From Pioneer Trails to Paved Modern Road Systems

1915 photograph of Truman in his Stafford automobile taken at a picnic at the Little  Blue River. Photo courtesy of Harry S. Truman Library & Museum

From Pioneer Trails to Paved Modern Road Systems

By Diane Euston

 As Oliver Goldsmith wrote, “Life is a journey that must be traveled no matter how bad the roads and accommodations.” In the case of southern Jackson Co., the history of the roads and current infrastructure tells a unique story of the journey of many people before us.

 The Early Age of Roads

 In the beginning of the history of Jackson Co., the roads traveled were usually separated through section lines as to not “steal” rich lands from farmers. One section, in most cases, equals 640 acres.  These early boundaries were the very foundations of our current road system. Major roads in Jackson Co., such as Holmes Rd., State Line, 135th St., 103rd St., and Bannister Rd. all fall on section lines.

   The Era of the Automobile

 At the turn of the century, travel by horse and wagon was commonplace. However, the creation of an affordable automobile called the Model T in 1908 changed everything. For $850, a person could purchase a Model T touring automobile. By 1925 the advancement of the manufacturing line made this price drop to under $300.

 In Kansas City, the Stafford Motor Car Company launched in 1909 and manufactured automobiles until 1915.

 By the early 1920s, the Automobile Club of Kansas City would offer the city scenic driving tours and suggest routes for city folk to take in South Kansas City. Driving tours into southern Jackson Co. were a Sunday favorite when the weather was favorable.

1922 drawing from the Kansas City Star shows the three crossings on Holmes Rd. and the location of Kipp’s death

Holmes Road Runs Straight Through Southern Jackson County

 As you drive down Holmes Rd. southbound just past 127th St., the road takes a significant curve to the west. Sheltered by towering trees and hidden homes, the winding two-lane road that bends to the angles of the Blue River toward Blue Ridge and the edge of Martin City was not always curved.  

 The first road to be used as a thoroughfare in the area was Holmes Rd. By 1903, Holmes Rd. was the straightest shot from South Kansas City to downtown. Interestingly, in 1923, Holmes Rd. was still not paved all the way through the area; from the south, the road was paved northbound to 75th St. at which it turned into a dirt road. In the 1920s and 30s, Wornall Rd. was left simply as a graded, rock road.

 To arrive in Martin City via-Holmes Rd., three intersections of the Missouri Pacific Railroad had to be crossed. A fatal accident in August 1922 raised concerns about these three crossings in the road. Elmer D. Kipp, a well-known Kansas City real estate dealer, had traveled from his downtown offices to Martin City to purchase tomatoes and grapes. Mrs. Kipp had opted to stay home to shield herself from the sweltering heat.

 As Kipp approached the second railroad crossing a mile south of Martin City, his automobile stalled on the tracks. Without modern alert systems in place,  Kipp was struck by an oncoming train and killed instantly.

 The Kansas City Star reported, “The crossing where the train hit Mr. Kipp’s motor car is extremely dangerous. A hill obscures the tracks on one side and a heavy clump of trees on the other.”

 This event spurred the Automobile Club of Kansas City to order 200 signs to put on roads in order to mark railroad crossings, sharp curves and treacherous hills. The first order of business was to place three signs at each of the crossings on Holmes Rd.

 Years later, a solution to add a curve on Holmes Rd. eliminated two of the three railroad crossings, including the one that took the life of Kipp.

James Pendergast Road Led to Martin City

 Before State Line Rd. was a main avenue through South Kansas City, it was simply a road, unpaved in many sections, that abruptly ended at current-day 79th St. In 1923, the road was dirt to the town of Dallas at 103rd St. As the road continued on south of 103rd St., it was curiously paved with a macadam road that abruptly ended at current-day Minor Dr.

 And in the early 1900s, State Line Rd. from Dallas south to Martin City was named James Pendergast Rd.

 It’s no secret that the “Pendergast Machine” had much political control of the city, so the naming of this road should be no surprise.

 Ending the paved section of road at Minor Dr. was a very strange place for the improvements to end. But deep pockets and a bit of help from the political underworld had their hands in the cookie jar. In May 1922, the newspaper reported that two county judges voted to add this one mile of pavement so the James Pendergast Rd. was paved to the farm of Allen B.H. McGee, a “friend of the court.” It was shown to have cost $18,000- on paper.

 The Allen B.H. McGee farm’s entrance was at current-day Minor Dr. The farm encompassed almost all of Verona Hills subdivision and gave the McGee’s easy, paved access to their driveway.

Blue River Road and Harry S. Truman

 Judge Harry S. Truman was known to enjoy motor car outings and made improving roads part of his platform. In more ways than one, Truman delivered.

 Even during the Great Depression, Truman continued to pioneer road construction in Jackson Co. as he held the position of Presiding Judge of Jackson County Court. In 1932, he personally oversaw the construction of a “new” Red Bridge that replaced the 1892 structure.

 In that same year, one of the most picturesque paved roads in the county was the “newly concreted Blue River Rd.” From Swope Park down to the junction of Blue Ridge and Holmes Rd., Blue River Rd. was one of Truman’s favorite creations. In a 1932 article in the Kansas City Star, Judge Truman stated, “Let me recommend this road for a drive for those unacquainted with the scenic beauties of this county.” Truman often would take driving tours down Blue River Rd. and was excited to propose that the land around it be made into a park.

 Today, visitors on Blue River Rd. can ride their bikes on the Blue River Parkway and Minor Park Trail that winds throughout the parklands that Harry S. Truman envisioned.

Diane writes a blog on the history of the area. To read the stories, go to


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