On one block of Westport around 1900, black families lived next to white families, and a church founded by a former slave and his brother stood just down the block from a grocery store in one of the oldest buildings in Kansas City.
The block of Westport from Pennsylvania to Mill between 40th and Westport Road has seen several distinct stages of development. Last week, the Midtown KC Post detailed some of the changes on Pennsylvania Street from the mid 1880s to the early 20th century. Today, we continue our trip around the block along Westport Road and then up Mill Street.
As part of our Uncovering History Project, the Midtown KC Post is taking a look at each block in Midtown, including a set of 1940 tax assessment photos which is available for many blocks. (Many people seem confused by the tax assessment photos, which all include a man holding a sign. Here’s the story behind them).
Corner of Pennsylvania and Westport Road: Frontier building survives
At the corner of Westport Road and Pennsylvania, one of Kansas City’s best-known historic structures still stands. The building that is now now Kelly’s Westport Inn has housed a number of different businesses over the years since it was built in 1850-51. Albert Boone bought it in 1864 and ran his trading post there. It was also used as a drug store and a hardware store. In the 1930s, it became the Wrestler’s Inn, known for live wrestling and free-flowing liquor. The building is on the National Register of Historic Places.
This section of Westport Road also housed several small businesses. The Sawyer Material Coal Company was operating at 520 Westport Road, at the corner of Mill Street, as late as 1940.
From a racially-mixed residential area to a commercial block
While the Kelly’s building has remained, most of the rest of the Mill Street side of this block was transformed in the early 1900s. As the earlier map above shows, Mill Street was lined with a church and several small frame homes in 1895. In the 1920s and 1930, commercial expansion led to the replacement of those homes and the church.
The St. James Baptist Church at 4041 Mill Street was a black Baptist Church started in 1895 by two brothers, one a former slave. According to the Kansas City Star in a 1998 article, this was the first black Baptist Church in Kansas City, a small wooden-frame building. The church sold its land in 1939 to allow Manor Baking Company to expand. It moved to West 43 Street.
The row of small frame homes along Mill Street, all gone now, was occupied by both black and white families in records from the 1910 and 1920 census. Black minster John Williams lived at 4043 Mill in 1910, alongside white restauranteur Elmer and his wife Margaret Potter at 4037; white city water department tapper Michael Cushing, his wife, two sons, a daughter and father-in-law at 4035; and white letter carrier Moses Lemos and his wife Laura, two daughters, and brother-in-law Edgar Mashburn, a bank bookkeeper, at 4033.
At the north end of Mill Street on this block, the city water department operated a facility.
Historic photos courtesy Kansas City Public Library/Missouri Valley Special Collections.
Do you have memories or more details about this area of Midtown? Please share them with our readers. Would you like us to focus on your block next week? Send us an email.
Our book, Kansas City’s Historic Midtown Neighborhoods, is available now. Let us know if you want us to come to your neighborhood association or organization’s meeting to share what we’ve learned about Midtown neighborhood history and tell your members how they can help preserve Midtown history. If you’d like to order the book, email Mary Jo Draper at firstname.lastname@example.org.