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Wednesday, February 28, 2018

The Pioneer Neighborhood That Kansas City Erased: Pearl Street Hill

The climb up the hill was never too much for those who wanted to see the most incredible view of the Town of Kansas and beyond; the bluff overlooked the impressionable landscape of the Missouri River, undisturbed by modern railways, smog and city distractions.

They gathered as if it was a holiday. Seats for the grand showcase were “reserved” by the city’s finest pioneer families. Women amassed on the sweeping front porches to ensure their view of the day’s activities. From the Chouteau place and the Riddlesbarger mansion, women in their finest garb filed in and festered over the Southern cause on large porches facing the River.

This place was one of the secession, trapped only by the Missouri River to the north and the city that would soon be.

In order to make their viewpoint seen and not heard, Jesse Riddlesbarger and his Southern friend, Charles Kearns ensured that the Confederate flag hung high from this hill. It was, in fact, the first Confederate flag raised in Kansas City.

The women cheered as they congregated on the large front porches of these stately homes. Beside the flagpole, erected by Charles Kearns, was a well-positioned working cannon aimed perfectly northeast toward the enemy.

As the well-dressed women, complete with the fashions of the northeast, took their seats on the porches of these Southern-built mansions in now-downtown Kansas City, hoisted over 60 feet above current-day Kansas City, the men gathered around the cannon to set it straight. An enormous crowd, “wild with enthusiasm” gathered and the cheers could be heard as each flint was lit and cannon flew freely over into the Mighty Missouri River.  

The crowd erupted into a frenzy of cheer; the ladies waved their dainty handkerchiefs and applauded while the men swigged their whiskey and lit the next wave of activity. The small slave cabins nearby were nearly empty, as the household slaves were expected to be awaiting the needs of those in attendance.

Image courtesy of the New York Times
These Kansas City pioneers certainly had Southern tendencies. In this neighborhood situated well above the grade of the blossoming city below it, this was felt from every corner of its being and would partially lead to its death within the city’s landscape.

The east side of this blossoming city was simply pro-Southern. The northern side- where Quality Hill would eventually sprawl out amongst the western bluffs from Westport Landing- would turn to the Union cause.

But the war had not been fought yet. This was before the area was split in two.

Pearl Hill, once a sprawling bluff amassing the early coast of Kansas City, tells the story of early settlers and the spirit of the new west. Pearl Hill sprawled south from the levee, climbed to 1st St. (also known as Pearl St.) to the north, 2nd St. to the south, Grand St. (Market St. at the time) to the east and Main St. to the west. The hill was so steep before grading that accessibility to Pearl St. (1st) was easiest from Market St.- and its grade was only enough to hold a horse and wagon up its steep incline.

Pearl Street was almost a dead end. Its climb from the east to the west ended as the finest homes ever built at the time were revealed in full scope. Yes, their beauty could be partially seen from the crevasses below, but the true scenic grandeur was spotted when one ascended the steep hill and surveyed the sweeping scenery of the Missouri River.

1855 Drawing of the Town of Kansas. Pearl Hill can be seen on the left atop the Hill
The faint whistle of the steamboat gliding down the River would send surveyors to their windows on Pearl Hill to guess which ship was coming from afar. This view was one of a kind; never could anyone picture the panoramic landscape this natural slope would lend to the early settlers of the city.

Yet it was the place to live and to be.

And it has been completely erased from the landscape of Kansas City today. 

John C. McCoy's plat map of the Town of Kansas, 1847
As the Town of Kansas was platted by John Calvin McCoy, he envisioned the future as much as he could. The bluffs of the area were always an issue, and McCoy foresaw this as he laid out each lot and street. Pearl Hill was no exception, but even with the foreseeable future, the Town Company never truly imagined the industrialization that would inundate the landscape.

As the town of Kansas began to grow from the landing and into the impassable hills that blocked the journey to the south, the elite rose to the occasion and built their beautiful homes above the action on one of the largest bluffs.

Thus, Pearl Street Hill was born.

For as prominent as this pioneer settlement of Pearl Street Hill was, there is very little information in the history books about it. Yet at the time that the Town of Kansas was turning into a city, the men and women that wished to have a prominent view of a city slowly emerging to the north and the boats docking below to the south chose Pearl Hill as their residence as early as 1844.

To truly understand the historic value of this elusive hill, we must understand a little of the early history of the city.

The original Town Company (the 14 original founders of Kansas City) in November 1838 finally, after years of being held up, was able to purchase the land that would become the original city. 

Only a few buildings stood in the Town of Kansas up to this point. In 1847, John C. McCoy surveyed the land again, concentrating on angling the streets toward the river and not parallel north and south.  According to Kansas City and How It Grew by James R. Shortridge, “[McCoy’s] effort was followed by a successful auction, with lots on the levee going for as much as $341. By that fall, the community claimed 300 residents, and it had 400 more in 1848.”

Market Street, now current-day Grand Ave., was the main thoroughfare in town and to this day runs at a southwesterly direction from the original Westport Landing. To the west he laid out Main St. The area in between these two roads was a large bluff or hill, and below it was the levee. The first businesses,  including boarding houses, outfitting stores and warehouses of the town, were on the levee.

Lithograph of the Kansas City Riverfront Scene, cir. 1850
Courtesy Missouri Valley Special Collections
This hill overlooking the Mighty Mo was going to be a problem, as its grade was too steep to permit easy travel to what would become the heart of Kansas City. But at this point, the business district was at the levee, snuggling close to the riverbank. McCoy simply placed a small road, running east to west between Main St. and Market St., called 1st Street. On later maps, it is identified as Pearl St.

The easiest access point to Pearl St. was from the eastern side of this towering bluff called Pearl Hill. City “planners” and buyers of lots ensured that a horse and buggy could climb up the hill. It was never cut through or a main thoroughfare; it just meandered up this extremely large hill and stopped where buggies could then turn around and trickle back down.

Can you imagine it? Buying a lot on top of an exceptionally large bluff and then having to build on it? No, thanks! Then again, mountain climbing or hiking has never been my thing.

But this is exactly what some of Kansas City’s elite did. Starting in the 1840s and beyond, Pearl Street Hill became one of the most prominent places in a budding city.

The journey up the hill and the records from it are scarce and quite difficult to put together. In fact, a friend of mine has been piecing together the history of Pearl Hill for years and still there are questions left. Because the Hill had such a limited history and its elitist status was so short-lived, Pearl Hill was left and forgotten.

Map of approximately where these houses stood on Pearl Hill. Drawing courtesy of Helen Van Hecke :)
But today, we are going to take a stroll up Pearl Hill and meet some of its finest residents. In order to keep up with the "tour," the drawing provided here may help keep things in order. :)

Berenice Chouteau

After hiking up Pearl Hill from Market Street, one of the first residences within view would have been that of Berenice Chouteau (1808-1888). John McCoy coined Mme. Chouteau as being the first white woman in the area and as the “Mother of Kansas City.”

When Berenice arrived in the area with her husband in 1821 with two small children in tow, she had no idea of what glories she would see grow out of the bluffs. Her husband established a trading post, carrying on the family business further west, as he was licensed to trade with the Native Americans.

Berenice Chouteau
Native Sons of Kansas City
They first lived on the north side of the Missouri River in a log cabin. Chouteau’s new trading post was visited by the Native American tribes and by fur trappers as far as the Rocky Mountains.

As the successful Chouteau trading business continued to grow, tragedy struck. In 1838, Francois passed away. Some accounts state it was from a heart attack while others mention he may have been trampled by horses during an Indian raid.

This left Berenice a widow at 30 years old.

Berenice could have easily left Kansas City and returned to the rich comfort of St. Louis, but she chose to stay. After flood waters in 1844 washed away her home on lower ground, her son, Pierre built her a home well above higher ground on Pearl Hill.

As the wagon coursed its way up the hill from Market St. in 1847, flowers and shrubbery could be seen cascading down the hill. This was part of Mme. Chouteau’s new property. The home itself was described as “the largest and finest house in the town, and stood in the very center of Pearl Hill.” The house itself was two-story, built with hand hewn logs of walnut and cedar. As one entered the palatial home, there was a large hall in the center with two large rooms on each side. Each had its own large fireplace. A steep stairway led to two rooms on the second floor, and a two-story porch led to lovely afternoons and evenings outdoors catching the breeze off the river below.

Odille Burnett, Berenice’s granddaughter, recalled, “The long verandas of the house and the French windows opened on the veranda that extended the length of it. Negro cabins dotted the rear yard. The yard was filled with flowers and was kept in perfect condition.”

Kansas City Star, February 14, 1926
Berenice reminisced, “Singing in the moonlight in rustic seats under the trees of the old Pearl Street homes, watching the lights of the steamboats reflected in splashing waves of the river and listening to the deck hands who sang Southern melodies. . . I can hear the [slaves] now, singing ‘Swing Low Sweet Chariot,’ ‘Rock My Julie Low and Easy,’ and ‘Do You Belong to Gideon’s Band?’”

Berenice was one that never thought twice about lending a helping hand. In 1849, a large cholera outbreak swept the small town. Many townspeople rushed to the country to escape disease. But Berenice would never think of leaving anyone in need. Just as she had done in 1827 when the epidemic hit the community – she ministered to the Indians- Berenice stayed behind and nursed the sick from her home.

W.H. Chick, pioneer and owner of another home on Pearl Hill, described Berenice and her lovely residence. “Here was another place where hospitality was dealt with a lavish hand. Inherent French politeness and wealth characterized the entertainment. The house was always full of gaiety and good cheer.”

Berenice stayed at her home on the hill until around 1859 when she left for the French settlement on Ste. Genevieve where her family held land. She did return to Kansas City in 1870 and passed away in 1888. But the twelve years she spent on that hill overlooking the Santa Fe Trail and the Missouri River gave her a front row view to the growth of a city.

The Demise

In McCoy’s “Tales of an Old Timer,” he wrote in 1888, “Her old home, I think, may be still seen as one of the relics and landmarks of the past era of the city.”
Drawing in the Kansas City Star
February 7, 1896
But really all that was left after the streets were graded over 30 feet on the side of Market St. (Grand Ave.) were the remnants of an old house. In an 1896 article from the Kansas City Star called “An Historic House Gone,” it described that the house had been desecrated by vagrants; the floors and wooden beams had been used for kindling fires. “With the exception of the ruins of a fireplace and few ‘ground logs’ on a stone foundation,” the article explains, “this has been torn down and only the remains of the original house are now visible.”

The ruins of this home sold for $36 in 1896.

Digest that.

Today, the Mother of Kansas City’s home has completely vanished and is replaced by flattened earth complete with a grain elevator. The Grand Ave. Bridge doesn’t even come close to matching the height of Berenice’s home on Pearl Hill.

John Calvin “Cal” McCoy

John C. McCoy wrote, “Just across the street north [from Chouteau’s] stands the first ever brick home built in Kansas City by the writer in 1845.”

When I think of McCoy, I think of the founding of Westport and a well-known watering hole there called McCoy’s Public House. So when I envision McCoy in the area, I tend to think of Westport and not of Kansas City. To my surprise, I found that one of the original members of the Town Company did, in fact, live in Kansas City.

John C. "Cal" McCoy
John C. McCoy (1811-1899) is synonymous with the history of the area. A civil engineer by trade, McCoy is responsible for much of the way that Kansas City looks today. He had a vision in mind, and he was able to see the Town of Kansas grow into a metropolis during his lifetime.

The son of missionary Rev. Isaac McCoy and wife Christiana, Cal moved with his parents to the area in 1830. He founded West Port in 1833 and was part of the Town Company in 1838.

He smartly invested in numerous lots that he had plotted out in the Town of Kansas. In 1845, he built the first-ever brick home within the city limits; the bricks of this home were fired at James Hyatt McGee’s kiln near present-day Westport.

There are conflicting accounts on the who lived where and when; unscrambling the pieces of this puzzle is difficult to say the least. Did the McCoy family possibly have two homes on Pearl Hill? This is not ruled out, but for the sake of the preponderance of the evidence, I believe one home owned by the McCoy’s existed on Pearl Hill.

Christiana, John’s mother and widow of Isaac, moved to the house on the northwest corner of Market and Pearl St. It was a large two-story L-shaped colonial home in style. In the rear of the home were cabins for slaves.

In 1909, Frank B. Wornall (1855-1914) wrote an article for the Kansas City Star and explained, “I attended school for a period conducted by my aunt in the John McCoy home on Pearl St. Hill. . . They were proud, substantial mansions of the era, built of stone and brick and hand-hewn timbers. The home of John C. McCoy, built of brick with a wing, faced the river in a grove of locust trees with a lawn of fine blue grass and flower beds on all sides.”

Lithograph of the Riverfront, circa-1850 with reference of the probable location of the McCoy house.
Standing before McCoy constructed his stately home was a log cabin with a brand-new roof. He didn’t want to waste a perfectly good roof, so the workman were instructed by McCoy to hoist the roof up on props while the walls were laid, brick-by-brick, below it. Author Washington Irving visited McCoy and wrote of the “superb view up and down the river from the commanding height.”

While McCoy lived on fashionable Pearl St. Hill, he owned and operated a ferry across the Missouri River. Nellie McCoy Harris (1840-1926), one of the “belles of Pearl Street,” wrote of her experiences on the hill. She recalled that Cynthia, one of his slaves, would go outside in front of the brick home and blow into a conch shell. The roar of the whistle from the conch shell would echo through the bluffs and alert Cal that supper was ready.

The shell was still in the possession of the family in the 1920s.

The McCoys left Pearl St. in 1856 and sold his home to Captain and Mrs. John Boarman.

Nellie was later involved in smuggling rifles to Independence to aid the bushwhackers in the area. The family, Confederate sympathizers, were banished from Kansas City during the war and lived in Glasgow, Mo.

The Demise

There are disputing accounts to when exactly the John C. McCoy house was demolished. A tornado in 1886 may have damaged it, as it did many homes that still remained.

1894 drawing of the first brick house in the city
Published in the Kansas City Star
In the Kansas City Star in April 1894, they reported of the destruction of the old John C. McCoy homestead. It states, “The demolition began to-day of an old brick house which has stood for forty-six years at the northwest corner of Grand Ave. and Pearl St.”

According to Dr. Campbell in 1913, very little was left of the house. He wrote, “Nothing but the cellar excavation and part of the large cistern now remain. The path of the hill is at a mountain-climbing incline, dangerously close to the edge of the old cistern. Pearl Hill is inaccessible now by vehicular transportation of any kind.”

Today, there is no hill to speak of at Grand Ave. and what would be Pearl St. To imagine the stately structure that once stood as the first brick house in Kansas City is left to the imagination and the disappointment of what progress leaves behind.

William J. Jarboe

The second oldest son of Joseph Jarboe, Jr., who came from Kentucky to Chouteau’s settlement in 1834, William J. Jarboe (1823-1894) operated a business on the levee between Main and Walnut. He was one of the only residents on Pearl Hill along with the Shannons who didn’t have slaves. However, his association with the “rebel sympathizers,” which were many of his neighbors on the Hill, had him placed on several lists by the Union Army.

From his home on Pearl St. just west of Market St., Jarboe could gaze down upon his three-story brick business on the levee. Dr. Campbell in 1913 wrote, “It was a large, two-story frame house, facing south, built to great extent of walnut wood. . . It fronted south on Pearl St. and was painted a yellowish brown. In the front yard were poplar trees.”

The Demise

In a Kansas City Star article in 1893, it explains, “Just to the west [of the McCoy house] is a pile of bricks. . . Every brick is part of the old days, when it was built by William Jarboe, who is still living. . . Last week it was standing as it stood for 50 years, a wreck, but still a house. All that remains is a brick walk that ran from the gate on Pearl St. to the front porch and east side of the house.”

Thus, the Jarboe mansion on Pearl St. was leveled before the turn of the century.

Washington Henry (W.H.) Chick

The son of William Miles Chick, W.H. Chick (1826-1918) was the second postmaster in Kansas City and came to the area when he was only about ten years old. As one would pass the McCoy and Jarboe houses on the north side of Pearl fronting the river, the next residence was the home of W.H. Chick.

After his father’s death in 1847, Washington and one of his brothers continued to run their father’s business on the levee.

This home, built in 1857, was unlike any of the others. It was a “Cincinnati House,” a pre-constructed home manufactured in that city and shipped downriver for on-site assembly. It’s described as a one story, seven room white frame cottage. Nellie McCoy Harris indicated that most of W.H. Chick’s children were born at this home.

Laura Lyons Eberle, who was raised in the Chick household, recalled, “Waiting for the steamboats to come around the bend was great excitement for the children of Pearl Street. We knew the different boats by the shape of their smokestacks before they came near enough for us to spell the letters of their names. We were always on the lookout for the circus steamboat, which carried a minstrel show and monkey show. When it came out, parents would take us to the levee, and we indulged in more thrills over those steamboat shows than children do nowadays over the big circus.”

When W.H. Chick died in 1918, he was hailed the oldest resident in Kansas City and revered as an amateur historian of the area.

The Demise

1894 drawing featured in the Kansas City Star of the Chick house
Ironically, the prefabricated home built of wood was one of the last homes standing on Pearl Hill. Even in 1894, the Star professed, “The frame cottage of W.H. Chick, the banker, is about the only one of all the old houses left.”

In an article from the Kansas City Star in 1895, it states, “The destruction by fire of the dwelling built by Mr. W. H. Chick in 1857 obliterates a landmark indeed. It removes a starting point from which the journey of Kansas City might be traced.”

As the Hill was practically gouged away from all sides for new streets and the value of land was lower to the ground, the few remnants of the past still had survived. But this last standing home on the hill was somewhat prophetic of the near future.

W.M. Chick

William Miles Chick oil painting
by George Caleb Bingham
Just to the west next door to Washington Chick’s home was his father’s residence. William Miles Chick (1794-1847) was a tobacco farmer from Virginia who settled first in Westport. He opened a general store in 1837 and moved to the Town of Kansas in 1843. He then established himself as a fur trader. He was part of the original Town Company with McCoy and was the first postmaster of Kansas City. In 1844, he built large two-story double log frame house on the northeast corner of Pearl and Walnut St., painted white. It was described by his son in his memoirs to have oak floors and walnut stairways. In W.H. Chick’s son’s obituary in 1918, the house is said to have been “the first residence in all of Kansas City.” The hallway upstairs had a sweeping view of the Missouri River. On both the east and west side were brick fireplaces. The house was a landmark for river pilots and “guided them around the bend of the river.”

In a 1937 article in the Kansas City Star, it states, “To that house near what is now the corner of 2nd and Walnut streets came many great men as guests. Senator Thomas Hart Benton was there often. So was John C. Fremont, his son-in-law, famous explorer of the West, and Washington Irving, the author. There must have been good talk in that house.”

Success was short-lived when William Chick died of pneumonia in 1847. The house then passed through several owners.

The Demise

The last resident of the home was Dr. J.T. Morris who lived in the house from 1868 to 1871. Dr. Morris razed the house in 1879 and used the timber to build a stable. So, the famed first house in Kansas City was gone.

John Campbell

Born in 1820 in Ireland, Campbell came with his wife Charlotte to what would be Kansas City. His uncle, Robert Campbell was an original Town Company owner and sold his shares to him. John (1820-1900), hailing from Ireland, came to the city in the early 1850s and was a successful freighter on the Santa Fe Trail.
Colorization of the Campbell Home
Courtesy of John Dawson 

Some accounts state that in 1850, a large, brick three story mansion was built by a steamboat captain named Lewis Sharp. In 1856, he sold this beautiful home to the Campbell family where they lived until around the outbreak of the Civil War.

On this tour of Pearl St. Hill, this home would be across Walnut St. just west of the Chick mansion on the northwest corner and had white balconies facing the river. Wagons would turn around between the Chick house and John Campbell’s house, as the view of the river was especially pleasing from here. Theodore Case wrote in 1857, “The only houses visible from the river on the hill were those of John Campbell and one adjoining it to the south, both 2 story brick.”

Just south of the Campbell house was the early home of Dr. Johnston Lykins, brother-in-law to Cal McCoy. He abandoned Pearl Hill around 1857 when he built a fourteen-room home for his new wife at the corner of 12th and Broadway on the newest posh address in the city: Quality Hill.

Even though the Campbell’s left Pearl Hill in 1861, people continued to refer to the home as the “Campbell House.” They abandoned their house on the hill for a new home at 4th and Charlotte.

Campbell and Charlotte Streets are both named in honor of these pioneers that once called Pearl Hill their home.

The Demise

Photo shows the need to build a staircase in order
to descend to street level after grading
When Walnut St. was graded and cut through in 1871, the future of Pearl Hill looked grim. A further cut, literally slicing Pearl St. (1st St.) in 1875 had the Campbell house leaning and dangling on the bluff. Unwilling to give up, the new residents of the Campbell house built a rickety wooden staircase down to the ground below.

These photos of this home have become well-known and showcased when historians wish to show the amount of cutting that was done in downtown Kansas City.

The tornado in May 1886 extensively damaged the brick home, but it miraculously survived. It was never repaired. In May 1889, the Kansas City Star reported, “The house still stands but is in a dilapidated condition. It is the place where the city proposed to establish a smallpox hospital.”

That alone tells you how isolated the once palatial Pearl Hill was.

Dr. Campbell wrote, “A building contractor removed and utilized what material he could in 1903, and the remainder is a heap of debris, covered with a profusion of sweet clover that makes the neighborhood fragrant and that sprung from seed sewn by the pioneers.”

Jesse Riddlesbarger/Patrick Shannon

No more was there a colorful addition of character on Pearl Hill than that of Jesse Riddlesbarger (1820-1883). A staunch Southern sympathizer, Jesse moved with his first wife to the Kansas City area around 1850 when he had invested in the Mechanics Bank in Kansas City and St. Louis. His first wife died in 1852 as he was constructing the bank at the northwest corner of 2nd and Main.

Jesse Riddlesbarger, cir. 1850
In 1853, Jesse married Susan Norton, one of the “belles of the Hill.” Her father’s home was about midway between Walnut and Grand. She was sixteen. . . he was 53.

She was younger than his children.

The Kansas City Star reported in 1926, “Mr. Riddlesbarger was a rich man. For those days, his wealth was considered extraordinary. . . [He] was proud of his wife – of her youth and beauty. Her complexion was dazzling, her cheeks crimson, her hair jet black. He gave her everything she desired – beautiful dresses, a velvet mantle, and bonnet with the finest of French roses that wreathed her face as she wore it, a set of corals that set off her black hair, a set of agates.”

Jesse needed a home to match the beauty of his wife. Thus, in 1858, he decided the forested bluff of Pearl Hill would be the place to build a house to outlast the ages. The northwest corner of 2nd and Walnut was selected due to its height on the bluffs- it reached 60 feet high at this point on the Hill.

The mansion was the “showplace of Kansas City elite.” The brick had been brought in from St. Louis. The woodwork and elaborately carved stairway was made of walnut. Walls of white enamel and the large marble mantels were imported from Italy. The mansion had carved rosewood furniture in the drawing room and mahogany in the bedrooms. On its floors were velvet carpets brought in from Brussels. It was the first home in Kansas City to have French papers on its walls and impressive oil paintings of Jefferson Davis and Robert E. Lee.

Riddlesbarger-Shannon Mansion on the northeast corner of 2nd and Walnut
Courtesy of John Dawson 
But Riddlesbarger’s Southern ways were becoming more and more unpopular in Kansas City; the arrival by steamboat of thousands of Kansas-bound Northern abolitionists and the presence of Union troops had tensions running high. Union troops harassed local merchants who were suspected of being Confederates. But Riddlesbarger was unapologetic, unrepentant, and spoke his mind without reservation. He is said to have “seized every opportunity to criticize and taunt the Union troops which occupied the city, and spoke publicly against the thieving northern army.”

On Sunday evening, March 3, 1862, both Jesse Riddlesbarger and William M. Chick’s warehouses on the levee were destroyed by fire. It was no secret that Union troops had committed the arson.  The J. & P. Shannon and Jarboe stores, just to the west, would also be victimized by Union troops who extorted and then stole merchandise from them on four documented occasions.

Jesse was called Gen. Ewing’s “fiercest antagonist in the Town of Kansas.” Just four days after Gen. Thomas Ewing issued the infamous Gen. Order No. 11, banishing people from their homes that were one mile outside of military stations, he penned a very special order just for Jesse Riddlesbarger.

Patrick Shannon
Courtesy of John Dawson
Special Order No. 64 read: “District of the Border, Kansas City, Mo:  Jesse Riddlesbarger and family, residents of Kansas City, Mo., are ordered to remove from this district within ten days from the date hereof. They will not go to the Counties of Platte, Clay, Ray or Carroll, Missouri, to reside, nor return to this district during the rebellion, without previous express permission from competent military authority. By Order of Brigadier General Ewing, Major and Provost Marshal.”

A dozen other Kansas Citians were listed by name and sent packing.

Jesse was 63 years old when he was banished, and his immense wealth soon evaporated. He moved his family to St. Louis, where he conducted a grocery business that failed, and he evidently spent his last years working as a watchman. He died in a poorhouse in 1883.

The Shannon Brothers purchased the home and Phillip Shannon lived there until his death in 1866. Patrick Shannon (1824-1871), an Irish-born dry goods merchant who lived with his wife, Mary Jarboe in a small cottage on Pearl Hill, then moved into the home. Mayor of Kansas City in 1864-1865, Patrick Shannon was a well-respected businessman. His wife was “a beautiful and interesting brunette.” This house became the social center for young people even as grading destroyed the hill in front of them. Shannon died in the home in 1871 and his wife continued to live there until 1881.

The Demise

1869- Northeast corner of 2nd and Walnut looking east from Delaware
Mechanics Bank can be seen on the left- Riddlesbarger Mansion's rear
section can be seen on top of the hill on the right.
Courtesy of John Dawson
Sometime after Mrs. Shannon removed herself from the Riddlesbarger house, additional grading was completed that would have essentially knocked the house to the ground. Built 60 feet up from the street level, the house was never going to survive.

Although not perfectly clear when this incredible house was torn down to the ground, the best estimates would state it was sometime around the turn of the century. The house would have been on the northwest corner of 2nd and Walnut – the location today of the River Market Event Space (140 Walnut St). Interestingly enough, their website states that this was the location of the Jackson County Courthouse, built in 1872. But the location of this courthouse was on the east side of Main on 2nd Street- a block away.

Today, as you stand looking toward the River at 2nd and Walnut, imagine a six story building in front of you. That would have been the top of Pearl Hill and how high this Riddlesbarger mansion towered over the town of Kansas.

The End of Pearl Hill

The Civil War put a dagger into the heart of beloved Pearl Hill; many of the residents who grew with the embryo city into one of prestige were chased away, never to return. After the war and through Reconstruction, construction projects downtown sealed off Pearl Hill and its accessibility. What houses were left standing were left to rot; occasionally, vagrants would ascend on Pearl Hill and live amongst the ruins, but the beauty of what once was had been erased well before the 1880s.

Real estate values skyrocketing in the metropolis that was forming had real estate under the bluffs worth a pretty penny. Each new project, hailed as being a proponent of positive change, tore away another piece of Pearl Hill. Railroad activity along the levee polluted the once-beautiful view of the Missouri River as trains pushed out of Union Depot.

Nellie McCoy Harris, daughter of Cal McCoy, expressed deep concern for the loss of Pearl Hill. “I have read in Kansas City papers of recent dates of the tearing down of notable houses in the old quarter of the city – that part upon the high bluff between Main street and Grand, Second street and the levee. To me and others to whom 'this is our own, our native land,' the demolishing of those old homes is a sad business. Memories sorrowful and pleasant crowd upon me at the very mention of them, and it seems almost sacrilege to me to remove them," she wrote in 1893 in the Kansas City Star.

Kansas Citians, most likely unaware of the where the first Quality Hill was located, nicknamed Pearl Hill “Hobo Hill” in the 1900s. Ironically, where Pearl Hill would be today houses several homeless encampments that grip onto the sides of the earth.

1922 photograph in the Star shows all that was left of Pearl Hill
What was left of this bluff in 1922 was an irregular rock formation around 150 feet long and fifty feet high jutting from the ground. In 1928, the last piece of Pearl Hill was graded and carried away.

Jasmine plantings, which once coated the hills on Berenice Chouteau’s land, would still bloom and overtake parts of the hill in the 1920s even after the bluff was practically gone. And today, I am patiently waiting for the spring and summer months.

Maybe a small scrap of Pearl Hill does indeed carry on? What if tiny fragments of this jasmine, fragrant and powerful, can be seen peeking through the overgrowth that exists on a hill taken away by progress?

Time, it seems, will tell.

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Suggested Readings:
* Kansas City and How It Grew by James R. Shortridge
* "Incidents of the Knob Hill or Aristocratic Residence Quarter of Kansas City of Early Days" by William L. Campbell. Native Sons of Kansas City Scrapbooks, State Historical Society of Missouri
* "As I Remember" by Washington Henry Chick. Native Sons and Daughters of Greater Kansas City Records, State Historical Society of Missouri
* Cher Oncle, Cher Papa: The Letters of Francois and Berenice Chouteau by Dorothy Brandt Marra
* "Tales of an Old Timer" by John Calvin McCoy- available online at Kansas Historical Society

*A special thanks to John Dawson for opening up his extensive records and photograph collection for this piece!
The current view of where Pearl Street Hill would be today. Taken from the Town of Kansas Bridge in Riverfront Park,
the view is looking southeast from Main St. (right) to approximately Grand Ave. (left).

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