Bowersock Mills & Power Company

546 Massachusetts Street
Lawrence, Kansas 66044
(785) 843-1385

Tours offered by appointment for $40 per group.

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Bowersock Mills and Power Company - Lawrence, Kansas
Bowersock Mills and Power Company
Bowersock Mills & Power Company - Lawrence, Kansas

The Bowersock Mills & Power Company in Lawrence, Kansas is the only operating hydroelectric plant in Kansas. Bowersock is a small, family run business which welcomes the public to visit and tour the plant. Fill out this form to request one of the periodic Saturday tours or call (785) 843-1385 between 9 AM and 3 PM.

Although there were already several nearby mills, the first dam at this site was completed in 1874. It was a source of cheap water energy and before electrical power was widely available, leather belts were connected to the waterwheels and ran either on tall poles or through tunnels to their respective businesses. 

Later that year, James H. Gower moved to Lawrence and erected one of those mills, a flour mill called Douglas County Mills.

The dam was damaged by flood in 1877, and went to auction where it was purchased by Gower in the name of his son-in-law, J. D. Bowersock. When Gower died in 1879, Bowersock stepped in and took charge of the company and the dam's repair. Within six years, the dam powered twelve water wheels which drove two flouring mills, a paper mill, two elevators, a twine factory, shirt factory, two machine shops, the Leis chemical works, the Consolidated Barb Wire Company, and the Lawrence Journal & Lawrence World, predecessors of today's Lawrence Journal World newspaper.

Over the years, there were repeated floods with different levels of damage. In 1888 an ice jam resulted in a wave of water which removed most of the dam, ripped out many of the belts and cables supplying the businesses and scoured the deep silt bed at the bottom of the Kansas River. This turned into a blessing by allowing the dam and mills to be rebuilt from solid ground or rock. The first four dynamos were installed to turn water power into electrical energy.

The next big flood was 1903. When Bowersock repaired the dam, he rebuilt bigger and better to withstand future floods and eventually built the facility that is in use today. The oldest turbine still in operation, was purchased used and installed in 1905. Over the following years, there were more floods & repairs and the community of Lawrence grew far too large to be powered by the Bowersock dam. Following Bowersock's death in 1922, the dam was sold. On June 13, 1968 Bowersock Mills and Power ceased operations as a mill and in time all of the electricity was sold Kansas Power and Light (now Westar Energy).

The OPEC oil embargo of the 1970s raised the cost of energy and The Public Utility Regulatory Policies Act of 1978 (PURPA) decreed that public electric utilities must buy excess power generated by small producers at the incremental cost a utility would have to pay if the utility generated the electricity. This made electric production from small producers more practical.

Stephen Hill, grandson of J. D. Bowersock, and the City of Lawrence reached an agreement that included Hill repurchasing the power plant, the construction of a new City Hall upon the bases of the mill's old grain silos and a shared responsibility where the city is responsible for maintaining the dam, while the Hill family is responsible for operating it. The turbines and generators were overhauled and the plant began producing enough power to provide electricity for up to 1000 homes.

Today the Bowersock Mills and Power Company is operated day to day by Stephen Hill's daughter, Sarah Hill-Nelson. The seven hydroelectric turbines in the original plant are capable of producing 2.35 MW of electricity, enough to power nearly 1800 homes. The Bowersock Mills and Power Company completed a new powerhouse on the north side of the Kansas River in 2012. The new powerhouse replaced the spillway on the north end of the dam and now houses four additional turbine/generators, with a total capacity addition of 4.6 MW. The new larger turbines tripled the capacity of the plant.

Bowersock Mills & Power Company

Over the past three years, this area has been turned into a display for educating tour groups about the the
operation of the dam and the energy savings generated by replacing incandescent light bulbs with florescent 

Douglas County Mills
Photograph of Gower's Douglas County Mills in 1874

Bowersock Mills and Power Company dam in winter
Bowersock Mills & Power Company dam in winter - the small metal cage and tower in the center of the photo are used to raise and lower the flash
 boards and the gates of the Obermeyer System which controls the amount of water that flows over the dam and is diverted to the power plant

Leffel hydraulic turbines 5, 6 & 7 - the oldest was purchased used in 1905, the newest was built in 1938

These are "Low Head" turbines which are powered by a 21' "stack" using
250 cubic feet of water per second per turbine 

For this photo, the cover was removed from the actuator which monitors the load & controls the speed that water flows to
the turbines - these 80 year old Woodward Water Wheel Governors use technology that is over 100 years old

Woodward Water Wheel Governor - Bowersock Mill
Detail of the Woodward Water Wheel Governor

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