By Diane Euston
In the last issue, we learned about Shawnee chief Graham Rogers (1818-1872). Rogers used his knowledge of construction to build his own impressive home around 1840. He selected a site for his own double-log cabin and farm near today’s Antioch Park and Milburn Country Club.
Shockingly, the log cabin survives, covered under an attractive white frame structure that has been owned by Ike and Nancy LaJoie since 1987. This home is impressive simply due to its connection to a Shawnee chief- it’s even more remarkable when one examines the ownership that followed when Graham Rogers opted to uproot his family and follow his tribe to Indian Territory in 1868.
The two owners that followed- Henry Coppock and George Milburn- were well-respected and interesting characters in their day. Both made history, even though on the surface these men seem to have little in common minus their connection to two country clubs and the historic home in Overland Park at 6741 Mackey.
Sifting Through Early Legends and Lore
Henry Coppock was born in 1839 in Ohio to Aaron Coppock (1797-1851) and Amy Cobbs. As a young child, he lost his mother in 1842 and the family relocated to Henry Co., Iowa.
Stories relayed by Henry himself suggest his father remarried shortly thereafter to a woman that he didn’t favor. As part of the fever of the California Gold Rush, Henry’s father and older brother followed so many others out West while Henry remained with an older brother- although some stories suggest he was left, helpless and alone, with his stepmother.
At a young age (the age is up for question), Henry “ran away” from home supposedly to follow his father out to the gold fields; however, his father died in Sierra Co., Ca. in 1851 and his stepmother died in Oregon in 1853. Likely, Henry went out on his own to make his own way since he was the youngest of 11 children- his oldest sibling was 20 years his senior.
Henry’s life after his father’s death remains much of a mystery, but by 1857, Henry had somehow made his way to Kansas Territory after wandering around from place to place. By 1859, he went out West and began working in freighting. After an alleged run-in with the Rio Grande Utes where “out of 30 men only three escaped,” he traveled to Salt Lake City- where he worked for Brigham Young as a gardener.
To be fair, these stories are all passed down from generations of Coppocks and aren’t verified by records. What we know is that this man was either extremely ambitious or quite the storyteller.
In his 1874 biographical sketch, it is claimed that Henry rode with the Pony Express in 1860 before he went down the Platte and Missouri Rivers in a flat boat. By 1861, he was farming in Nebraska before taking off on another freighting expedition in Colorado.
He spent time in Montana “dealing in beef cattle and freighting” where he “owned one of the best ranches.” It was later reported in a Montana newspaper that when he decided to leave Montana in 1867, “he took with him 150 pounds of gold dust.” He left “with the intention of going to the World’s Fair in Paris.” But before he could board a boat and travel east across the ocean, his fate led him back to Kansas.
The Creation of Oak Park Farm
Henry, described as “small in stature” yet a “man of untiring energy and perseverance,” certainly came to Kansas with money in his pocket and ambition on the mind. Before he could head east for his world tour, he met a Johnson County stockraiser named Thomas James who invited him to have dinner at his home. There, he set eyes on Thomas’ 18-year-old daughter, Mary Jane “who was so beautiful that all thoughts of Paris left my head.”
n 1868, he married her and set out to find a stately home to settle down. Allegedly friendly with the Native American tribes, Henry found an impressive farm and purchased it from Graham Rogers. Within a short amount of time, he owned over 600 acres of land in the heart of current-day Overland Park and Shawnee.
He turned Graham Rogers’ dog-trot two-story log cabin into the farmhouse one can see today. It was likely Henry who built a large L-addition off the back of the home. He transformed the farm into a stock raiser’s paradise and took much pride in his farming and ranching. The home and land became known as Oak Park Farm. It was at this home where he welcomed his first five children, the first being named Montana after the place he dearly loved.
By 1880, Coppock’s outgrew their impressive farm. Henry’s love of adventure and the untamed landscape of Montana had him wanting to move yet again. He set out to sell Oak Park Farm and all its contents for his anticipated move.
At that very same time, another industrious, self-made man was looking for a place in the country in Kansas that would aid his fragile health.
Henry Coppock found a buyer for his beloved farm.
George Milburn’s Impressive Background
George Milburn was born in England in 1820, and after his father’s death in 1834, he, his mother and older brother boarded a boat and immigrated to Canada. Shortly thereafter, George set out on his own and moved to Indiana where he worked in a general store.
In 1841, he married Barbara Stauffer and took up farming for some time. His real gift was in business ventures, so he went back into the general store business and bought interest in a store in Mishawaka just east of South Bend.
Within 10 years, he fully owned the general store, a wagon company and opened a hotel. He was able to secure a large contract with the Army to build 400 wagons. When he got behind on the business deal, he subcontracted the rest of the work to Henry and Clement Studebaker who expanded their business to make it happen.
This contract later became larger with the outbreak of the Civil War; the Studebaker’s began building more wagons for the government. This, along with the original work with Milburn, changed the futures of the Studebakers.
Milburn and his wife, Barbara, had six children. Their oldest child, Ann (1842-1916), married recent-widow Clement Studebaker (1831-1901)- one of the original founders of what would become after his death the famed Studebaker automobile company.
After moving his wagon business to Ohio in 1873, Milburn’s company became the world’s largest manufacturer of farm wagons. The success led them to add buggies to their product line in 1877.
Milburn’s Move and Lasting Legacy in Kansas
Illness led Milburn to retire; he arrived in Johnson Co., Ks. in April 1880 “in search of restoration and health.” He found the perfect place in the old Graham Rogers two-story log cabin that had been extensively renovated by Henry Coppock. He purchased over 800 acres of land that now encompasses several subdivisions, Antioch Park and Milburn Country Club for a whopping $40,000. At the time, it was the largest land transaction ever recorded in the county. He also purchased over 5,000 acres in Bourbon and Crawford Counties to be used for stock raising.
His daughter, Mary (1849-1922), and her husband, John R. Foster, decided to relocate on land adjacent to Milburn’s farm on 276 acres also purchased from Henry Coppock.
Unfortunately, the clean Kansas air wasn’t enough to cure Milburn. He passed away in 1883 in the old Graham Rogers farmhouse. He was 62 years old and was buried in Indiana.
The farm stayed with his wife, Barbara, where, along with her son, lived comfortably for many years. When the Milburn’s arrived in 1880, Barbara hired Sophia Smith who was “noted as one of the best cooks in the community where high living is commonplace art.” Smith, born in 1830, “was a slave in one of the old families of Missouri” and lived with the family until her death.
Another former slave named Sarah Strodes (1841-1899) moved with her husband, Marshal, and son to work for Henry Coppock in 1874. The Olathe Mirror reported, “during the slavery days she was owned by the Head family near Independence.” After the Civil War, she lived with the Wornall family. She was known as an excellent nurse, and after the Coppock family decided to move to Montana, she was hired on by the Milburn family where she worked until her death.
After Barbara passed away in 1910, the land passed to her children. The Graham Rogers home improved by Coppock remained in the family until 1917. A year prior, John Foster and his wife took a portion- 120 acres- of the land once owned by George Milburn and leased it for ten years to a newly-formed golf club aptly named Milburn Golf and Country Club.
Because of this namesake, this well-established country club in Overland Park is a lasting reminder of this prominent man and his family who chose to relocate to the rolling prairie in Kansas. This, along with the still-standing Graham Rogers house that was the Milburn home, are snapshots of a time long since past.
Henry Coppock’s Next Impressive Home
Like most things in Henry Coppock’s life, his plans did derail a bit. After selling off most of all he owned to George Milburn in 1880, the plan to move his growing family to Montana didn’t pan out. Instead, he set his sights a wee bit to the east.
Henry purchased a large tract of land- 1,000 acres- that stretched from the state line to Nall and from 63rd St. to approximately 67th St. He called it Oak Creek Farm. Within a few short years, he was planning an impressive mansion at current-day 65th and Mission Rd. Construction began in 1884 with the foundation being dug using materials brought in from Westport. His neighbors were none other than John Nall and John Roe, namesakes of the roads that bear their names.
While still working as a cattle raiser, Henry waited for two years for the foundation to settle before building a house unlike any other seen in the farmlands of Johnson County. Walls were constructed using three rows of brick.
The house, facing east, featured a conservatory complete with a fountain, a second story indoor bathroom, a kitchen with running water, central heating and fireplaces in every room. The Kansas City Star reported, “The mantels, lamps, ornaments and furnishings were obtained at the dismantling of the Chicago World’s Fair.”
After the completion of the main structure, Henry hired a master carpenter and painter to live and work inside the home for a year in order that it could be finished.
What really caught people’s attention was a very unique barn- painted yellow- that was constructed on the property. It had the most advanced farm equipment offered at the time, and all of it was powered by a large windmill on top of a square tower. At the time, it was the largest windmill in Kansas and it even powered water that was pumped to a fountain on the lawn, a water tank in the house and sawmill.
Because he was the father of nine children in need of a proper education, Coppock donated two acres of land for a school (Prairie School) at 67th and Mission. The same land is still in use today as an elementary school.
In 1895, tragedy struck when Henry’s wife passed away. Her obituary read, “Mrs. C. was of a pure Christian character, a sympathetic friend, a devoted companion and a model mother.”
Since his children were grown and starting their own families, Henry Coppock opted to sell his impressive mansion in 1907 to S.Z. Schutte, proprietor of a lumber company that still bears his name.
Montana was always on Henry’s mind, so to no surprise Henry returned after the sale of his farm for the first time in 40 years. In 1906, he moved to British Columbia where two of his sons had settled. He continued in the businesses he loved and opened a loan and investment company but would frequently return back to the area for visits.
On one such visit in November 1908 took the plunge once again and married a woman named Elizabeth Gavin. With his new wife, he returned to British Columbia.
This was very short-lived.
Just four months later, the couple was in court with his new wife demanding a divorce and alimony. She claimed that “soon after their marriage, her husband took her to Canada, 2,000 miles away from her home, and there among strangers subjected her to indignities.
She was awarded $7,500 in alimony- equivalent to well over $200,000 today. ….. He passed away in British Columbia in 1914 just one month shy of his 75th birthday and was buried back at Forest Hill Cemetery.
From Coppock’s Prairie to Prairie Village
Development swept through Johnson County, and slowly but surely, most of the land that was once Graham Rogers’ large farm was split up to make way for subdivisions. Luckily, the house built by Rogers, enlarged by George Coppock on his Oak Park Farm and occupied by the Milburn family has miraculously escaped the bulldozers; it sits nestled at the end of a quiet street with much more modern houses surrounding it.
To the west at 65th and Mission, the fate of George Coppock’s impressive brick mansion didn’t fare as well. After being purchased by the Schutte family in 1907, the house sat vacant for quite some time and ended up in a trust.
The area around the farm started to be picked up by real estate mogul J.C. Nichols when, in 1941, he nicknamed the community Prairie Village after the Prairie School that Coppock started (in part) for his children.
In 1946, J.C. Nichols was looking to expand his empire of impressive subdivisions. He picked up 124 acres of land near Prairie School and across the street from Indian Hills subdivision. This 124 acres included a mansion and peculiar-looking barn. His plan was to build 400 homes.
The Kansas City Star wrote, “Nichols said the one-time Henry Coppock mansion may be restored to its early dignity and according to some use as a community center.”
It was not to be.
As planning continued, it didn’t include the mansion or barn. In 1952, the house and barn (“an iconic landmark”) was torn to the ground. J.C. Nichols donated the land where the barn stood to make way for Prairie Village’s first country club, Homeswood. Membership was open to anyone living in a J.C. Nicholas subdivision.
Progress often has victims along the way, and the Kansas City area has had many casualties. The Henry Coppock mansion and barn are just two of them. Luckily, one landmark, built by a Shawnee chief around 1840, added onto by George Coppock in the 1870s and occupied by nationally recognized George Milburn has somehow survived. This is a reminder to us all that sometimes treasures can be hidden from view, and innovation does not always mean the extermination of structures saturated in our early history.
Diane writes a blog about the history of the area. To read more of the stories, go to http://www.newsantafetrailer.blogspot.com.