Lake living: How one man’s idea for Florida-style living changed Wichita’s landscape

By Joe Stumpe | July 1, 2022

Janet Bachman and her sons Kurt, left, and Brad enjoy a sunny afternoon at The Moorings, built by Janet’s husband, Bill.

Janet Bachman wasn’t thrilled when her husband suggested they move to a new housing development he was developing in northwest Wichita, even if it was to be the first of its kind.

“We were the only family for a while,” she said. “We had moved from a really nice area with lots of neighbors.”

But, she added, “Eventually, our nice neighbors all moved out here.”

The development was The Moorings — the first lakeside development for single family homes in the area — and it did more than attract neighbors. It started a housing trend here that hasn’t stopped yet.

Janet’s husband, Bill, had the idea of building homes around a sand pit lake that had been dredged to help supply concrete and fill for construction projects. Today, similar developments dot the west side of Wichita, particularly the northwest quadrant.

The attraction? Boating, fishing, swimming, wildlife and clear sand-filtered water. Last month, Bachman stood on the back deck of her home and looked across the water to a tree where a bald eagle had built its nest. Some neighbors love seeing the eagle swoop over the water in search of prey, she said.

Her younger son, Kurt, who runs The Moorings today, said his father sometimes jokingly complained that he’d taken all the money he’d made building homes in other parts of Wichita and sunk it into the development on North Meridian.

“But he was proud of it,” Kurt Bachman said. “It’s a lifestyle that Wichita didn’t have. He was the visionary. Lots of people have done it, and maybe done it better, but they didn’t do it first.”

Another successful lakeside developer, Jay Russell, concurs.

“Bill Bachman was the premier guy that got all this started.”

A 2009 map prepared by the Kansas Geological Survey shows the location of sand pit lakes in Wichita. Originally excavated for construction material, many are now part of housing developments.

‘A good sand pit’

Actually, there were at least two sand pit lakes previously incorporated into residential developments, but they were for apartment complexes. 

The main part of Crystal Lake, which The Moorings surrounds, was dredged by Harley Miles, a friend of Bill Bachman, starting in 1951, according to records Kurt Bachman has seen. “I’ve talked to people that said as early as the late ’50s, there was already fishing at the north end.” 

In 1970, Miles opened a swimming and diving beach called Crystal Beach at the north end, moving his dredging equipment across the road. His daughter, Stacy Miles, who ran Crystal Beach, said the type of sand that the nearby Arkansas River had deposited in the area made it ideal for dredging.

“In the sand business, you’re always going to have fine sand, but if you can get some coarse sand, then you’re going to have a good sand pit,” she said. “If it’s just a bunch of fine sand, you can’t make concrete with it.”

Most sand pits in the area are dredged to a depth of about 30 feet, and since the water table is only about 15 feet below the ground surface, the pits quickly fill with water.

Kurt Bachman said his father got the idea for The Moorings from family trips to Florida, where he saw communities built around water. Bill Bachman bought the south end of the lake and surrounding farmland in 1972 and started developing the south end four years later. 

To increase the number of homes with waterfront property and give people a place to tie up their boats, Bachman created the first of what are now a dozen inlets off the main section. Kurt Bachman dredged some of the later inlets himself not long after graduating from college. He described the sand dredge as two big pontoon boats with a diesel motor and “auger-type vacuum” to suck up the sand.

“On a good day, I could do 100 feet, 12 feet deep,” Kurt said. “Some days you plugged the line, and it took four days to unplug it.”

The Bachmans moved into The Moorings’ first home in 1978, and Bill Bachman eventually acquired the rest of The Moorings property. He named the streets to invoke Florida — Key West Street, Bayview Court, Portwest Circle. Today, it holds about 450 homes, 375 of them on the water, and is nearly full. But it took a while. Kurt’s older brother, Brad, noted that Meridian was a two-lane asphalt road for many years before it was widened.

“This was originally quite a bit out of town,” he said. “It was pretty slow because it was off the beaten track.”

In 1994, Bill Bachman and his older son, Brad, bought land across North Meridian Avenue from The Moorings where Harley Miles had dredged two sand pit lakes. Brad Bachman took the lead in developing it into Harbor Isle, which now holds about 180 homes.

The Moorings as viewed from the west. Its developer, Bill Bachman, who died in 2004, was a World War II veteran, Wichita State University graduate and avid horseman who built seven neighborhoods across Wichita.

‘People love it’

Since then, at least four large developments have been built around sand pit lakes: Barefoot Bay at West 29th and Hoover Road, Emerald Bay along North West Street, Sandcrest, which is directly east of Barefoot Bay, and Ridge Port at 34th and Ridge Road. Smaller developments and apartment complexes surround other sand pit lakes in the area.

“People love it that they can get on their boat at the end of the day and play with their kids on the water,” said Russell, who developed Sandcrest and Ridge Port and has another, called Castaway, underway at 45th and Hoover.

Recreation isn’t the only draw, he added. 

“One of the big things that people want in housing is they prefer not to have anybody in their backyard,” he said.

Janet Bachman said The Moorings has developed into a community with a personality strongly influenced by its setting. Each July 4th, for instance, residents decorate their boats for a floating parade, a firework display is staged and a live band hired to play on a peninsula known as “Pretty Penny Point.” About 75 percent of the homeowners keep boats, although not all use them regularly.

Her husband’s idea for lakeside living caught on in a big way.

“There’s so many out west here now,” she said.