The clubhouse for Indian Village, originally the Boone home (right) and added onto by William Rockhill Nelson (left). Courtesy of Kansas City Public Library
Indian Village–from Boonetown to a boomtown vision (Part I)
By Diane Euston
Treasures lie in the midst of housing developments, hidden within modern structures and under paved roads. As Kansas City grew, subdivisions to the south were platted by professional real estate developers and amateur speculators looking for a quick profit.
But before there were subdivisions, hundreds of acres were held by various pioneer families. Sometimes those pioneers are remembered in the chosen name of a subdivision. Just south of 89th St. where I bought my first house and live today, Boone Manor was platted on land once owned by the descendants of the national folk hero, Daniel Boone.
Just to the north, nestled in the middle of winding roads in Santa Fe Hills, stands the remnants of a pioneer homestead that has layers of history.
Daniel Morgan Boone Homestead
Simply stating the Boone family had an impact on Missouri is an understatement, and the image of Daniel Boone (1734-1829) as a folk hero with a coonskin cap is etched in our memory. This national legend was the grandfather of Daniel Morgan Boone (1809-1880) who came to Jackson County in 1826 and settled later on land he purchased just south of current-day Waldo off the Santa Fe Trail (now Wornall Rd.). Napoleon, James, and Edward Boone followed by patenting their own acreage south of 83rd St. Because of the influx of Boone family members, pioneers called the area “Boonetown.”
Daniel Morgan Boone and his wife, Mary Constance Philibert (1814-1904) had twelve children between 1833 and 1862. They raised all their children while living on their Jackson County farm.
Around 1838, Daniel built a three-section clapboard house that developed into a two-story frame dwelling south of current-day 85th St. just east of the Santa Fe Trail. The little Boone children recalled that during the Battle of Westport in October 1864, General Sterling Price’s army fled south and were followed by Union soldiers. While hiding, they heard shots being fired near their home as the Confederate troops retreated to the town of New Santa Fe at current-day 122nd and State Line.
A one-room country school at the corner near current day Sweeney Blvd. and Maiden Lane was built in 1868 on land purchased from the Boones and became known as Boone School. In 1929, a four-room brick school at 89th and Wornall replaced earlier structures and was named Boone Elementary. It stands today.
After Daniel Morgan Boone’s death in 1880, his youngest son, Nathan (1852-1926) maintained the old homestead and continued farming the land. As he advanced in age, he opted to sell off much of his land. Nathan Boone didn’t marry until 1901 and had no children of his own. He stayed close nearby at 85th and McGee where he lived out the rest of his life. The original Boone homestead passed along to one of Kansas City’s most prominent citizens who was looking for a quiet country life just outside the city.
William Rockhill Nelson’s Farm
William Rockhill Nelson (1841-1915) is best known in Kansas City as a real estate developer and owner of the Kansas City Star. His primary residence, Oak Hall, was donated after his death and was torn down to make way for the Nelson-Atkins Museum.
Nelson always held an interest in livestock, and it was his hope to raise cattle on a large farm. In the 1880s, Nelson purchased the old Boone farm and hundreds of acres surrounding it and quickly made upgrades to the simple home. Adjoining the original house, he built a large two-story lodge with a wide front porch overlooking Indian Creek. He often would take his friends from the city out to his lodge and entertain them.
Although his new residence and acreage was convenient to his primary residence at Oak Hall, he found he didn’t have enough acreage for his cattle. In 1901, he sold the property to the LaForce family.
In 1912, Nelson purchased his perfect farm (over 1,700 acres) just south of Grain Valley, Mo. and called it “Sni-a-Bar Farms” after the creek that ran nearby. There, he was able to raise shorthorn cattle and experiment with new breeding techniques until his death in 1915. In his will, he allowed for the breeding operations to continue for thirty years after his death.
The LaForce family kept the land south of 85th purchased from Nelson until 1919 when it was sold to a self-made millionaire with a mission. Emory J. Sweeney picked up 180 acres for $205,000.
Sweeney the Entrepreneur
Born in 1883, Emory J. Sweeney came to Kansas City from Chicago at the age of seven with his parents. His father worked in the stockyards, and E.J. Sweeney followed at first in his father’s footsteps. After one year of high school, he started buying and selling cattle. In 1905, he married and started a family while continuing to trade in the cattle business. Unfortunately, he lost everything and had to start over.
Looking for a new business venture, Sweeney headed to the library with the hopes of checking out a few books about the chicken industry. The chicken industry, he figured, wasn’t as risky as cattle. While in the library, a book about automobiles caught his attention. He thumbed through the pages that detailed the mechanics of vehicles. He later told the Kansas City Star, “I took this book home instead of the chicken book, and read it and decided to be an automobile man.”
He picked up a job as a mechanic and earned $25 a week fixing automobiles. Before long, Sweeney was an expert mechanic and began training others. The growing automobile industry needed well-trained mechanics, and E.J. Sweeney came up with an idea: he could hands-on train men on how to fix vehicles.
In 1908, he founded Sweeney Auto and Tractor School, one of the first vocational schools in the nation. He advertised far and wide and became nationally known. In a short time, he had thousands of students coming to Kansas City to be trained. In 1917, Sweeney built a ten-story building across from Union Station for the school. The building included rooms for students to live in and even had a pool and a movie theater. The building still stands today.
As his professional career was making him a millionaire, his personal life took an unfortunate turn when his wife, Mary- the mother of his nine children- passed away. After her death in 1917, he married a woman named Virginia and had one more child.
The 1918 flu pandemic gravely impacted Sweeney School. When the second wave hit in January 1919, 2700 students were enrolled. Within three days, 1100 of them were sick. Sweeney felt personally responsible for these men, so he borrowed money so he could pay their hospital bills. He told the Kansas City Star, “I took care of the sick boys, though I was paid only to teach them. Influenza became the country’s problem, but I made the boys my own problem.”
His school was so popular that he decided to add an aviation school in 1919. In that same year, Sweeney built a sprawling 33-room mansion at 5921 Ward Parkway on five acres of land. The nine-bedroom home was built to be kid-friendly.
In 1922, WHB Radio was founded inside Sweeney’s school with financial help from Sweeney himself. As Sweeney’s financial success seemed inevitable, he continued to invest in projects that interested him. In 1919, he purchased 180 acres outside the city limits that held the original Boone farmhouse and an impressive addition by William Rockhill Nelson. The land bordered 85th St. on the north, 89th St. on the south, Wornall Rd. on the west, and Holmes on the east. His original plan was to use the land for his aviation school, but he thought of a better, more profitable idea.
He wanted to build “a small city” in the middle of the country- a new community built “for the man of moderate means- the man who wisely lives within his earning power- and to give to such economists an opportunity to have a real home.”
In the next issue August 19, we will learn about Sweeney’s Indian Village subdivision and its transformation to today’s Santa Fe Hills.
Diane writes a blog on the history of the area. To read more of the stories, go to http://www.newsantafetrailer.blogspot.com.