Then and Now: Riverside Boathouse

THEN: Old Riverside Boathouse circa 1928

Credit: Photographer: Homer T. Harden. Repository: Wichita-Sedgwick County Historical Museum. 


NOW: Present site of the old Riverside Boathouse across from Riverside Park

Photo: VC&DC

NOW: New boathouse on the Big Arkansas River

Photo: VC&DC

  The Fourth "R" of Preservation

Most would agree that the "Three 'Rs' of Preservation" are "restoration, renovation and reconstruction." But in the case of the old Riverside Boathouse, maybe we can add a fourth-"replication." Nothing remains of the old boathouse on the east bank of the Little Arkansas River at Murdock except pleasant memories. But a new boathouse rests on the east bank of the Big Arkansas at Lewis St. and so resembles the old Riverside Boathouse in architectural style and setting that viewing it is like stepping back into the 1920s.

The old boathouse had its beginnings in 1898 when R. C. Israel set up his sons in the boat rental business. They stored their boats under the bridge. Due to the popularity of boating on the river, the endeavor prospered and expanded. A pagoda was built and later a clubhouse was added. By 1920 the building was remodeled into the four story structure with columned verandas on each level familiar to all Wichitans from the 1920s to the 1960s. 

An especially popular event in the 1920-30s was a nighttime "fire dive" performed by daredevils from a tower above the building's roof. The diver ignited a gasoline soaked towel attached to his neck and hurled himself 75 feet to river below. 

The building was condemed as unsafe in 1965 and was demolished three years later. Wichita had no boathouse until 1994 when the new boathouse was built and opened thanks to the Arkansas River Foundation. Donated to the City in 1998, the boathouse offers rental meeting, banquet and reception facilities and serves as an information center for visitors to Wichita as well as being the hub of river-related activity in Wichita.