Klapmeyer Park: A Legacy of a Pioneer

The original Klapmeyer home, built in 1885, sat just to the northeast of the current entrance to the park. Photo courtesy Klapmeyer family, 1960.

At 126th and State Line, a small driveway, oftentimes barricaded with a chain, leads to an enchanting spot within the suburbs of Kansas City. Since 1973, Klapmeyer Park has been a hidden destination for fishermen and residents throughout the area. But prior to its inception, the land held much more than what meets the eye.

The Klapmeyer name is synonymous with the history of southern Jackson County. Records indicate that Henry Klapmeyer (1801-1879) and his wife, Catherine, settled on land just south of Martin City in 1841. There they raised a brood of children, including their youngest son, James M. Klapmeyer, born in 1850.

Today, a small burial ground just west of Holmes Rd. is still preserved and maintained by Ozanam. This is the only remnants of the original Klapmeyer landholdings.

In 1885, James Klapmeyer set out on his own and married Nellie F. Watson, oldest daughter of New Santa Fe’s town doctor, James E. Watson. With his new wife in tow, he built a beautiful home in 1885 where Klapmeyer Park is today.  He tended to just shy of 300 acres of land that extended from just south of Santa Fe Trail to Blue Ridge Blvd. and from State Line Rd. to Wornall Rd.

James and Nellie had four children: Ray (1886), Harry (1888), Clarence (1890) and Nellie (1893). The family stayed on this large farm until 1906 when James was asked to be the president of the newly established Westport Avenue Bank. He built a tenant house on his farm for extra workers and left his land for the city. Oldest son Ray Klapmeyer took over the farm in 1913 and moved into the old homestead. After that, the land was used for stock raising.

The homestead was more than just a simple house and barn. The property boasted a buggy shed, chicken coop, a two-room tenant house, smokehouse and barn. The pond, the prominent feature at Klapmeyer Park today, was dug by a team of horses and a slip.

After James Klapmeyer’s death in 1919, the farm and the land passed to his wife and then to Ray. Ray married Mary Bender and continued to manage the land even as he operated a car dealership at 30th and Prospect. In 1927, he remodeled the old farmhouse.

The man made pond is all that remains of the farmstead. Photo taken in 1960.

As land in the south Kansas City area became more valuable, Ray opted to sell off much of the acreage in 1955 to make way for a premier golf course later known as Blue Hills Country Club. He left himself a small 13.5 acre corner of the land in order to keep the house and buildings in- tact.  In an article in the Kansas City Star, Ray described an original structure just across the pond to the east of the home that still stood on the land. He estimated it was built before 1830 prior to his family moving on the land.  Ray explained, “We never did tear it down. . . We just built a shed all around it.”

Although Ray and his wife didn’t have their own children, they kept close to relatives and friends in the area. His cousin, Homer was a frequent visitor to the farm, and when his son, Ray (named after his doting cousin) was a child, they would stay in the two-room tenant house in the summertime. 

Klapmeyer, namesake to his father’s favorite cousin, recalls vivid memories as a child visiting the farm. “Ray would let me drive the tractor out there when I was 12. He was with me, of course,” Ray recalled. “What an experience for a little boy from the city.”

They laid out a vegetable garden. In the 1960s, little Ray would sell tomatoes and corn out of his red wagon. “Tomatoes were 15 cents per pound and corn was 50 cents per dozen ears,” Ray reminisced.

When “big” Ray took pen to paper and drew out his will, he had envisioned a legacy for his land left at 126th and State Line. He willed what was left of his little farm to his cousin, Homer for his use until Homer’s death. At that point the 13.5 acres was to go to the City of Kansas City “to be utilized by the city as a Municipal Park, called Klapmeyer Park.”

On October 5, 1970, Ray Klapmeyer passed away. His legacy in the south Kansas City area was substantial, and his generosity could be witnessed by the further pages of his will. He set aside $100,000 to benefit the local south Kansas City community that he loved for so many years.

Called the Ray and Mary Klapmeyer Grandview High School Foundation, the $100,000 was designated to assist college-bound graduates with scholarships.

Cousin Homer Klapmeyer, then the caretaker of the future site of the park, spoke fondly of Ray. In an article from the Kansas City Star in 1973, he said Ray was “a man who loved children although he had none of his own. He was a kind and gentle fellow.”

Homer decided to grant Ray’s final wishes early. On April 13, 1973, the small farmstead, held in the Klapmeyer family

Henry’s son Ray Klapmeyer (1885-1970) donated the land for use as a park.

for over 130 years, was given to the city.

At that time, the various buildings that had once been a showcase farm in southern Jackson County were torn to the ground.

Today, Klapmeyer Park isn’t easily accessible from State Line and has no parking spots. A chain regularly blocks the bulk of the small driveway (once the driveway that led to the home) that leads to the quaint park. Occasionally, a fisherman will park there and head up the hill to cast a line in the pond. A large tree stands west of the pond and marks the location of where the farmhouse once stood. A few benches and small walking trail, unpaved and carved out of the earth, completes the beauty of the landscape.

133 years ago, Klapmeyer Park was first the home of two people, James and Nellie Watson Klapmeyer. They were children of pioneer families. And their son, Ray, wished to ensure that this land stayed in-tact and undeveloped so that future visitors could explore the beauty that once was the countryside of southern Jackson County.

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

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