Fundraising to kickoff soon for El Cuartelejo interpretive center
Jerry Thomas tells members of the Scott County Historical Society about the history of the El Cuartelejo ruins and preliminary plans for construction of an interpretative center that he hopes can begin in the spring of 2017.
By Rod Haxton, editor
For most of his adult life, Jerry Thomas has heard discussion about the need for some type of museum or permanent structure to protect the El Cuartelejo ruins at Lake Scott State Park.
It’s a project that’s been paid substantial lip service, but no results.
So when plans were unveiled for a fundraising campaign that would lead to the construction of an interpretative center, complete with artifacts excavated from the site over the past 90 years, Thomas had one important stipulation.
This had to go beyond the talking stage.
“I wasn’t going to let this languish for another four or five years,” Thomas emphasized during Sunday’s annual meeting of the Scott County Historical Society.
In fact, Thomas has set an aggressive time line that calls for groundbreaking of the interpretative center, estimated at $1.2 million, to be held in March or April of 2017.
He wants the Historic Lake Scott Development and Preservation Committee, to which he was appointed chairman by KDWPT Secretary Robin Jennison, to present plans for the interpretive center within about two months. At that time, the fundraising campaign will kickoff with a goal of being completed within a year.
“A final concept of the interpretive center needs to be featured at the time we kickoff the fundraising. When we tell people this is a one-of-a-kind interpretive center we want them to be able to see what we’re talking about,” Thomas says.
But first things first.
While Thomas has preliminary plans for a 60x100 square foot building that will completely surround the ruins, that will be contingent upon an archeological survey by the Kansas State Historical Society. That survey will determine if there are any other significant elements buried around the ruins that would have to be removed or which could alter the location or dimensions of the center.
Thomas says the proposed building will be of pre-stressed concrete.
“It will go down three feet, so we need to know what’s there,” he said.
The Daughters of the American Revolution, who originally owned the site where El Cuartelejo is located, had an architect prepare plans for a building that would protect the ruins. Thomas said that is a “good start,” but that he has enhanced that original design.
Bringing Back Artifacts
A sensitive issue with local historians over the years has been the number of artifacts which were taken from the site in four separate archeological digs dating back to the first one in 1898.
Items from El Quartelejo are stored in several museums, including the Museum of History at the University of Kansas and the Smithsonian Institute in Washington, D.C.
“Yet we have zero shards in our own museum from the site,” Thomas points out. “There’s no reason they should continue to be stored away in a box in a closet at KU. It’s our heritage. It’s our story to tell. They belong here.
“When I was asked to do this, I told (Gov. Sam Brownback) that if the items could be repatriated to this museum that I’d take on this responsibility,” says Thomas. “The governor assured me that he’d have my back.”
Thomas has been in contact with these museums and expressed a desire to see these items become part of the permanent exhibit at the interpretive center.
“Everyone wants to see the schematic for the center, which I understand. We have to construct a building that is secure and safe and will protect our world class artifacts,” he says.
Will these museums be receptive in releasing artifacts collected at the site?
“Absolutely,” Thomas assures. “They’ve seen what we do here with the gallery, the environmental systems that we have and the security. They know that we’re going to do this right.”
Thomas is very optimistic about raising the needed donations within his time line. He feels that since this involves a Native American site that will enhance the fundraising.
“When you apply the tag ‘Native American’ to something it’s a tremendous help,” he says. “We already have some big-time folks who are interested in helping with this.”
But he’s looking for donors at all levels.
“We’re looking for all types of sponsors. We’ll give people a variety of avenues in which they can contribute,” he says.
If fundraising proceeds as hoped, and barring any complications from the historical society dig, Thomas hopes the center will be open in October 2017.
He’d like to see construction get underway in February or March of 2017.
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