A block dominated by churches in Old Westport

Two churches, Our Lady of Good Counsel and Westport Methodist, dominate this block of the Valentine neighborhood just north of Westport. Many churches moved to Midtown in the early 1900s as their congregations moved south. This photo is from 1940.

A recent aerial view of today’s featured block, dominated by two churches along Washington Street near 40th.

A recent historical survey of Westport suggested that the Our Lady of Good Counsel Church on this block of the Valentine neighborhood might be a candidate for the historic register. The church, and the rest fo the block, help tell the story of how churches followed their congregations as residential development moved from downtown to the south in the early 1900s.

The block, between Pennsylvania and Washington from W. 39th Terrace to W. 40th Street, began as a residential block on the north edge of frontier Westport, but later became home two churches that served the thriving Midtown community as it developed in the early 1900s.

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).  Today, the block bounded by Washington and Pennsylvania from W. 39th Terrace to W. 40th Street.

 Early Westport residents built homes

In the 1850s, Westport was at its peak as a frontier outpost. Thousands of immigrants came to town to get outfitted for their trips west. Businesses including hotels, saloons, and wagon shops lined Westport Road from Broadway to Mill Street and along Pennsylvania from 40th to 42nd. At the northern edge of Westport, several of Westport’s wealthy residents built their homes. An early map of the areas shows only one home on the block (highlighted in yellow). It may have belonged to Joab Bernard, a Southern Methodist minister who was one of the oldest residents of Westport.

Somewhat later, probably during the building boom at the turn of the 20th century, four homes were built at the corner of Pennsylvania and 40th Street, where a line of condos stands today. Those homes as they looked in 1940 are seen in the slideshow below.

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Churches fill in a strategically-located block

While Westport businesses prospered just to the south, the residents of Westport also began thinking about their spiritual needs. They may have been attracted to this block because of its proximity to the Westport business area and the fact that its land was mostly vacant.

A funeral in 1930 brought a large crowd to Our Lady of Good Counsel Church.

Methodists bought a parcel at the corner of 40th and Washington and built a two-story frame building in 1853. Before the Allen School was built in 1868, classes for local children were also held in the basement of the church.

The Catholics also saw promise for a presence in Westport. Father Bernard Donnelly personally bought the one-story Joab Bernard home in 1866 and services were held there. A few years later, Catholics begin to think about building a church and collected money for construction from wealthy Kansas City residents as well as men working on the construction of the Fort Scott Railroad. They even laid a foundation on the site, but when the priest was called away, planning stopped.

It wasn’t until the very end of the 1800s, when growth that had slowed during the civil war began again. The “suburbs” of Midtown began to fill in in earnest, and as new residents moved south, they wanted their churches nearby. Many religious institutions relocated to new churches in Midtown in the early 1900s, often building new houses of worship to serve the burgeoning population.

This 1909-1950 Sanborn map shows the two churches and priests’ house on Washington, the school on W. 39th Terrace, and the cluster of houses at the corner of 40th and Pennsylvania.

For that Methodists, as the congregation grew, the original building was demolished and a new church called Warfield Chapel took its place in 1896.

A new Our Lady of Good Counsel church was dedicated by the Catholics in 1907, and the former church was converted to a parish school run by the Sisters of Loretto. A home for the parish priest was built between the two churches at 3934 Washington. In 1912, Our Lady of Good Counsel built a school building at 517 Schaefer, which served local children until it closed in 1968.

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 at local bookstores and on Amazon.com. 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. 

One Comment

  1. JanetPickett says:

    I graduated from Our Lady of Good Counsel grade school. Good strong neighborhood church and school.

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