Archive for Thursday, April 12, 2007

Sunflower Village boomtown during World War II and days of G.I. Bill

April 12, 2007

The following history of Sunflower Village is attributed to Floyd Talley, who was De Soto School District superintendent from 1961 to 1967.

This is the first in a two-part segment of writing by Talley.

Construction of the Sunflower Ordnance Works, located approximately three miles southwest of De Soto, began in March 1942. Production of powder began March 24, 1943.

The plant covers approximately 16.25 square miles. Two of the first things at the plant were the railroad line and the power line, which came from Kansas City. In August 1945, 12,000 people were employed at the plant.

When it was apparent that the construction of the Sunflower Ordnance Works was going to be completed on time to play an important part in the furnishings of propellant for war use, plans were being made for a housing area for employees of the plant. Before the present location of Sunflower was decided on, the cities of Eudora and De Soto were approached with the idea of building a community within easy reach of one of these cities. Both communities rejected the idea. As a result, 70 acres of farmland adjacent to the north side of Sunflower were purchased. Contracts were awarded in February 1943 and by March the preliminary work was under way. By Aug. 1, 1943, forty-five buildings were completed and tenants of Uncle Sam began moving in.

Officially named Sunflower Village (because it was a village for employees of the Sunflower Ordnance Works), it was through the U.S. Post Office Department that the second part of Sunflower Village was eliminated. The postal department contended that the two names were too long for a cancellation stamp.

In the beginning, the village was slow to fill up, but one could not blame folks for not wanting to move to a housing complex with no stores, post office or places of amusement and with dry and dusty streets that became muddy when it rained. The nearest city was De Soto, and gasoline was rationed. It was anything but inviting.

Sunflower Village was built by the Public Housing Administration. The west side, known as the "Old Village," with 863 dwellings was completed in August 1943, and the east side, or the new village, of 580 pre-fabricated units were finished in March 1945.

Not long after the village opened, the Sunflower Drug Store opened its doors to join with Winder Grocer, located at 216-218 Lane K. The community building and the barber shop were opened about the same time.

The Sunflower Post Office was opened in February 1944. Mrs. Emma Drake was the first postmaster.

Spurned as a satisfactory business location by large grocery chains, Lou Falley of Topeka felt differently and Falley's Sunflower Market was opened for business in late February 1944.

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