By Diane Euston
History tells us that early settlements were located near water. The location of Kansas City was chosen due to its location at the convergence of two major rivers. But after the railroad arrived in the area and the tracks moved in all directions across the country, towns sprouted up along the routes.
Martin City was founded in 1887 along the Missouri Pacific Railroad. Six miles to the north of Martin City was another little hamlet on the railroad. The history of the little community of Dodson at 85th and Prospect Ave. houses a plethora of stories of those who called the area home.
William Dodson and the Depot
Born in Pennsylvania in 1823, William Dodson married Sarah O’Conner in 1848 and started a family that grew to ten children by 1875. After the Civil War, Dodson moved to Jackson Co. and purchased over 300 acres of land. In 1867, he built a log cabin near current-day 82nd and Indiana Ave. By 1886, the Missouri Pacific Railroad was building its tracks to the south and condemned part of Dodson’s land and cut right through it.
For a farmer, the arrival of the railroad running directly through farmland wasn’t a welcomed change. But when the railroad decided to place a depot for the southern route at this location, it may have been viewed as an opportunity instead of an obstacle.
The name chosen, “Dodson Station,” may have also been flattering to the aging farmer. When the government opened a post office in 1888, it was listed under the name Dodson. Naturally, the first postmaster was William Dodson.
Having open railroad tracks was always dangerous and there were many accidents associated with them. In 1891, Dodson and his family were severely injured when the family took their wagon across the Missouri Pacific tracks. A lightning strike, magnified by the steel rails, hit their wagon directly and caused “terrific shocks.” One of their horses was killed. The family, luckily, survived with some injuries.
By the turn of the century, the railroad continued to use Dodson Station as a connecting point to communities to the north and south. William Dodson didn’t stick around long enough to see the community grow. By 1903, he had moved to Bates Co., Mo. and resumed farming. William Dodson’s death contains a bit of satire.
Just shy of his 90th birthday, William Dodson crossed the Missouri Pacific Railroad tracks on June 21, 1912 at Adrian, Mo. and was struck by an oncoming train. One arm was completely crushed and both his legs had compound fractures. Three hours later, he passed away. At the time of Dodson’s death, the town named after him was growing due to the extensions of the railroad and a community of people with an enterprising spirit.
The Dodson Dummy Line
As Kansas City grew, the use of the cable line was slowly replaced by the electric line. As the city limits expanded to the south, so did the lines connecting isolated communities.
If there were railroads, there was easier access to expand the streetcar. In 1895, the Kansas City and Westport Railway took a gamble and created the “Dodson Dummy Line.” This dummy line connected to the larger tracks of the Missouri Pacific Railroad and were used for small passenger transport; however, it was delayed for two years due to repairs.
In 1897, the line, operated by a small steam engine, took passengers from the Dodson Station to Westport. Two years later, passengers coming into Dodson could also take a separate line to the newly-unveiled Swope Park to the northeast.
In 1907, the line was electrified, and for five cents a ride, a passenger could get all the way from 85th and Prospect to Westport. Six trains per day carried passengers, and the route quickly drew people from the city to the Blue River near Dodson for fishing and picnic outings.
Farmers in the area certainly saw the business that could be earned from these city folks coming to the country. They began selling passengers fresh produce and goods before they boarded the streetcar back to Kansas City.
This same route, known as the Dodson streetcar line, traveled through 75th and Wornall and is the reason that the Waldo area began to grow. The popularity of the Dodson line even included the small communities to the south. The town of Dallas at current-day 103rd and State Line wanted in on the action. A bus line, operated with a horse and wagon, ran from Dallas to Dodson and gave them a connection to Westport.
When most people couldn’t afford the automobile, the creation of the Dodson line was a pivotal part of the development of what is now south Kansas City. But, those who used this streetcar line complained of its speed through the suburbs. It was said to be so slow that “the passengers used to reach out the windows and milk the cows as they went by.”
Between the business of the Missouri Pacific Railroad and the streetcar, the community of Dodson began to grow in popularity.
A Business Leader in Dodson: Ellis and His Hall
When you drive through what was the town of Dodson, it’s hard to imagine that multiple businesses- long gone- once served the streetcar, railroad and the community around it. Today, three buildings at the northwest corner of 85th and Prospect Ave. still survive. At 2510 E. 85th St., a two-story brick building donned with the words “Ellis Hall” still stands as a small reminder of the Dodson community.
Alonzo E. Ellis (1879-1959) was born in Vernon Co. and moved to the little town of Dodson around 1912. Once he arrived, he erected a two-story brick building where he had a general store on the first floor and his family lived on the second floor.
“He was such a hard worker,” granddaughter Sandy Ellis Simpson explained. “He was frugal, but he was always helping everyone in the community.”
From 1916 to 1949, Alonzo was postmaster of the town of Dodson and operated it out of his store at 2510 E. 85th St. The building was called Ellis Hall, his granddaughters Rita and Sandy recalled, because the second floor had a large room with a stage that may have been used to host masonic meetings.
A.E. Ellis General Store – also the home of the post office – served the community of Dodson for over three decades. The whole family worked in the store and at businesses nearby, and as his children had families of their own, they stayed near Dodson.
The family’s garden was on Wabash St. just north of 85th St. next door to his oldest daughter’s home. Alonzo didn’t want to invest in the expense of indoor plumbing, so when he needed to take his weekly bath, he’d head up the hill to his son’s house. He didn’t invest in indoor plumbing at Ellis Hall until the 1950s.
It was a simpler life in small towns like Dodson. Next door to the east of A.E. Ellis’s general store is a one-story building that stands today. It was the site of the People’s State Bank, founded in 1911. It had two employees and was known to the locals as the “People Pleazin’” bank. Alonzo was its president for several years and warded off many a bandit.
In 1923, a man who was lurking around Dodson entered the grocery store and purchased a bag of bananas before turning his eye toward the bank. This man, “munching a banana,” entered the People’s State Bank and held up the two men inside. He escaped with a load of cash but was shot at on his way out. The Kansas City Times reported, “He left his sack of bananas in the bank.”
In 1933, the bank was a target once again when a man handed the cashier a note asking for $2,000. The cashier, protected by bullet-proof glass, ran to the back and alerted the bank president, Alonzo Ellis. Alonzo picked up a pump gun and ran to the front.
The robber, parked outside in a new Ford, jumped in his car and fled toward the railroad tracks. Alonzo had no qualms firing off shots at the man. He missed and the bandit got away.
The Battle Over Booze and the Town’s Carrie Nation
Booze was freely flowing in Kansas City in the early 1900s. But in towns like Dodson, there were forces that made it a bit harder to loosen up with some libations.
A man named Frank McReynolds left his saloon in Westport to start a small liquor business in Dodson. In 1899, he had been accused of selling liquor to minors in Westport. His lawyer didn’t have much defense except “it had been Westport’s custom for saloons to sell to minors.”
In 1903, a group of around 25 men identified as part of the Washington Township Law and Order League set fire to McReynolds’ “liquor shack” opposite the railroad depot. This event was one of many that were part of the fight to keep saloons out of the area. Behind this effort was one woman- a local resident named Helen McCrackin (1856-1930) who fought to keep Dodson dry.
This “mild-mannered, soft-voiced white-haired woman” was always, it appears, up for a fight. When men from the Missouri Pacific Railroad tried to clear her land for right-of-way, she approached them with a loaded shotgun. The railroad later paid her for access.
By 1909, there had been 15 attempts to get liquor licenses for establishments in Dodson, and all had been after the fire at McReynolds’ shack. Every attempt was turned down. A headline in the Kansas City Star in 1909 proclaimed that “the Paul Revere ride of Mrs. McCrackin beat the 15th saloon effort.” Two men had applied for a liquor license and had a petition signed by 214 taxpayers in the township. When McCrackin heard of it, “she mounted her horse and rode through the township procuring signers to a remonstrance against the saloon.”
Her persistence uncovered that many who had allegedly signed the petition were forgeries. When she marched into court with her evidence, she proclaimed, “As long as I live and am able to travel, they’ll never get a saloon in Dodson.”
She even accused the postmaster, George Secore, of disturbing her mail. All of it, in her eyes, was a conspiracy to stop her from her mission of suppressing the drink.
Mrs. McCrackin ran a poultry business from her home on the south side of 85th and Olive, and many of her customers ordered eggs through the post. While other pieces of her mail were received, her orders never reached her. She told the Kansas City Star that her temperance magazine was also “detained in the post office until the news was old.”
She organized an Anti-Saloon League and even was appointed grand marshal of the temperance parade through downtown Kansas City in 1910. In 1912, her husband, Cyrus committed suicide at their home by ingesting carbolic acid. Even in the midst of tragedy, Mrs. Helen McCrackin stayed true to her mission of temperance. Towns in what is now south Kansas City in Washington Township were likely dry (at least under the law) due to the actions of the Carrie Nation of Dodson. After she passed away at her home in 1930 and the repeal of Prohibition in 1933, the Dodson community changed yet again.
Businesses in Dodson
The railroad added sheep and feeding yards in Dodson in the 1920s, and other businesses followed. In 1926, Nephi May moved his prosperous company, May Coal and Grain Company, to 8521 Prospect. The smokestacks on this property can still be seen today.
There was always a lumber yard in Dodson that used the easy access to the railroads to move their product. A drug store, café, pool hall, and Farmer’s Barber Shop were all businesses that thrived along 85th St. On the northwest corner of 85th and Prospect next to the bank was the Dodson Grocery and Butcher shop. Operated by John Armitage for many decades, this store is one of the only buildings still standing in the old town.
On Christmas 1932, tragedy struck Dodson when Mrs. Armitage at the grocery store noticed that the two-story brick structure that was home to the drug store was on fire. One of the oldest structures in the town and dating to the 1880s, the building couldn’t be saved because of a problem with the fire hydrants. On the second floor was the residence of the druggist, Antone Christiansen, who lived with his wife and two children. Thankfully, they were away visiting relatives for Christmas.
Mrs. Armitage phoned the fire station and two units responded within minutes. When they tried to hook their hoses up to the fire hydrants owned by the City Ice Company in Dodson, they were in for a surprise.
The hydrant was locked, and the night watchman didn’t have a key. Because this area wasn’t part of Kansas City, city hydrants weren’t present in Dodson. Meanwhile, as the drug store was engulfed in flames, residents went next door to the Farmer’s Barber Shop and the Dodson Café to try to save items inside. It took 45 minutes for someone to find the key and give access to the hydrant.
This incident showed the weakness of Dodson not being a part of Kansas City, and residents were irate that the City Ice Company didn’t have access to the key that would have saved the town’s oldest structure.
A drug store later was built on the same site and the town resumed business as usual. Those who spent their childhood in Dodson recalled some of the old town’s residents. Alonzo Ellis’ granddaughter, Rita Ellis Masters, fondly remembers going to the soda fountain and the sense of community Dodson had.
There was the little old woman named Tiny who lived in a run-down shack right next to the railroad and lived with her chickens. No one wanted to get too close to Tiny because she didn’t smell the best, and children rarely heard her speak to anyone. Regardless, business leaders like A.E. Ellis treated her kindly.
After Prohibition was repealed, Dodson was no longer dry – at least legally speaking. There were several night clubs that sprung up in the 1930s that operated in the area, but none stuck for longer than a few years. The café had a beer tap and a liquor store called Dodson Sundries that opened up in the 1950s. But as people had more highway access and the suburbs burst in south Kansas City, the little town of Dodson’s businesses slowly closed one-by-one.
Dodson’s Stamp on the Area
Those pioneer families that first populated the area around Dodson slowly disappeared into the suburbs. The namesake of Dodson had left more than just his name when he departed; a one-room log cabin that was built by William Dodson in 1867 stood for many years near 82nd and Indiana. The Kansas City Star wrote in 1926, “This little log cabin, a pioneer’s home, retains both the atmosphere of the frontier and its original structural strength.”
Like so much of our area’s history, the cabin was eventually erased with a bulldozer. Much of the town of Dodson suffered the same fate, but a few lone structures survive. The old bank building still stands, but the bank moved its operation to 75th and Washington in 1946.
The longest-serving postmaster, Alonzo Ellis, closed his general store and the post office was dissolved. After his death in 1959, his wife continued to live upstairs. The family sold the building in 1976. For a time, it was used as a hardware store and is currently vacant.
What killed Dodson’s population was, ironically, exactly what created the town. After the Ruskin Heights tornado in 1957, the depot in Martin City was shut down and all traffic was moved to the Dodson depot.
The trains continued to stop in Dodson for industry, but the streetcar did not. In 1957, the remaining streetcar line to Dodson called it quits. The popularity of the automobile, the birth of the suburbs to the south, the construction of highways and the closing of the streetcar all sealed the fate of the little town.
Now, trains barrel on past without stopping in Dodson, and as time continues on, those who remember the cast of characters who once lived in this little town are fading from memory. This town, like so many others that popped up along the railroad, was something special. Although a shell of its former glory, Dodson was a place that pioneers built, businessmen gambled on and families were raised. Dodson was more than just a stopover- it was the heart of a community.
Diane writes a blog on the history of the area. To read more of the stories, go to www.newsantafetrailer.blogspot.com.