John M. Olinskey & Debra Topi
Chapter 1: 1887 - 1892
Kansas City, Mo.,
State Shoot, Washington Park
Did you know that
Mount Washington Cemetery was once an amusement park
called Washington Park?
Also, that one of the first airports in Kansas City is now
called R. J. Roper Stadium in Sugar Creek and it was
then called Fairmount Park, located between 24 Highway
and Kentucky Ave? That what is now Northern Boulevard
was the bed for a railroad that ran through Fairmount
Park to Kansas City? Or that Red Skelton, star of
the stage, screen, radio and TV performed there in the
1930's? He married a Sugar Creek girl, moved to Hollywood and
"He Dood It," as he would say.
In the 1880s Kansas City was a boom town
and was referred to in the newsprint of the day as
the "New Chicago". The population was 55,785
in 1880 and more than doubled by 1885 to 124,474. On
June 29, 1886, the newspapers announced that the Dummy
Line was being revived. The Winner Investment Co. had
just purchased property near the Bethsaida Springs,
and the Kansas City-Independence Park Railway Co. line was
to be completed by winter time. The next year, Rock
Creek was dammed and a large 20 acre lake filled,
which was to be Swan Lake at Washington Park. Rock Creek ran
through Independence to the Missouri River. Four
hundred acres were set aside for the park.
on, family picnics were in fashion. As the park became
more popular and the area developed, fortunes were
made. A park at the end of a rail line was a common
practice in other parts of the nation, and because of
an influx of capital from eastern cities such as
Boston, Kansas City was on the cutting edge of the new
In the Washington Park area,
developers began selling land around the proposed park
raising prices and value. At the time, Independence
was known as the Royal Suburb, and land speculations
were rife. The headlines in the KC Journal (June 20,
5 miles east of Kansas
City, 18 minutes from Grand Avenue, upon a high elevation with views of the surrounding county and the Missouri River, sloping to the south, and covered with sugar maples. The Missouri-Pacific Railroad, with12 suburban trains daily, just to the south. The Kansas
City-Independence Park Railroad (an electric road) is graded almost to the addition."
Lippincott, Jr. 129 W 6th St., Kansas City MO
June of 1888, a reporter for the Kansas City Times
reported that in his opinion,
Park was the most picturesque spot between the
Allegheny Mountains and the Rockies." Washington
Park was huge, 382 acres, one mile east to west, one
and a half miles north to south. Covered with blue
grass, rocks as big as houses, and beautiful wild
flowers and ferns. Horse drawn open summer cars were
boarded on 12th St. and 15th St. and slowly headed
east. They crossed a then crystal clear Big Blue River
at 15th Street, detraining at the bottom of the big
Because of the Park's large size,
both ends had entrances. After a long walk up the
bluff, the west, i.e., the first entrance was at Stark
Avenue. Another entrance was by Rock Creek, and one in
the middle. The north entrance was where the bus stop
is now. Many of the patrons would enter the park at
one end and, after a day of fun, return to the city
from the other.
The high ground on Blue
Ridge was then called Bald Nob. A 107 foot lookout
tower was built and a museum at its base featured old
coins, books, and other historical curiosities.
Several rustic foot bridges crisscrossed Rock Creek,
linking nature with the man made attractions. The
springs were linked by a bridge to the double L-shaped
pavilion, which included a large restaurant. A band
stand was already in use, attracting many quality
musicians. It is said Jesse James and the boys once hid among the
huge rocks and thousands of trees, like the Oaks, Elms,
Hickorys, Sugar Maples, Basswoods, Sycamores, Mulberrys,
Locusts, Wild Cherry, and Paw Paws.
ground from where now there is a Dairy Queen, to Al
Waits Service Station, was the ball field, the hill to
the east were the bleachers and above this was the
camping ground. The 20 acre lake featured an island
for picnickers. Two steam-powered boats were already
in dry dock and workmen were optimistically painting
oars and John-boats, in preparation for the liquid
fun. No dancing or ball playing on Sunday and, of
course, gambling and strong drink was never allowed.
Admission to the park was free and uniformed watchmen
always patrolled the grounds.
with all the hoopla, Washington Park never did catch
on. It did set the stage for Fairmount Park, when, in
August, 1891, the ninth annual reunion of the
ex-Confederate Veterans of Missouri, was held in
Washington Park. Across the state, there were 1500
members and more than a third attended. Jackson County
alone had more than 1800 former rebels. Among the
notables were Generals Jo Shelby, Joe Blackburn and
Elijah Gates. They led the divisions in parade from
6th & Broadway to 15th & Grand, where the
soldiers boarded trains for Washington Park. Besides
the thousands of soldiers of both armies, there were
three senators and various state, county and city
VIPs. Next came the fire department, the retail
clerks, the 3rd Regiment and Battery B. For 2 days the
park was transformed into a military camp. North of
the 15th Street tracks there were 5 command tents and
250 smaller ones. Tables to feed 2,000 people at a
time were spread out under the trees.
old vet put it this way,
"Jackson County was the hot bed of strife during the war. The animosities here were the strongest just after the war. Now our children have been raised and educated with the children of Union Soldiers. They have formed lasting friendships and our sons and daughters have married the children of the men we fought. Here we want to meet them and bury our
animosities."As many as 40,000 people passed through the park in those two days. The veterans paid a dollar for each badge to identify them and their unit. The money went to the veterans home, just purchased in Higginsville; $18,500 for 362 acres. Many of the men were destitute, causes being wounds received while serving the Confederacy or were disowned by family. These men did not have to pay for their badge or anything else at Washington Park.
On May 23,
1891 an open-door meeting
led by Arthur
Stilwell was held in Independence
where details of the new Air Line (an electric trolley line that ran from 2nd and Wyandotte to Fairmount Park) were discussed. A large crowd was present. 70 acres was purchased from J. D.
Cusenbary, including the spring. An earthen dam was scooped out of the ground and what resulted was an 18 acre lake.
Cusenbary Springs (later known as Fairmount Park) opened to the masses. By the 4th of July the park had a
pavilion, band stand, gymnasium, shooting gallery, merry-go-round and of course a beautiful lake with a fleet of boats. On the 4th of July 8,000 people celebrated Independence Day in what was to be the first of 40 there. The newly formed artillery band made music all day
while Battery B fired the cannon.
After the 4th of July, every Sunday afternoon and evening was concert time at both
Washington and Fairmount Parks. In early August, gymnasts such as the Vorwaerts and other Turner groups, ventured to
the park. At 2 pm sharp a program of athletic exercises began which lasted all afternoon. It
started by a grand drill of 200, next an iron wand exercise by a class of 50, after which a class of 40 from each society gave an exhibition on 3 vaulting horses. Then there was a grand display of ladder pyramids, followed by an exhibition on both the horizontal and parallel bars.
On the lake, a canoe spear combat created much merriment and
the whole performance concluded with tug-of-war contests between the societies. The balance of the day was spent dancing to music of the band, who played until the last train left, taking the Turner Societies home to some Ben-Gay.
A three cornered debate was held on Labor Day weekend, September 5, between three well-known politicians in a time of much labor unrest. One's name was Cyclone Davis, a name well deserved. To make a long afternoon short, everyone got drunk and gave the politicians hell.
On September 17, the Kansas City Star featured a small ad on the amusement page informing the public that from now on
Cusenbary Springs would be known as Fairmount Park. The cafe was newly opened and the electricity had been turned on. An electric fountain had been built in the lake. Fairmount Park featured the finest boats and the best band in town. The last weekend of the season featured Alphonse King, "who could walk on water".
So ended the first year of Fairmount Park.
OTHER UNRELATED EVENTS IN 1892
1. Ellis Island opens. 7,000 new arrivals per day
2. Grover Cleveland elected president again.
3. John L. Sullivan is defeated by Jim Corbett in the 21st round.
4. Motorcar makes its first run in Springfield,
5. Bob and Emmet Dalton killed in Coffeeville, Kansas while trying to rob two banks.
6. "Does Coca Cola cause cocaine addiction?" reads the headlines in the newspapers.
7. Shell Oil gets its start by Marcus Samuel, a seashell seller.
8. Chicago's first elevator railway goes into operation.
9. The $1.00 Ingersoll pocket watch is introduced.
10. Economic depression begins in the U.S.
11. Telephone service between New York and Chicago begins.
12. Book matches patented by Joshua
13. First Hawaiian pineapple cannery opens.
14. Lizzie Borden accused of killing parents.
Copyright © 2005 John M. Olinskey