By Diane Euston
If you’ve lived in the South Kansas City area for any amount of time, you’ve likely traveled down Bannister Rd. (95th St.). If you’re a long-hauler, then you remember other landmarks on this long stretch of road such as Bannister Mall or the Bannister Federal Complex- now both memories of the past.
But where did this name come from? It’s not the surname of any pioneer family, a former mayor or a philanthropist. It has been the unwritten rule that in order to have your name on a street, you must be famous for something.
In the case of Bannister Rd., the street’s namesake has an exciting, untold history which includes a little-known fact about Kansas Citians at the turn of the century. Before the days of modern air conditioning, Kansas City was literally a hot place to be. Those who could afford summer farms outside of the city limits did to get away from the heat and seek out a quieter life.
This is the case of a man named Frederick James Bannister who had some serious connections to a member of South Kansas City royalty: R.A. Long. His choice for a home away from home on an old, unpaved farm road would put his name on every modern map of Kansas City.
Frederick James Bannister
Born in Watertown, N.Y. in 1869 to parents Charles and Annie, Fred was the youngest of nine children. His father served in the Union army during the Civil War. After first moving to Olathe, Kan. in 1877, the family landed in Kansas City in 1880 where his father worked as a teamster.
Although he didn’t live on a farm for the majority of his childhood, Fred later recalled that it was his dream as a boy to be “a hoss trader.” His life, for a time, took a very different direction.
He received a common education until he was 16 years old and then opted to take a night course at a business college. This led him to becoming an agent for the Kansas & Texas Coal Company. This job had Fred on the road and living in Hackett, Ark. for four years. At 18 years old, he met and married 19-year-old Edith Nevius.
The couple welcomed their first child, Louise Helen Bannister in Arkansas in 1889 before returning to Kansas City to accept a job as cashier and bookkeeper for Kaw Valley Paint & Lead Company in 1890. The couple settled into a home at 10th and Vine and welcomed their second child, Edward in 1892.
His life would take a turn toward immense success when the 22-year-old went to work for Long-Bell Lumber Company in 1892.
Career With Long-Bell Lumber Company
Founded by Robert A. Long (1850-1934) and his cousin, Victor Bell in Columbus, Kan. in 1884, the Long-Bell Lumber Company quickly grew to own sawmills in Oklahoma, Texas, Arkansas and Louisiana. This massive logging and lumber retail business opted to move their headquarters to Kansas City in 1891. Bell retired from the company in 1894, and Long became sole president for decades.
R.A. Long showcased the success of his business operations by constructing Kansas City’s first skyscraper to headquarter the Long-Bell Lumber Company at 10th and Grand in 1906. In 1911, Long and his wife finished building Corinthian Hall (now the Kansas City Museum) on Gladstone Blvd.- a mansion on steroids unlike anything ever built in Kansas City.
Young Fred Bannister, joining the company in 1892, “quickly gained favor in the eyes of Mr. Long as a hard worker and business getter.” By 1900, he was promoted from accountant to assistant secretary, and by 1903, he was secretary-treasurer of the largest lumber company in the nation. Fred celebrated his success by building a beautiful 12-room brick home at 4112 Warwick.
While his professional life was on the rise, his personal life took a dive when his four-year-old son, Fred, Jr. died of polio in 1911. Despite the tragedy, Fred buried himself in work and rose to be an executive officer, stockholder and director of the coal operations for Long-Bell. The company had various branches which controlled an annual business of 14 billion dollars. These investments grew to include from lumber to coal in Oklahoma, Arkansas and Kansas. The company employed over 3900 men. By 1914, Fred was named vice president of the company.
During World War I, Bannister was chairman of the Salvation Army War Fund Campaign where he raised an impressive amount of money for the war effort.
Fred had paid $1589.65 for stock in Long-Bell in 1898; by 1920, the stock was worth over $500,000. He was paid an annual salary of $30,000. When R.A. Long stepped down as president of his company in 1921, Bannister took over and earned a salary of $40,000.
This success led him to look out south for a country home – a place where he could escape the city life and fulfill his childhood dream of being a “hoss trader.”
Building La Cima Out South
On an old country road where small farm houses were sporadically constructed by early pioneers, Fred Bannister set his sights on the old Rev. Richard J. Estes home. Born in 1829, Richard Estes purchased 100 acres of land in 1865 and raised his family there until he passed away in 1882.
Around 1910, Fred purchased this tract of land from the Estes heirs and began building. The original tract purchased stretched between current-day Bannister Rd. south to 99th St., and Richmond Ave. east to James A. Reed Rd.
Bannister likely added onto a home built by the Estes family, and over time, the Craftsman-style home of native stone expanded into a sprawling 12-room, modern structure two miles east of Holmes Park (current-day Bannister Rd. and 71 Hwy.). His main goal was to have a “fine stock.” While Mrs. Bannister focused on cattle, to no surprise, Fred focused on horses.
In just a few years, the farm expanded to 258 acres of land enclosed by a white fence and was called “La Cima” (Spanish for “the top”). Fred, his wife and two children would spend almost every weekend entertaining at La Cima and looking over their growing number of award-winning livestock.
Fred Bannister was far from the only well-off Kansas Citian to maintain an impressive farm south of the city. Robert A. Long may have seen what his friend and executive had built on current-day Bannister Rd. and saw possibilities. Between 1913 and 1914, R.A. Long constructed Longview Farm and 50 outbuildings on 1,780 acres of land four miles southeast of La Cima.
In that same year, Fred hired government experts to build a milk plant and barns to accompany his award-winning cattle. “As a result,” the Kansas City Times reported, “the farm was the only dairy farm in the country with a government score of 100.”
Once Longview Farm was completed in 1914, Fred Bannister and R.A. Long paired up for a new business venture well outside the lumber and coal industry. Using purebred Jersey dairy cattle from both farms, the two men set out to bottle milk.
Sold at 15 cents a quart and delivered by white wagons, this pasteurized milk was known as Longview-La Cima Milk. It was even awarded a medal at the Panama-Pacific Exposition in 1916 “for the richest, purest and cleanest milk in the world.”
One of Fred’s cows, known as Agatha’s Maiden Fern, was said to have earned him $977 in one year when the average annual salary was just $750. This cow gave him “a greater return than most farmers make in a hard year’s work on an 80-acre farm.”
In 1916, Fred Bannister couldn’t keep up with his extensive farm and his full time job. “Because it required so much of his time,” Fred sold off 58 head of Jersey cattle for $18,590. To no surprise, his grand champion bull named Flora’s Queen Raleigh, was purchased by R.A. Long for use at Longview Farm. The price was $1725.
La Cima was a model farm in midst of an old farming community and just miles from Holmes Park, a community laid out in the 1880s. By 1916, Jackson County was looking to improve the roads in the southern portion of the county. A meeting was held at Union Park Schoolhouse east of Holmes Park. In attendance were 150 local farmers- including Bannister- and surprisingly, the community said they didn’t expect much. Although they didn’t expect every dirt road to be improved in their district, “the dirt road leading to the school house on which was also a church, often was impassable for the children, and if improved would be a benefit.”
The road was improved in 1917 and likely was given its name, Bannister Rd., at this time. A year later, Fred sold his home on Warwick and lived predominately at La Cima with his wife, Edith. His children, now married, were frequent visitors to the farm.
The Next Chapter
After 31 years with Long-Bell Lumber Company, Fred Bannister stepped down in 1923. Three years prior, his son, Edward had started a lumber company dealing in west coast products and hardwoods. Fred went to work as president of this company and got involved in the lumber insurance business.
In 1924, Fred was named president of the Kansas City Chamber of Commerce and focused his other interests in seeing the 1800-acre Swope Park developed. “I want to see [Swope Park] grow more and more as the playground of Kansas City,” Fred told the Kansas City Star. “It should be known all over the United States as a place that offers every form of recreation to the citizens here who want a good time as well as the next fellow but who have to count their nickels and dimes while they are obtaining it.”
Swope Park was just over three miles south of his own farm, and at the time, the land was isolated from most of Kansas City. It was the extension of the boulevards to the park that would help solidify Fred’s vision.
In March 1928, Fred’s wife, Edith passed away at La Cima from heart disease. She was 58 years old, and her death was particularly hard on her husband. His own health had been slowly declining, and as the Great Depression took over the nation, Fred looked at La Cima differently.
Fred’s daughter, Helen and her family had been living with him at La Cima, but a new job opportunity for her husband had them moving to New Jersey. In May 1933, Fred said goodbye to La Cima when he sold the home and land to Commerce Trust Company. “I leave it with regret, but my first interest in farming is my country home,” Fred told the Kansas City Times. “It would not be a home to me if I had to live there alone.”
He hosted one last party at La Cima, inviting all of his closest friends and his family.
Fred had been diagnosed with Bright’s Disease (kidney disease) and had suffered for years. On Dec. 21, 1934, Fred’s sister-in-law who was staying with him heard a gunshot inside his apartment at 317 W. 46th St. She found Fred in his bedroom shot in his stomach with a gun next to him.
He was rushed to the hospital where he told his nurse that “he had shot himself because he did not believe he could recover from his illness.” He died the next day with both of his children by his side.
The Survival of a Piece of La Cima
La Cima, the model farmstead, has a story that survives well past Bannister’s ownership. Starting in 1942, Russell Stover (1888-1954), founder of Kansas City’s Russell Stover Candies, leased the stock and dairy farm. There, he raised 8,000 chickens, 500 hogs and more than 7,500 tomato plants. All of this was used to supply his company’s cafeteria. In addition, 130 head of dairy cattle on the property supplied milk and cream to use in his delicious candy.
In 1945, the 280 acres was partially subdivided as Bannister Acres. These 2.5 acre tracts on the south side of Bannister Rd. from Blue Ridge Blvd. to James A. Reed Rd. was the first of several planned phases of development aimed at selling lots to soldiers returning home from World War II. All but 40 acres of the land was developed.
The future of the Bannister homestead is one I rarely have the chance to tell because, miraculously, the house still survives. In 1948, the house was purchased by a couple who had hoped to turn the house into “a rural chicken dinner restaurant.”
After this failed business, the home and two acres attached to it went back into use as a private home. Today, the house, all that is left of Bannister’s model dairy farm he called La Cima, still stands at 7901 E. Bannister Rd.
The name “Bannister” means something to so many in the community because of the treasures of the past that stood on what was once a country road. Whether it sparks memories of an impressive indoor shopping mall or a federal complex, the name stands for a place in South Kansas City. Before these now-bulldozed landmarks, the name stood as a country road named for a man named Frederick James Bannister who built his childhood dream in the rolling hills of southern Jackson County.
Diane writes a blog on the history of the area. To read more of the stories, go to www.newsantafetrailer.blogspot.com