Kansas City’s First Mayor Served Illegally for 10 Months
By Diane Euston
When the young southerner came to the embryo city known as the Town of Kansas, he had ambitions to build a business and make his fortune. Little did he know that less than ten years later, he would be declared Kansas City’s first mayor. And just over 75 years later, a road would be named after him.
William S. Gregory, born in 1825 in Shelby County., Ky., was a resident of the blossoming Town of Kansas by 1844 at only 19 years old. It was said he was orphaned as a child and was self educated. He received “a full collegiate course at South Hanover College, Indiana,” but “early in life, the bourdon was put upon him to work, and he bore it cheerfully.” It is unknown what happened to his parents, but he and his older brother, James A. Gregory ended up choosing the westernmost town in Missouri as their place of residence. They settled in what would be the East Bottoms at the future site of Heim Brewery.
Eventually the brothers opened a grocery business. In 1846, Gregory married Eliza Ann Wade, the 18 year-old daughter of Col. Samuel B. Wade.
William was clearly in the land business in 1850. Even before entering politics, he was expanding his grocery business into the town of New Santa Fe (near 123 and State Line)..
In the early 1850s, Gregory bought a large parcel of land that now encompasses Timber Trace and Blue Hills subdivisions. On the state line, he and his brother opened a grocery store to serve travelers on the Santa Fe Trail.
In 1851, Gregory sold the land to his father-in-law. He continued to operate his grocery store on the state line. When Eliza passed away from cholera after having two children, Gregory buried her on his father-in-law’s land just north of current-day Timber Trace subdivision.
After his wife’s death, Gregory married his wife’s older sister, Mary Wade. Still highly involved in the early creation of Kansas City, Gregory helped write the first city charters and develop the city’s first laws. He was present when the Town of Kansas was renamed the City of Kansas in February 1853; shortly after, he was elected first mayor of Kansas City in April 1853. Gregory’s Whig party had defeated Democrat Dr. Benoist Troost by nine votes, 36-27. He received a salary of two dollars per day for every official meeting attended.
Unfortunately, Gregory would go down in Kansas City history as being the only mayor to serve illegally.
When the charter was created, Kansas City included the land from the river south to 9th St., west to Summit St., and between Charlotte and Holmes St. to the east. Ten months after being elected to office, it was his own city charter that ousted Gregory out of office.
It was “revealed” that Mayor Gregory was living at current-day 5th and Locust St., just outside the boundaries of the city charter. It was stated in his obituary, “It was learned that he had not lived within the city limits the required length of time to be eligible to the office.” When news hit the town, Gregory quickly resigned from his position as mayor and Johnston Lykins took over in 1854.
Seven years later, he moved to the city from his farm two miles away and continued in the wholesale grocery business. By 1879, he had built a new storefront at 3rd and Main St.
Gregory was always a Southern sympathizer; he had owned slaves. His obituary notes, “[He] took part in the fight on old John Brown, and commanded a company under Col. John Reid during the preliminary struggles in Kansas and Western Missouri.” When the Civil War wreaked havoc on the area, he and his family moved to the St. Louis area and continued operating a grocery business. It was clear that his rightful home was Kansas City, as he did return post-war to resume his business with his sons helping in the cause.
By the 1870s, Gregory was plagued with a disease that was labeled “a puzzle.” He was confirmed as a “dyspeptic,” a disease oftentimes used to label what we now would call alcoholism. His doctors had suggested in 1887 he go to Manitou Springs, Co. for fresh air and a new start. While there, he did not do well and he insisted they send him home.
He made it back to Kansas City to take his last breath on August 11, 1887 at the age of 62. The man who had created the first laws of the city, became the first mayor, and ran one of the most successful mercantile businesses as the embryo city emerged as a metropolis was gone. The Kansas City Star wrote, “Mr. Gregory was a man of very strong character. He had a mind that was naturally virtuous and capable of accurate and discriminating strength. . . There was nothing loose or slipshod in his talk. He investigated things and had intelligent convictions.”
Worth over $150,000 at his death, Gregory was a legacy of early Kansas City entrepreneurs. His sons continued to run his store at 3rd and Main, and by 1889, his business, now called Gregory & Co., was doing $1.3 million a year.
Kansas City’s first mayor would be all but forgotten and buried in records had it not been for a resident scratching his head at the names of streets in town. In December 1930, it was petitioned by a resident to rename 71st St. “Gregory Boulevard” after Kansas City’s first mayor. Thus, Gregory Blvd. was created as his namesake street and was widened 80 feet from Ward Parkway all the way to Swope Park.
Today, Gregory Blvd. remains a small reminder of a man who fought and proclaimed that Kansas City would be a metropolis well before it had the honor of calling itself so.
Diane writes a blog on the history of the area. To read more of the stories, go to www.newsantafetrailer.blogspot.com