Several days ago, our driving took us to the State Pier on the waterfront at the Arnolds Park Amusement Park. We viewed it from the comfort of our van. Wow!
The Pier has been changed several times but today it is really something. It is a serene place with the statue of Capt. Steve Kennedy and the two children gazing at beautiful West Lake Okoboji. The view from the pier has delighted thousands of people and children over the years. It is the one place on the lake that the public feels free to step on, gaze and wonder about the wonderful lake God has entrusted to us. The walkway is paved with donated bricks, seats, sails, flagpole and it is indeed a place of wonderment and beauty. 2020 ushered in a "new" look to the Pier. It is something to behold so step out and see it.
I was born in 1925 and for me the State Pier at Arnolds Park has always been there. Actually the pier was constructed in the summer of 1930, but who recalls things like that when you are four or five years old. It was built by the A. Olson Construction Company of Waterloo for $3,600. R. A. Furman was to oversee the building of the pier.
The State Pier was the center of attention at Arnolds Park almost from the day it was built. It was the observation point for many tourists to see beautiful West Lake Okoboji when it was built. There were few people in The Depression years who owned a speedboat. It wasn't until after World War II that people began to purchase power boats and trailers enabling them to venture out on the lakes.
The best tourists could do in The Depression years was to purchase a ride from one of the two speedboat firms stationed on the docks extending from the pier. Frank Spotts and Hank Nelson owned two firms and operated several boats that gave and sold speedboat rides on beautiful West Okoboji. The Spotts Boat Line had a ticket booth on the right side of the State Pier and used the dock on that side. Hank Nelson has no ticket booth but operated his three boats on the left side dock extending from the pier. There was a certain rivalry between the two, but never any real animosity between them.
I was working as a printer's devil at the Milford Mail in the summer of 1940. A young man from Storm Lake who worked at the shop drove a speedboat for Hank Nelson at The Park. He enlisted me to come up and sell speedboat tickets for Hank Nelson. Upon arriving one Sunday morning Mr. Nelson gave me a sailor cap with a bill, affixed a coin changer on my belt, a handful of tickets and sent me out into the Sunday crowd to hawk and sell speedboat tickets. It was a wonderful experience. I worked for Mr. Nelson for two summers.
One 4th of July, I hawked the crowds from 9 a.m. until 3 a.m. July 5 and was rewarded with a $20 bill. In 1940 $20 was a small fortune! Working in The Mail office all week and then being out on the State Pier all Sunday made for sunburns all summer; long before sunblock. One also should remember that very few people owned power boats; there were few boat trailers and no boat ramps. It was also before boat hoists as lake owners in those days either buoyed their boats out on the lake or stored them in boathouses on the shores. There were many rowboats but even there the main power was oars.
The tickets for the adults were under one dollar and children 25 cents. Some of the speedboats could take as many as eight or 10 passengers. Two rode in front with the pilot, three or four in the seat behind, and then the motor. Finally the back seat could hold three or four passengers. The speedboat rides lasted 20 to 30 minutes, depending on the crowd waiting with tickets on the dock. When passengers were taken out at night, especially during the intermissions at the Roof Garden, the pilots would drive out past Pillsbury Point, head south out of sight of The Park, go around in circles several times and come back. Most of the passengers didn't know where they were on the lake anyway so several trips could be squeezed in a short time. The Queen also gave steamboat rides and they had a separate dock just to the left of Nelson's dock; not attached to the Pier and a ticket booth.
The State Pier was to be in a horseshoe shape 80 feet in diameter, 80 feet into the lake, and to have steel pilings one-half inch thick and 12 feet long. They were to be driven into the lakebed four or five feet. The enclosure was to be filled with 1,200 yards of dirt. The dirt was hauled from the Wood Allen property not far from the State Pier. There was to be a three-foot sidewalk around the edge of the horseshoe and a pipe fence was to be constructed on the edge of the horseshoe to keep people from falling into the lake. The fence provided a great place to sit and relax. Construction was to start June 24, 1930, and to be finished by the middle of August. The pile driver was set in place at the end of Lake Shore Drive early in July 1930. In order for the pile-driving machine to operate and drive the steel pilings a roadway had to be constructed for it to travel. Dirt was dumped into the lake to make that roadway.
The State Pier construction at the end of Lake Shore Drive extended into the lake at an angle with the end pointing toward Des Moines Beach. Dr. A. J. Peck, who owned the property adjoining Lake Shore Drive and to the right took the state of Iowa to court maintaining that the state was infringing on his property rights. The three docks on Peck's lakefront between the souvenir stand and the street were all rented by the Eagle Boat Line. Dr. Peck stated that he received annual revenue from $700 to $800 from the docks. The Peck docks extended into the lake at a right angle to his property and tended to point toward the center of the lake. The State Pier and Peck's dock occupied the same location so the Peck-owned dock had to be removed.
Dr. Peck objected to the removal of his dock and filed a lawsuit. His injunction suit was held at the Dickinson County Courthouse on Friday, July 18, 1930. Witnesses for the defense sound like a who's who of the Lakes Region at that time: M.C. Elston, E.E. O'Farrell, Ray Butler, Harry Tennant and Herm Elston all from Arnolds Park; W.E.C. Saunder of Emmetsburg and J.G. Wyth of Cedar Falls; member of the State Board of Conservation; and R. A. Furman, Dickinson County engineer.
The attorneys for Dr. Peck were Senator L.E. France of Des Moines and Harry Narey of Spirit Lake. The attorneys for the state were Oral Swift of Des Moines, K. B. Welty, Dickinson County attorney and M. L. Hutton, Secretary of the State Board of Conservation. Also called to testify was the owner of the Eagle Boat Line and Mr. and Mrs. Stevens of Arnolds Park. The State sought to prove that the lakes are state property and the state has a right to improve its property as it deems proper. Judge R. C. Lovrien rendered his decision for the state. This decision became a landmark, granting the state the authority to improve its property.
After the trial and decision the workman went back to work and by working day and night completed the State Pier prior to Labor Day. The two large docks that originally extended from the main pier were replaced several years ago by one large floating pier.
The State Pier was and still is the center of activities at the Park. The pier has been the setting for weddings, induction ceremonies, beauty contests, and socializing. A fatality occurred several years ago when an individual ran into the pier with a snowmobile. It has been the scene of numerous rescues of drowning victims and boat crashes and also a gathering place for lake residents and tourists alike. The State Pier has been there for 90 years. It will continue to be an important landmark and vital part of lakefront at The Park.