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Thursday, May 31, 2018

Twelve Stories of the History of the Kansas City Metro: Year Two in Review!

It’s hard to even fathom that it has been two years since I started this journey of telling the stories of Jackson County pioneers. The stories never run dry; one search inevitably leads to another. I try my best to be extremely thorough in my research while also not losing the human interest of these incredible events, people and places.

In April 2017, I wrote,  “I want to use my words to make people feel like they are a part of this amazing growth of Jackson Co. when it was just farmlands and trails to the West.” This continues to be my mission one word, one post and one article at a time. In the past two years, my blog has been viewed over 200,000 times! As I continue to write, some of the posts become buried and harder to locate. I know that many of you could be new to my writing, so I want to take the chance to do another “Year in Review” so that you can easily access and share some of the cool stories written in the past year. Just click on the link to be able to get to each post!

This story truly changed my direction of writing and hit me especially hard. I joked with my friends and family that this was going to be difficult for me to write- I am used to writing about people that are long gone- not writing about an event that people living in the area remember as if it happened yesterday.

I am extremely proud of this story. I spent hours interviewing people, collecting never-before-seen photos of the damage and pieced together the events of the evening of May 20, 1957 from the start of the tornado to its end. I was able to put together the most accurate list of casualties – correcting spelling errors of many names- from the first victim to the last. But more importantly, this story captures the true fury and power of what many current and former residents of Kansas City remember like it was yesterday. To read more about the Ruskin Heights Tornado, click here!
I waited years to finally get the green light to write about the house that inspired me to take this path into historical research and writing. This house, known to many as the Watson Place Inn, was reportedly a stop for travelers on the Santa Fe Trail in the town of New Santa Fe. It also happens to be directly across the street buried behind brush and trees from where I grew up- and where my mother still lives. The land, which originally included Timber Trace subdivision and Blue Hills, was owned by some of the most colorful characters of early Jackson County History. Although the house is no longer for sale, learning the history about it- starting with the oldest section in the middle of the home- shows us the importance of preserving the very few historic landmarks left in Kansas City. To read more about the Watson Place Inn, click here!
What we refer to today as Watts Mill, thanks in part to the shopping center named in its honor, was of major importance in the early history of the area. By the 1830s, there was a mill operating at current-day 103rd and State Line that ground corn and flour for thousands of pioneers. After Anthony B. Watts bought the mill and passed it along to his son, Stubbens, the “Fiddling Miller of Dallas” continued to entertain local pioneers. Today, some evidence remains of what once was an important stop near the Santa Fe Trail. To read more about Fitzhugh-Watts Mill, click here!

One swift move by a frustrated Brigadier General changed the way the metropolitan area developed. Gen. Number No. 11, issued August 25th, 1863, virtually destroyed the families barely hanging on in midst the Civil War. The people in the area had been under constant attack well before the cannons fired at Fort Sumter; the area had suffered so much due to the Border Wars. When Brig. Gen. Thomas Ewing felt the pressure from one Kansas senator named Jim Lane and the Lawrence Massacre left people demanding action be taken against the bushwhackers and their sympathizers, Gen. Order No. 11 was the result. This order forced elderly men, women and children to flee their homes in Jackson, Cass, Bates and part of Vernon Counties. To understand the Civil War and the history of the Kansas City metro, one must read and comprehend what this order against U.S. citizens did. To read about Gen. Order No. 11, click here!

To understand my mission behind the creation of this blog, you need to understand how much this pioneer church destroyed in 1971 impacted my own personal journey. Because of the Santa Fe Christian Church, I began to research the people behind its inception. The piles of notes and copies from the archives had me scratching my head. What do I do with all this information? The result was The New Santa Fe Trailer. This church, founded in 1869 and partially ravaged by fire in 1969, was at the heart of me truly understanding what history looked like in my small Southern Jackson County neighborhood. This gave me access to people- to stories. My involvement with the Little Blue River Chapter, NSDAR in erecting a marker at the site of where this church stood became invaluable to me. In fact, this same Chapter presented an award to me – a national award! – in April of this year for “excellence in historic preservation” for all the work I have done through my blog. But the real story behind my love of these people and stories starts with the Christian Church at New Santa Fe. Please take a few to learn about its inception and unfortunate demise. Click here!

When I read a newspaper account about the quadruple homicide of a mother, son and two farm hands at the heart of current-day Leawood, Ks., I had to know more about it. Further research showed that another double murder led the Johnson Co. Sheriff to a Cass Co. native named Bert Dudley. And boy, does he have an interesting story to tell. To read more about this complicated and captivating early 20th century homicide case, click here!

I was intrigued when my uncle, who lives in Peculiar, Mo., contacted me and explained he had read a small piece about the discovery of an old log cabin hidden underneath a more modern structure. When I read more and found out that this cabin could be linked to one of the most controversial orders in American History, Order No. 11, I had to write about it. Don Peters, a historian and log cabin enthusiast, walked me through how he came to know about the cabin and its incredible history. Could it be where Gen. Ewing met with Sen. Jim Lane to discuss the Lawrence Massacre and enacting a harsh order on thousands of citizens? The cabin is set to be reassembled late summer at Belton Memorial Park. To learn more about this cabin, click here!

When did people start having full-sized Christmas trees? When did people string lights on their homes and trees? And how did the Plaza lights even become a “thing?” These were questions associated with the KC metro that I sought out to answer. Learning about the first Christmas tree assembled in Westport, the first electric lights strung from a tree – when electric lights were considered unsafe- and learning about how one strand of lights changed the way the skyline of the Plaza looks from Thanksgiving night until early January was incredibly interesting. To learn more about these three unique Christmas stories, click here!

We don’t think much about paved roads unless we travel off the beaten path in rural areas. But the history of the road system in South Kansas City involves political influence, the sectioning out of land, and the development of small towns in between. The earliest of the roads of the area is linked to the Santa Fe Trail, yet later roads depended on the building of bridges such as the Red Bridge. The development of the railroad was yet another reason our roads look the way that they do. To read more about the interesting early history of the road system, click here!

Inspired by local history buff John Dawson, I had to know more about a street in current-day downtown Kansas City that seemed to have just been erased from the records. There just wasn’t much about Pearl Street (1st Street) to even begin to find. When you travel to downtown Kansas City or even look at a map, have you ever wondered why the roads running north and south start at 2nd St.? At one time, the millionaires- the founders of the Town of Kansas – lived on Pearl Street Hill. To learn more about this incredible street now cut away from our view, click here!
After a visit to the Shawnee Indian Mission with my students, I was inspired to really investigate the namesake of Johnson Co., Ks., Rev. Thomas Johnson. When I learned he owned slaves in Kansas territory, was elected on the pro-slavery ticket to the Territory Legislature, switched sides during the Civil War, and was murdered I had to know more. He is one controversial man that historians have a hard time piecing together. To read more about Rev. Thomas Johnson, click here! 

I had my eye on this cemetery for years but just didn’t even know where to start. Mount Pleasant Cemetery is a hidden gem inside current Timber Hill Estates subdivision just east of 125th and Wornall Rd. Even though it was one acre surrounded by beautiful homes, it was desecrated and forgotten even by those living around it. The cemetery dates back to even before legal settlement of this area of Jackson Co. (1840!) and is an important piece of our early history. The ground sinks in spots where a body rests without a headstone. Read about how we helped save this historic cemetery and how the effort continues– click here!]

This concludes one more year and twelve more incredible stories!

When I first started this journey with the Santa Fe Trailer, I didn’t know where it would go or who would even take the time to read what I had discovered. I certainly knew it was important to continue to fight to save our history before it is lost and forgotten. Two years later, I still am inspired by the families I meet, the readers I encounter and the stories I continue to find on these lost and forgotten pieces of our incredible city. If you read one of my stories and now look at the area just a little bit differently- or you share some tidbit of information you learned from an article I’ve written as you casually drive down the road with a friend- then I’ve done by due diligence.

This has been about finding a way to share the history of what was once on top of the land we now own, travel through or admire from a distance. We all should know our unique history, and I’m so happy to have been able to share it with you all.

*This piece is dedicated to the late Nancy Henning, one of my loyal readers and a local lover of history and her husband, Jack who were taken too soon.

If you haven’t yet, be sure to search the New Santa Fe Trailer on Facebook so you don’t miss any of my writing!

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