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Friday, April 22, 2016

If This Ground Could Talk.....

When you travel down any street in the Kansas City area, it’s hard to even imagine that anything existed before development. There are a few nest eggs in KC such as Kelly’s in Westport or the River Market that make you think twice about the nostalgia attached to what used to be. I don’t know many from KC who haven’t walked into Kelly’s with an out-of-towner and said, while clasping their beer in a plastic cup, “This place is one of the oldest in Kansas City…..”

Okay, maybe only people I hang out with do that. :)
A drawing of Boone's General Store, now
Kelly's in Westport, Courtesy of KC Public Library 

A plaque on the side of the darkly painted brick fa├žade of Kelly’s makes your claim legit. Yep, it is historic. Yep, it was built by a relative of Daniel Boone and was a general store. Kansas City is blessed to have this building still standing, especially after the Border Wars and the early destruction of historic Americana in Kansas City.

If you don’t believe me, go to another city just to the east and see what buildings survive. KC is OLD, but it’s only OLD as compared to the West… It’s a baby as compared to American history. What we consider “old” and “historical” is all relative- what is really old is probably buried underneath where you now stand.

Digest that for a minute.

This is important to the story when looking at the bigger picture here. St. Louis was incorporated in 1822; the City of Kansas was incorporated in 1853. Thirty years may seem like a small stamp in time for these pioneers, but at this unique point in history, it was a stretch filled with strife, survival and a heck of a lot of sacrifice. Think of it this way: people that settled in St. Louis were alive during the American Revolution, whereas people involved in Kansas City were on the cusp of the American Civil War. So, so, so much happened between this small stitch in time.

Some records indicate the first log cabin, serving as a tavern, was built in what would become New Santa Fe in 1824. But, the first stomping ground of any major importance was with Westport Landing, incorporated in 1834.

The western Missouri route into Kansas showing
the option to travel through Westport or New Santa Fe

Westport was a weighty operation in the 1830s. It was an entrepreneurial echelon of activity. Establishing Westport was accomplished to aid these pioneers traveling to the West. It, too, sat on the footprints of the Santa Fe Trail. The National Parks Service states that the Santa Fe Trail, a “highway” guiding Mexican and American traders, began around 1821. After the Mexican-American War in 1848, the Santa Fe Trail became a national road connecting the United States to the new southwest territories. The “road” was no longer military; it was adopted by countless pioneer families out to pursue better land and a better life.

Plat map of New Santa fe from 1853
The Trail led through Independence and Westport. Some wagons went further south on their travels and bypassed Westport in favor of crossing the Blue River and down the current Holmes Road from Minor Park. In 1851, a farmer with little to no experience in the business industry decided that a border town on one alternate trail route that happened to hug his land only made sense. The travelers were already using his land- why not capitalize on it?

Isn’t this the American Dream??

Dabney Lipscomb was born in 1806 in Madison County, Kentucky. He, along with many Kentuckians during this time period, decided to take a risk many of us would shy upon and move west for more land and more opportunity. In the mid 1840s, Dabney lived and cultivated his rich terrain on the rolling hills of Washington Township, Jackson County, Missouri.

Washington County was known as the “Lost Township,” for according to the records I can find, the land surveyed was lost due to the libations of its surveyor. Legend states the land was surveyed by someone that found whiskey irresistible; thus, after consuming a wee bit too much, his notes on the land were lost. Because of this, the earliest map of this area is 1877, over 35 years after white settlement of the area. This makes finding evidence and examples of what occurred in the area even harder.

I’d love to be able to lecture that guy.
Dabney's headstone at New Santa Fe Cemetery, moved
here from a family cemetery

.......I digress.

Dabney’s land would be where the current subdivision of Verona Hills is, from approximately Santa Fe Trail on the South, 114th Street to the North, State Line to the West and Wornall to the east. He settled this land, and he would have been one of the first to have used it for cultivation. Prior to this time, the Osage Indians would have freely roamed the landscape.

Records seem to indicate that Dabney’s goal was to establish a town - a center full of materials, expertise and the ability to assist the brave on their trip to the Wild West. New Santa Fe would have been the last official town in the United States – everything sitting on the western horizon belonged to the Native American tribes.

....And you were trespassing.

The Jackson County Historical Society reports that between the years 1847 to 1850, 40,000 western emigrants departed from Westport. Wornall Road between Westport and New Santa Fe is the longest stretch of trail remaining in Jackson County, Mo. today.

The Border Star weekly newspaper- February 11, 1859
(Missouri Digital Heritage collections)
What many don’t understand is that there was more than one “trail” in this area to take. In today’s terms, we take shortcuts all the time. Sometimes during rush hour the highway isn’t fastest, so we go the back roads. We do this all the time- what is easiest. This happened in the 1840s and 1850s as well.

Travelers on the Santa Fe Trail could go from Independence to Westport OR Independence to New Santa Fe via the Blue River.

Which was the better commute? It depended on whom you asked. Isn’t that true today? Even newspapers published at the time tried to persuade traveleres to take their particular route and avoid the “ruddy” conditions of the road to New Santa Fe. Look at the newspaper article from the Border Star, a super-democratic pro-slavery paper published in Westport Landing (see image to the right).

Regardless, thousands opted for the route through this bustling town in lieu of traveling through Westport, whose roads were reported to be "rocky". The building of the original Red Bridge in late 1859 left little excuse for Westport; the problem had been solved. The wooden structure, painted red, was 100 feet long. No longer did wagon trains have to dredge through the Blue River (I can't help but to have an early Apple computer flashback of the popular 80s game "Oregon Trail"- did you lose an ox in the river? Or a wagon wheel?) The same year Kansas City was incorporated, New Santa Fe opened their first post office. By 1860, even with the Border Wars being prominent (more again on this, too!), New Santa Fe grew to a town of 500 citizens. Imagine that! Choosing to settle on the border between the United States and the Wild West- with skirmishes occurring all around you. At any point, your family could be in danger. These guys must’ve been locked and loaded all the time.

A 1933 sketch of the blacksmith shop in New Santa Fe
Published in the Kansas City Star
In 1853, Dabney Lipscomb passed away from causes unknown. He, his wife and his son, Nathan, have stones at the cemetery in New Santa Fe. Records state that the stones were moved from their original location (Verona Hills area). In 1854, another risktaker from Estill County, Kentucky barreled into Washington Township with his family and his slaves to settle in Wasington Township. He bought Dabney’s land. His name was Marcus Gill, son of future KC Mayor, Turner Gill.

A blacksmith shop on the corner of Kansas and Missouri nestled the border. Lot 1 was one of the most popular lots in the town. Current lot owners of New Santa Fe, such as Leroy Eddy (Lot 28, D. Lipscomb's Addition), have uncovered horseshoes and nails on his land. Lot 7 and 10 proved to be of historic significance, as a nationwide symbol of a trailblazer, Jim Bridger, opened a business.

John Pope Smith's grave
Blue Ridge Cemetery, Grandview
Stay tuned- I'll be posting about "Old Gabe" in New Santa Fe next time!

The town boasted a blacksmith shop, a stonecutter, a mercantile business, a hotel, a carriage maker, a doctor and a dentist. Men who had helped frame the future of Kansas City first rolled the dice in New Santa Fe.

The very first masonic lodge in Jackson County, Missouri was at J.P. Smith’s shop that was on the border between Missouri and Kansas. The records were burned in the Border Wars around 1856 and the chapter most likely dissolved at this point. I had heard of this masonic connection in my research, and I was humbled when I first saw J.P. Smith’s final resting place at Blue Ridge Cemetery in Grandview. There I was, once again stumbling around in an old cemetery, my eyes skimming each stone for signs. And there it was- J.P. Smith’s grave. With a smirk, I snapped a photo, the masonic symbol clear as day on his stone.

 The masonic symbol on a broken plate dug out of
the ground at Prudence and Bob True's home in New Santa Fe

I really geeked out while on a tour of a neighborhood historic farm known as the Watson House. Amidst a pile of artifacts pillaged from the ground, I spied a piece of an ancient plate. It remained undetectable in the soil where it stayed incognito for over 100 years. As I gingerly lifted it up, the symbol stood out from all the artifacts-

The masonic symbol.


New Santa Fe has hidden itself from plain view for many, many years. First it was brutally beaten down on in the Border Wars; then, it suffered when the railroad was built south of the town in what became Martin City; and finally, suburban development engulfed its final pieces and all that remained of the ashes of the town. The only concrete objects which remain are the granite marker placed by the DAR in 1906 and the quiet cemetery fenced in with the swails from the wagons which traveled west nearby.

Leroy Eddy, a resident of the New Santa Fe
area for 40 years, proudly displays artifacts
recovered when his home was built

But there is always evidence to find - and I intend to keep finding it.

Coming Soon…. “The Revenant” Connection to New Santa Fe – Jim Bridger

Friday, April 1, 2016

Welcome to the New Santa Fe Trailer!

It’s hard to put into words the objective behind all of this, but I had my reasons…
It all started when I was a little girl. To be clear, I’m a 36 year old single teacher now, but my “little girl status” seems like only a few years ago. But, alas, it has been 30 (gasp!) years, and every year has taught me something new. My genealogical journey truly started when I was about seven years old.
Let me take you back to 1987.
Matt Euston (neighbor and cousin) and I playing in my backyard, 1983
While many were “Livin’ on a Prayer”  and others were “Walking like an Egyptian,”  I was walking up the street to a desolate stretch of land stamped in history. As we built around this land, a time capsule lived on in a small cemetery on Santa Fe Trail in Jackson County, Missouri. My amazing parents, Helen and Larry, built their simple ranch home in a subdivision dubbed “New Santa Fe” in 1974. This little subdivision is nestled in what was then considered south Kansas City.  Just next door, Verona Hills was being slowly developed by J.C. Nichols,  farm roads still crossed the landscape, State Line Road was a two-lane highway with no lights, and the Leawood Drive Inn was the biggest landmark within miles.
This was my home. And my parents made it work.
I heard a lot of amusing stories growing up about how there was a famous trail that crossed within the very foundations of this suburban development. I consider myself so blessed. The area I lived in matured as houses coated the rolling hills – the land to the south of my little house grew into a subdivision called Timber Trace, and I felt as if I traced those woods before any other. I was my own pioneer. My imagination soared; directly across the street from my house was a little field, unoccupied and mowed by Mr. Ron Hodgden. He wished to keep the neighborhood clean and the land was not developed, nor is it to this day. Just to the south of the land was a white barn. And just past that was a home that fascinated me to the core- the Watson Farm- a house built pre-Civil War that originally functioned as a tavern along the Trail. I never thought much about the land in the valley, but I knew it was special.
I grew up with history oozing around me. And, boy, how I am grateful. I used to shimmy through an old fence to trespass on land known as the Watson Farm isolated from everything else. I knew it was old, but how old was a mystery to me. I loved standing in front of the Watson Farm- that old, white brick house that was regal even over a century later.
Growing up on a street nestled next to “Santa Fe Trail” gave me a clue from history class and from stories surrounding me that I was someplace unique- even preserved, in a way.
New Santa Fe Cemetery
When I was seven, I would saunter up the hill to an old burial ground, an area that felt as if it were a time capsule amidst development. This is where my true fascination began, or so I tell people now. Even as a young child, I was drawn to these people marked in stone. I felt connected to them in a way I cannot aptly put into words, nor would I want to. I would enter the New Santa Fe Cemetery as a guest and feel like family. I can remember asking my mother to buy the materials to do grave rubbings. I wanted to connect  with these strangers – these people that lived before me. The Red Bridge Library was my next stop. I danced around the shelves, looking for information about the people that I connected with in that cemetery. I wanted to know everything.
This was my first real attempt at genealogy work, and I was less than a decade old.
Go, Diane!
As the years went by, I stumbled through life doing some amazingly fun things with the neighborhood crew: my brother, Jeff, my cousins, Jason and Matt (who lived in one of the historic lots just up the street), Ralph (aka Angelo) Trozzolo and his sisters, Jill and Sarah, Molly O’Dower, Ray Clark, the McInerney’s, the Syrett's… and a host of other kids. I can vividly remember carving out a trail (ironic) in the woods behind Santa Fe Trail  and in the woods behind  Jason and Matt Euston’s backyard. The objective: find an outlet to the gas station on State Line. In 1987,it was called “Pip’s,” and Pip’s had everything! We would shovel our way through the woods in any season to get some candy and explore. This gas station has been rebuilt and is now called Fleming.
My two best friends, Karen and Mary, moved from California about this time and would come over to our house to do some exploring of our own. This led to “The Mystery Club,” where we would oftentimes trespass on the old Watson Farm’s territory and create new adventures to solve. Did I mention we found a treasure map? And, there was quicksand near the creek?
The first edition of The Santa Fe Trailer, 1984
Nostalgia provided by Angelo Trozzolo
Some of the entrepreneurs of the subdivision New Santa Fe, such as Angelo Trozzolo, used an early Apple computer to publish a neighborhood paper called The Santa Fe Trailer. This is where the name of this blog originated from- the old newspaper. We took an old red wagon and filled it with copies, knocking on doors to distribute the newspaper to the willing recipients. At this time, there was even a “rival” newspaper called 122nd Terrace Express published by the older and wiser Mike Micco.
My childhood in 1987 was awesome.
Who was Dabney Lipscomb? What about his son, Nathan? What do you mean people stopped in this town that no longer existed to gather supplies to explore the west?
I contribute the love of history and genealogy to these experiences, as insignificant and naive as they may seem. In 2000, my grandmother passed away, and everything became very real. I had to know more about my own family. As most amateurs do, I started with my last name – Euston. Within a few years, I had gathered information on their history and had expanded, per my mother’s request, to her side. A visit to distant relatives in Belgium rekindled my true passion for all things historical.
In 2004, I became a certified professional genealogist. It took me ten more years to revisit my first love: New Santa Fe.
A chance meeting at a local store had my mother explaining to the President of the Historical Society of New Santa Fe that I was “really good” at gathering information. An opportunity to help secure a grant through the Daughters of the American Revolution had the Historical Society sold. Within a few weeks, I was 100% devoted to erecting a plaque to honor the members of the church that stood in New Santa Fe (to read more about this incrdible topic , click here). The church was torn down in 1971. 
As I gathered my research, I found the historical records weren’t enough to truly demonstrate the affect this church’s demise had on the pioneer families that continued, even decades after the town had lost its true steam as a town of importance. I spent months combing over records, taking hundreds of pages of notes and organizing information. With the stories running dry and the information weak, I began to contact members of the families who attended the church in this historic, lost town. I learned of sacrifices, devotion and family. I heard of pioneers living on the frontier of injustice in midst chaos of the Civil War. I heard of legends and love lost. Within this time, I, too, fell in love with these people all over again – just as I had when I first met some of them in the cemetery at seven years old.
The development of Verona Hills taken from the cemetery, c. 1971. Photo courtesy
of Doug Harding
I feel today as I am still that tan-skinned, bleach blonde little girl swerving around the graves of the cemetery. I felt as if my research for the plaque wasn’t enough; I needed to tell the story of these people on a deeper level. I had already done a lot of the tough “digging” in records, and I wanted to share with the world what I have found out.  Why not continue the legacy of Washington Township, Oxford Township, New Santa Fe and the area through technology?
This site is dedicated to these pioneers, their stories and the lost memory of people, that even for a few months, stopped in New Santa Fe on their way to their destiny. We can learn so much for their survival and dedication. It is my goal to post regularly to share in the triumphs and failures of these amazing people. I hope only to give their stories credibility, life and circulate information for the generations to come.
I want everyone to feel as if they are that little girl in that cemetery.