Disappearing homesteads

Kansas City Times, January 14, 1893
VanHorn Homestead after fireAn article in this issue reports on a fire which destroyed a five story granite front block occupied by the Jaccard Jewelry company, the Foster Woolden company and the Kansas City Art Association at 1012-1014 Walnut St. Also burned in the fire were adjacent buildings, including the "old Van Horn homestead" at 1113 Walnut, "one of the historic landmarks... in which the oldest inhabitants delighted."

The house was built in 1856, "when few brick buildings were known in Kansas City. It was a one and a half story structure, with wide, old fashioned windows, and the large, hospitable entrance of southern homes. In early days $2500 was an aristocratic outlay for a house in these parts. Colonel Van Horn lived in this house for thirty years, it being the scene of the birth of all his children and the death of two...." The Colonel vacated the place for "his country home on the Westport road," but it continued to be occupied by a fire department assistant chief and later by "various business people."

In early days, says the Times story, "all of the business houses were down on the levee, and Ninth Street was the southern limit of the city. There was much timber land all along Main street south of Ninth, and between Walnut and Main, on Eleventh steet, was what ws known as Swope's grove. This surburban region made the approach to the old homestead very picturesque. The roof of the building caught fire, leaving only the walls standing: "the imposing old home is no more." mccoyhomestead

About a month later, the
Kansas City Daily Journal (February 26, 1893, p. 16) printed a feature looking back to the few remaining houses built by Kansas City pioneers in the 1840s on the high bluffs overlooking the Missouri River, all of them in ruins and facing imminent destruction as the bluffs were being leveled to serve the needs of a rapidly growing city. 

One was the McCoy homestead, built by John C. McCoy in 1847 or 1848, another of the few brick houses of the time. "There are not many living who took part in those days, fifty years ago, " runs the story, "and of those few, none recognize in the Kansas City of today the village of 1840-47, when A.B. Canville ran the first general store; when Lattimore Bros. sold calico prints and other dry goods; when Charles Horning sold wet goods, David Geer kept a variety store; when Dr. F.A. Rice put up pills and put down ills; when Thompson McDaniel ran a hotel, so called ... and Drs. Troost, Rice and Ridge were physicians."

One of the pioneers, J.C. McCoy, still living in 1893, recalls the topography of the city then, "on all sides, a dense forest, the ground covered with impenetrable underbrush and fallen timber and deep impassable gorges, a narrow, crooked roadway, winding from Twelfth and Walnut streets along down the west side of the dep ravine toward the river, across the public square to the river at the foot of Grand avenue, barely wide enough for a single horseman, running up and down along the river under the bluffs, winding its crooked way around fallen timber and deep ravines...."

Among the best known of the abandoned homesteads was the one built by W.M. Chick, first postmaster of chick-homesteadKansas City and father of J.S. and W.H. Chick, the latter first vice-president of the National Bank of Kansas City. "The logs used in constructing portions of this house were brought across the river in canoes. The old house has gathered within its walls many a noted man. Around the hospitable fireside gathered all the pioneers of Kansas City from time to time."

The home was visited by other famous figures, including Washington Irving on his Western trip, and Thomas Hart Benton, one of the first senators from Missouri, who "having relented of his opposition to the marriage of his daughter to general John C. Fremont, brought the young wife, and here the afterwards famous pathfinder ... came, met his wife, and all was serene."

These were the days of pioneers whose names still resonate in the city's history and some of its place names: J.C. McCoy, W.M. Chick, R.T. Van Horn, H.M. Northrup, Robert Holmes, Joseph and William Jaboe, William Gillis, Benoist Troost, Father Donnelly, "when the Mexican trade was in its prime, when there were no churches and all the spiritual consolation that was received came from a wandering preacher whose itinerary embraced the little settlement at the mouth of the Kaw."

February 17, 2012