former army barracks while they attended Kansas State University.  The barracks remained in the park until 1963.  In the early 1970s, the Bluemont Youth Cabin was used for a Teen Center however, the park’s and cabin’s use was on the decline.  Expansion of the city’s water treatment plant in the 1980s greatly reduced the size of Goodnow Park and eliminated original features such as the ball diamonds and tennis courts.   

By the 1980s, the Youth Cabin had fallen into disuse and city officials contemplated demolition.  The Goodnow Park Cabin Coalition, Inc, a private, non-profit organization was formed in 1991 and leased the cabin from the City of Manhattan for a twenty-year period ending in 2011.  The Coalition was formed to prevent demolition of the cabin and to repair and stabilize the cabin preserving it for future use.  The cabin was placed on the Manhattan/Riley County Preservation Alliance’s Manhattan’s 11 Most Endangered in 2007 in attempt to boost local support of the cabin’s preservation. 

In addition to the cabin’s location adjacent to the City’s water treatment facility, the inaccessibility of the cabin site presents significant challenges for public or City use of the facility.  The Coalition accomplished the necessary and immediate repairs to the cabin, protecting the structure from further deterioration.  The Coalition pursued National Register listing as another step in protecting the cabin’s future.  Although the interior is not available for public use, the cabin serves well as a place-maker in the park.  Bluemont Youth Cabin is a charming community resource that represents one of the lesser-known New Deal-era Programs – the National Youth Association. 

The Bluemont Youth Cabin, also known as the Goodnow Park Cabin, was nominated to the National Register of Historic Places under the multiple property submission New Deal-era Resources in Kansas, as a representative of Social and Recreational facilities constructed with labor and funding through federal New Deal programs. 


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