LINDSBORG – The big party planned May 18 at Coronado Heights is to celebrate 150 years of history and achievement. The event begins at 5 p.m. near the old WPA castle at the crown of this great hill, with food and fun and later, fireworks. For many in the crowd the gathering will embrace memories – of participation, their own or their ancestors’ – in the fleeting moments that reinforce a heritage of place. For others, the pleasure of taking it all in.
The Swedish immigrants first settled this region and then came the Polish, the Italians and Germans and more. Many generations later, here we are.
In those earliest days, Swedes settled in the late 1860s near the great hill that the Spanish explorer Coronado is said to have ascended. Soon they would move their Lindsborg southeast, near the river. Some years after the town was established in 1869, they would return to the Heights and carve a path to the top and make the grounds ready for picnics, for fun, for the view.
Decades later, this vivid sandstone outcrop northwest of Lindsborg was selected by public vote as one of the “8 Wonders of Kansas Geography” in a project sponsored by the Kansas Sampler Foundation. (In the same vote, announced in March 2010, the Maxwell Wildlife Refuge near Canton was also selected as one of Kansas’ eight geographic wonders.)
The Sampler project, begun in 2008, was to educate the world about Kansas and encourage travel in the state. Of the other seven wonders, Lindsborg was awarded three – the Sandzén Memorial Gallery, “8 Wonders of Kansas Art” (October 2008); in March 2009, Hemslöjd, the Swedish crafts and gifts store, as one of Kansas’ “8 Wonders of Kansas Commerce”. (Coincidentally that same month almost to the day, another “wonder” was announced when the Kansas Academy of Family Physicians selected Lindsborg physician Duane Fredrickson as the 2009 Kansas Family Physician of the Year.) In October 2009, the traditional and pop-art Dala Horses of Lindsborg were selected one of the “8 Wonders of Kansas Customs”.
Coronado Heights had been nominated as a Wonder in early November, 2009, by Ruth Peterson of Lindsborg, who grew up a half-mile from the landmark which, she said, “has been a lifetime part of my personal landscape.”
In a News-Record article about her nomination, Mrs. Peterson said, “When looking at Coronado Heights from afar, it is easy to see why peoples over the centuries considered Coronado Heights both monument and gathering place. Surrounded by a gently rolling plains, Coronado Heights juts 300 feet above the surrounding Smoky Valley floor. It is southernmost in a row of eroded sandstone hills in the area’s Dakota Formation. By standing atop Coronado Heights, visitors can see for many miles around – a dramatic panoramic sweep through central Kansas. Surely native Americans loved and treasured the hill, along with westward-trudging European immigrants.
“Perhaps that was one reason that the representatives of the First Swedish Agricultural Company selected the base of Coronado Heights to locate their initial company house in 1868,” she wrote. “That same year, a group of Swedish immigrants led by the Rev. Olof Olsson took up residence at the site, and they would found Lindsborg the next year in 1869.
“The hill was certainly a landmark for Rev. Olsson and his daughter, Anna, who would spend time together there. As she wrote in the voice of her younger self in a book called Anna Olsson: Child of the Prairie: ‘When Papa and I sit on Papa’s bench high up in a tree, then he points out to me where Sweden is far, far beyond the land company house…’”
The celebration this month at Coronado Heights will miss, among others, Chris Abercrombie and Corky Malm.
No one called Corky by his given name, Paul. He was always Corky, and although he died three years ago he will be remembered as the man who built from scratch a company that carried MALM on the biggest trucks, heaviest tractors and longest earth-movers known in road building. His passion for community and its history was exceeded only by his love of family.
In the early 2000s, Corky learned that the steep, winding road to the peak of the Heights had gone ragged to the point of dangerous. He didn’t wait for a meeting about it. His ancestors had been part of establishing the place, and this was something that needed fixing. Corky picked up the phone and in no time the graders and trucks and high loaders were hard at work, Corky saying not to bother for now with the five-figure expense. The Heights are history, he had said, and it can’t slide away.
The Smoky Valley Historical Association, of which Corky was a devoted member, would later lead a successful campaign, led by Abercrombie, for a recent renovation of the grounds and structures at Coronado Heights.
To climb the Heights’ steep, winding road – preferably with something motorized – is to inspire wonder. Shaping even the earliest road and carving a place at the top, mostly with shovels and perhaps a draft horse, had been back-breaking. None of those workers were in it for the money. They and others later, like Corky and Chris, were in it for the good it would do.
– John Marshall