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Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Hidden Treasures Found at the Four O'Clock Hill House

“One lives in the hope of becoming a memory.” 
― Antonio Porchia

The Four O'Clock Hill House
Occasionally things in life just happen as if they are conveniently placed upon your lap. Some of my best decisions both personally and professionally have been made based on my gut...  Like the time I quit my full time sales gig and gingerly slapped a whammy on my supportive parents.

Although the “plan” was lacking in details and I hadn’t quite figured out how I was going to, you know, pay my bills, I knew that my decision was long overdue and overly ambitious.

“I’m going to grad school to be a teacher.”


And the rest is history. What can I say? Sometimes you just… know.

Steve Hodgden knew when he stumbled upon a unique opportunity that he, too, was exactly where he was supposed to be. In 1983, while looking for a place for his expanding family to set roots in South Kansas City, a quirky and unconventional chance crossed in front of his path.

Steve and Wendy crept through the stone gates of the charming farmhouse at 512 Santa Fe Trail.  The communities of Red Bridge, Verona Hills and even Avila University were built around the foundations of this diamond in the rough. The country house oozed of a simplicity long since retired in modern architecture.
Steve and Wendy Hodgden, current owners of the Four O'Clock Hill House

This house may have been made for this guy.

Steve is never one for the conventional. Unbiased, matter-of-fact, and animated in his delivery, Mr. Hodgden is as passionate as I am about the preservation of the past. His wife, Wendy knew she was in trouble when Steve began to rattle off a laundry list of reasons why this risky yet tempting purchase was perfect for their family.

Wendy was reluctant- but Steve is a salesman.

In 1983, they became the proud, ambitious new owners of the farmhouse known in Washington Township as “The Four O’Clock Hill House.”

Steve, owner of Midwest Home, a home inspection company in operation since 1977, started gingerly taking apart the 150 year-old history of the home, its land and even its very foundation. Due to his background in home inspections, oftentimes combing over some of the oldest residences in Kansas City, Steve knew how to correctly renovate and accurately search for the hidden history of their home.

With a crooked smile and a twinkle in his eye, he affectionately refers to this special home as “old girl.”

Previous owners had left some accounts behind of their time within the farmhouse. But Steve wanted to pick it apart and dig (pun intended) deeper within the stories – and within his own house.

Current view of the Four O'Clock Hill House
The Four O’Clock Hill House got its rare and fitting name from the pioneers and travelers on the Santa Fe Trail. When wagon trains would leave Independence on their long and arduous journey, they would reach the area of the home around 4:00 in the afternoon.

As wagons barreled through what is now Minor Park, south down Holmes Road and then across west in front of where St. Thomas More Catholic Church is today, one of the only signs of white settlement was the Four O’Clock Hill House standing solo on the hillside. Wagons then turned south once again, around the corner and then west up the hill to the town of New Santa Fe.

This location became a physical marker on the route, the goal being to see the farmhouse on the horizon when a pioneer's pocket watch hit 4:00.  Men, women and children would stop in front of this home to water the oxen and horses from the large cistern and 50 foot hand dug rock well.

After watering up, the wagon trains would wind down the hill and then climb up to the camping grounds near the town of New Santa Fe.

But before New Santa Fe was incorporated, a guy named William Gray (1801-cir. 1885) had already settled the area. And he built himself that sturdy little home on top of a hill.

Around 1833, William and his wife, Elizabeth (Thrash) Gray packed up their belongings and four children under the age of nine and moved from Montgomery County, Virginia to the American frontier. According to land records, William Gray was the first man to settle on Section 8 in Washington Township, Jackson County, Mo.

In 1844, William purchased 180 acres of surveyed land in Washington Township. This marked the simplistic beginning of the Four O’Clock Hill House.

William Gray (1801-cir. 1885)
History books note that William Gray and his brother, Edward, were some of the very first settlers of Washington Township. Unfortunately, the information about William’s pioneer life, minus a few census records, halts here.  Besides knowing that he was the original owner of the Four O’Clock House and that he was a farmer and stock raiser, the evidence of his endeavors have been lost in time.

William dug a foundation, built a home, carved out a well and built a root cellar on this property. His journey west had ceased on the hills of Washington Township. But the well and cistern on his property provided services for thousands of pioneers that chose to expand their land search west on the Santa Fe Trail.

Like many pioneer farmers, William and his wife did their "duty" and helped populate Washington Township. He was the father of the following children: Joseph, James, Rachel, Valentine, Amanda, William, Virginia, Hugh, Thomas and Floyd.

A myriad amount of stories of sacrifice and pioneer tensions can be found within the lives of his children and help tell us of the hardships we today have a difficult time grasping.

His oldest son, Joseph (1826-1865), lived with New Santa Fe founder Dabney Lipscomb when he was a young man, most likely working on his farm to pave his own way. Joseph married Lucinda “Lou” Munday in Jackson County in 1854. By 1865, he and his wife are living in Johnson County, Ks. with their three children. It appears from he sparse records that do exist that Joseph died in 1865 and then his wife died shortly thereafter-  leaving three children to fend on their own.

Two of them ended up in Falls County, Texas and are listed as “orphans.”

With such a big family spread out on the frontier, why were they orphans hundreds of miles away from the homestead? And why did the Gray family not step in?

We will most likely never know, but it really helps open our eyes to the perseverance required to make it during this time.

Hugh H. Gray's resting place at South Heights 
Cemetery, Creek County, Oklahoma
Courtesy of
One of the youngest boys, Hugh H. Gray (1843-1926) served in the Confederate Army and settled in Seneca, Mo. He died in Creek County, Oklahoma.

The reason I find this fact especially intriguing is that William Gray, Hugh’s father, never owned slaves. He may have pledged to have been pro-slavery (and most likely did since his neighbors were extremely active in the pro-slavery community and would have been less-than-nice to him had he been otherwise), but he didn’t have his own "human chattel."

Valentine Gray (1833-1923), the first of his kids to be born in Missouri, is the most interesting of his offspring. Val would have grown up watching those wagon trains file past his home. Maybe he imagined the Wild West and developed a fascination for the newly opened American Frontier and what it had to offer.

Valentine paired up with pioneer of Jackson County, Lindsey Lewis (1787-1872) and set his sights on the western frontier. In May of 1852, he journeyed in an ox wagon across the plains to Santa Clara County, California with a group of unsettled, ambitious pioneers, many from Washington Township. 

The journey took five months.


This rough and tumble guy was only 19 years old when he left his family, showing the conviction of a young man with serious guts. Val seemed to have liked one custom he discovered when he reached California. There, many of the miners wore long beards.  He adopted this “custom” and never shaved again in his entire life. In an article in the Muskogee Times-Democrat, published a year before his death, Val stated he did it because he "just liked the beard."

That's over 70 years of not shaving.

Just be glad you weren’t married to this guy. That’d be pretty itchy… and unsanitary.

And probably smelly.

He stayed out west, working in teaming and hauling lumber. By 1869, he had moved to Mayes County, Oklahoma Territory and married a Cherokee woman named Mary Ann Rogers.

A partial clip from the Muskogee Times-Democrat featuring Valentine Gray, published May 6, 1922
Before William Gray goes AWOL from the records, he sold his land to his son, Val in 1876. This could have been security or just to unburden his parents, because Val didn’t move back to Missouri. His parents, William and Elizabeth, probably stayed at the Four O'Clock Hill House until their deaths while Val was comfortably living in the Cherokee nation and running a dry goods business. After Val's wife passed away, he married for a second time.

William Gray is speculated to have died around 1885 and was buried in an unknown location. His son continued to own the land his father sowed until 1902, probably renting it to people in the area.
The root cellar still remains as a reminder of the rich history of the
Four O'Clock Hill House

After a sixty-year time span of the Gray’s owning the Four O’Clock Hill House, their legacy stands today. As Steve continued to be the private investigator of his home, he found remnants of William Gray’s stamp on the land. The old cistern used by thousands of wagon trains that Gray built with his own hands has since been filled in. The location of it still sinks in spots. The root cellar and oldest parts of the foundations of the home were also built by William Gray and remain today.

Steve even repaired the original fifty foot well and left his own imprint on it, allowing his children to put their initials on the patched-up top. 

Steve reports that there appears to be evidence of a fire amidst the oldest parts of the foundation in a crawl space under the family room of the Four O’Clock House.

“Something catastrophic could have happened,” Steve stated matter-of-factly.

Now that is interesting… and I could see his excitement and wonder while I sat comfortably in Steve and Wendy’s home. Steve had points that I couldn’t argue- I could tell from his tone and his demeanor that he had been searching for years to find those missing pieces about his home. And just like me, he's never going to give up looking for the answers.

The well on the property 
But as a licensed home inspector, I’d say he’s pretty credible to locate and “diagnose” what would be the remnants of fire damage.

The Border Wars destroyed much of the community in the late 1850s and early 60s. Many rural homes hovering so close to the State Line in Jackson and Cass Counties were torched by Jayhawkers, and the Civil War leveled most of the rest. Even New Santa Fe was burned (more later on this...!)

Did William Gray’s original home suffer from the strife?

As hard as it was to hear, I knew Steve was right. The chances were high that the original house was destroyed during this time, and the only clues left are lingering in the remains of the original foundation.

The rubble stone foundation, serving the southeast and southwest portions of the house, predates the more conventional stone construction by many, many years. The majority of this rubble foundation stone is 'dry laid' without mortar. A small creepy cellar that is connected to the old section still exists today. 

Several families owned the home from the early 1900s to the 1920s. But the next big chapter of this home happened in 1924, when a well-to-do family decided country living superseded the Kansas City life.  

George Fred Mosher and his wife, Katharine Kupper Mosher (1892-1985) took the opportunity to move to an old farmhouse. A 1907 Cornell alum, Fred Mosher was at the time of his new purchase the president of his own real estate company. Katharine was the daughter of successful parents that opened a hotel in Kansas City. In 1924, the Mosher family of two traded city life for the countryside, buying the Four O’Clock Hill House.

Edward B. Delk
Courtesy of Oklahoma Wesleyan University
Unbeknownst to us today is the condition of the home when it was purchased by the Mosher’s. Regardless, the story goes that Katharine wished for the home to be renovated and torn almost completely to the ground.


Steve embraces this history of his home, as it does explain why the overall condition of the main structure is as sound as it is. Not to mention the fact that Steve and Wendy have taken really good care of the “old girl.”

Rebuilt atop the 1840s foundation, this "old girl" got a modern makeover. And the supposed architect in charge of this was none other than Edward B. Delk (1885-1956).

You may not recognize the name, but you certainly recognize his exemplary, timeless work.

Some of the earliest Plaza buildings? Check.

Starlight Theater? Check.

Delk was one of Kansas City’s – and the Midwest’s- finest architects of the 20th Century. Brought to Kansas City as a consulting architect when plans for the Plaza were being made by J.C. Nichols, he traveled to South America and Spain to get inspiration for his work.

Early on in his Kansas City career, he allegedly traveled to Washington Township to give Mrs. Mosher her dream (rebuilt) farmhouse.

Steve comes alive when he talks of her contributions to his home and the possibility of Delk's involvement. There are hand-painted stencils bordering bedrooms upstairs, in his opinion a part of this massive overhaul of the Four O’Clock Hill House.

The old stencils are still preserved within
the upstairs of the home
There are original toilets from 1924, only further confirmation that they certainly don’t build em’ like they used to.

As far as Steve has discovered, the interior wall and ceiling finishes are lathe and plaster, consistent with early 1900's built houses.

The original window frames on the main level were all designed to be double French doors (a feature now removed) and there was originally a porch that wrapped around the entire structure.

Steve’s ultimate goal has been to add the charming porch back onto the house.

The Mosher’s stayed until Katharine, after the death of her husband, sold the property in 1946 to George W. Cartlich.

Cartlich was a character in and of himself. He was the advertising manager for Woolf Brothers. In Fourth Estate: A Newspaper for the Makers of Newspapers, they claimed in 1922 that Cartlich was "known throughout the country for copy which literally glitters with human interest."

A talented artist, Cartlich took pride in his Four O’Clock Hill home. Oftentimes he hand drew the home for his Christmas cards, delicately sketching wreaths on the windows and fluffy snow on the ground.
1946 Cartlich Christmas card of the Four O'Clock House,
 showing the old buildings and water tower
Courtesy of Steve Hodgden

Steve and Wendy are thrilled to have some of his artwork displayed in their home. One piece has stayed as a permanent resident. Above the main fireplace in the family room is a lovely hand-painted mural of the outside of the home done by none other than Cartlich himself.

By 1953, Carlich said goodbye to his Four O’Clock Hill Home and passed on the torch to new owners.

Thirty years later, Wendy’s mother, a real estate agent, took a risk by showing the Hodgden’s the home. And the rest is history.

A current view of the family room, featuring
the mural above the fireplace painted by G.W. Cartlich
Old, historic homes have a way of staying with you. They enrapture your imagination. As a grade school student at St. Thomas More, I drove past the Four O’Clock Hill House every day, and rarely did I not glance over, even for a second, and admire the architecture. That pale yellow home stuck out from all the rest in the area, but not just because it is a different style.

It is special.

Steve and Wendy continue to take pride in their piece of history. Steve will keep saving documents, maps, articles, photos and notes to his mounds of organized computer files. The research is never complete. The stories continue to surface and paint a bigger picture than the one above the fireplace at 512 Santa Fe Trail.

As the sunlight faded and my visit to the Four O’Clock Hill Home came to an end, the room turned animated again when we all recalled a time in the 1980s when a live reenactment of pioneer wagon trains on their journey west came through the area.

I remember hearing the distant sound of hooves clacking up Santa Fe Trail by my home and running up the street with my mom to get a front row seat. There was something nostalgic and stunningly beautiful about watching it pass by...  even those with little imagination or care for history were able to take a step back in time.

Wendy and Steve vividly recollect that day, too. “Can you imagine it? Five hundred wagon trains traveled down the road and up this very hill to this house. I got goosebumps. It’s fascinating,” Wendy proclaimed with awe in her voice, followed by a heartfelt sigh.
A view in the late 1970s of the Four O'Clock Hill House
Courtesy of Steve Hodgden
A close-up of the hand-painted mural above the fireplace
* Please keep in mind that the Four O'Clock Hill is private property :) 

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