Many Lincoln properties have changed purposes numerous times over the decades, but few have transitioned from a variety of owners and uses back to nearly unimproved forest and grasslands.
In 1866, a year before Nebraska’s statehood, a wattle dam was built on Salt Creek just south of what would become First and Van Dorn streets to provide a mill to grind corn. Soon after, Phillip Cooper improved the dam to form a pond to make ice during winter months and dug a cave in 1873 to store it during the summer months. It is Cooper’s house that is frequently pictured directly east of the first state Capitol.
Lincoln attorney and later mayor A. J. Sawyer purchased the tract in 1887, establishing Lincoln Park with the dam rebuilt in concrete about 1900.
In 1906, the University of Nebraska's E.H. Barbour envisioned a “wooded park” along Salt and other Lincoln creeks but nothing came of his idea. While Lincoln Park grew in popularity, the Burlington Railroad bought the site to operate the park and to install a 12-inch pipe in Salt Creek to move about a million gallons of water a day to its steam engine roundhouse southwest of the city. Beatrice Creamery also used the ponds for railroad car icing during the winter.
In 1910, the Boy Scouts of America incorporated and a year later Troop 1 formed at McCool Junction as perhaps the first in Nebraska. The organization’s popularity virtually exploded, with First Class Councils formed in major Nebraska communities and Second Class Councils in smaller villages like University Place and Bethany. In 1912, area scouts camped in small tents in Epworth Park directly south of Lincoln Park with a large dining and meeting tent adjacent under the auspice of the Lincoln Council. The first official scout camp began near Beaver Crossing then moved to the Louisville Lakes as Camp Quivera before sharing a church camp near Central City.
In 1916, Lincoln Traction Co. purchased Lincoln Park and provided streetcar service to both Lincoln and Epworth parks. With the dam reconfigured to provide a dynamo, as well as continuing the Beatrice Creamery ice ponds, the park was lit with incandescent and arc lighting and became known as Electric Park. The same year, the Lincoln Boy Scout Council hired its first paid director and merged the secondary councils of Havelock, University Place and Bethany into its council. By 1925, the Lincoln Council was reportedly the fourth largest in the U.S.
In 1935, the Burlington Railroad abandoned its water wells in Electric Park, which was floundering in the wake of the more diversified and popular Capital Beach amusement park. When Electric Park closed, the 86-acre tract was leased by the Burlington to what was by then the Cornhusker Council of Boy Scouts, becoming its new permanent camp. The council and volunteers built a swimming pool and longhouse while the Lion’s Club built a dining hall. The new facility was dubbed Minis-Kuya, which some sources say can be translated from the Sioux as “salt water” but most scouts I knew claimed it really meant “many mosquitoes.”
After World War II, the Burlington Railroad sold the campgrounds to the Cornhusker Council, which, by 1950 represented about 10,000 scouts. Other groups used the camp, drawing about 15,000 young people to the grounds annually.
Beginning in 1955, as registration at Minis-Kuya dwindled, the Cornhusker Council acquired 10 acres of land south of Humboldt in Richardson County near the Kansas border for what was first called the Cornhusker Scout Reservation. After accumulating several hundred more acres of additional land, it was renamed Camp Cornhusker in 1985.
Camp Minis-Kuya closed in 1956 and was sold to Lancaster County for $60,000 in 1970. Two years later Minis-Kuya and other parcels were combined as the 1,475-acre Wilderness Park, Lincoln’s largest park. Almost nothing is left of Minis-Kuya, but sharp eyes can still uncover remnants of the dynamited dam, the dry mill flume, the old path of Salt Creek now moved east across First Street and straightened, as well as bits of the iron Burlington water pipe.
Although I have been unable to uncover its exact location, it is possible the old concrete swimming pool is still there as well, simply filled in with dirt and grown over.