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Digital Douglas County History

Bowersock Mills

Postcard of the Milling District

Bowersock Mills has played a large role in the history of Lawrence. Though the name Bowersock and the dam have been associated together for decades, the dam was not originally owned by Bowersock. In 1872 Orlando Darling put forth the funds to have a dam built for the city of Lawrence and was one of the cofounders of Lawrence Land and Water Company (LL&W Co.). The Kaw was not kind to Darling and the multitude of damage caused by various floods and ice buildup forced Darling to sell the dam and ultimately LL&W Co. in 1877.

James Gower had just moved to Lawrence a few months before the dam was put up for sale. Gower relied on LL&W Co. for cheap power for his flour mill and readily purchased the dam so that it may continue to provide this power. Gower dedicated a large sum of money to repair and strengthen the dam, but did not see the benefits of his work. In 1879 Gower passed away and the dam and mills were passed down to his son-in-law, Justin DeWitt (J.D.) Bowersock. The dam stood up to the Kaw for several years without any damage, and helped Lawrence to thrive with its cheap power.

Bowersock’s luck unfortunately did not hold up forever. The Kaw was still a formidable foe and in 1903, the debris from a flood managed to sweep away the dam. After the river calmed, Bowersock rebuilt the dam with sturdier materials that would be able to take on future floods. The Kaw has not been easy on Bowersock Mills, but the company has continued to adapt to the river and today it provide one of the cleanest sources of renewable energy.