Gardner Lake is located just north of Gardner in Johnson County, Kansas. The Works Progress Administration built this 100-acre man-made lake between 1935 and 1938 to relieve the area’s drought conditions. President Franklin Delano Roosevelt created the Works Progress Administration (WPA) in 1935 to provide work for millions of unemployed Americans during the Great Depression. It was an important aspect of President Roosevelt’s New Deal program until it ended in 1943.
Before building the lake, a camp was built to house the 200+ transient workers living there during construction. It was called “Transient Camp # 9”. The camp buildings included a mess hall, bath houses, barracks, a kitchen, a hospital, waterworks, and a recreation hall. The laborers were provided food, shelter, clothing, and medical care and were paid $1 to $3 per week. Excavation began in 1935. By May 1936, 225 men were working three daily shifts to build the dam.
In addition to the lake, tourist cabins and a beach house were constructed. Lakefront lots began selling before the project was completed, as early as 1934. By 1937, 120 lots had been sold for $100 per lot. That year, Kansas City Power & Light installed the first electric lines around the east side of the lake. The Gardner Lake project represented the largest and most expensive of the 12 public works projects that the WPA funded in Johnson County, costing $567,245 and employing over 200 people.
Initially, the lake was planned to be donated to the State of Kansas to operate as a state park, but the state could not accept the property.
Private development continued into the 1940s, notably the construction of summer cabins. But, over time, residential construction grew denser, with year-round, permanent homes arising regularly.
The City of Gardner operated the beach house from 1938 to 1989. In the spring of 1991, the Gardner Lake Association initiated efforts to preserve the WPA Beach House after the city announced plans to sell lake property and demolish it. Residents supported the Association’s efforts to save the building.
The beach house is one of the few remaining structures in Johnson County resulting from Depression-era relief projects. It was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1992 because of its historical significance.
This 3.5-acre recreational area is located at 30100 West 151st Street. The area features three park shelters below the Gardner Lake dam; two are available for rent. In addition to the shelter repairs, a new boat dock was recently built, and the Parks and Recreation Department has cleaned up the area by trimming and removing the damaged trees. Picnic tables and grills are available. Any size/type of motorboat is permitted. However, it is a no-wake lake. State fishing and boating permits must be obtained from the state. Anglers enjoy fishing for Bluegill, Channel Catfish, Crappie, Largemouth Bass, and White Bass.