Old Hyde Park’s “Chinese puzzle” was home to aged, athletic fields

little-sisters-of-the-poorIn what is today the Old Hyde Park neighborhood, a group of French nuns once cared for Kansas City’s oldest residents, and folks flocked to running tracks, baseball and athletic fields. It all took place around Locust Street from 31st to 33rd, in an area later referred to as the “Chinese puzzle” because its confusing dead-end streets often trapped strangers.

The area began as the site of the Widow and Orphans Home of Missouri, but in 1882, the Little Sisters of the Poor opened the St. Alexis Home for the Aged on the site. The order had started in France with its sisters vowing to care for the aged. Kansas City’s Bishop Hogan urged them to come here and by the turn of the 20th century, the sisters were caring for 110 elderly residents in a home on a large tract of land.

homre-for-the-agedThe residents were Irish immigrants, war veterans and others. The only requirement was that they were over 60 years of age, and even that rule was sometimes violated. “To enter there one must be without funds, without means of support, without friends to support him,” The Kansas City Star reported on Dec. 25, 1910.

“When a man or woman beyond 60 is stricken with poverty and has no kin or worldly friend to turn to, the motto of the Little Sisters of the Poor bids them come and live in comfort and peace until the end,” it went on.

The sisters had no servants and they depended entirely on charity. Two sisters went door to door each day, no matter what the weather, asking residents for nickels and dimes. Others of the sisters used a small black wagon to collect donations of food and discarded shoes, clothing and hats. Most of the sisters spoke only French.

Those who lived in the home for the aged often spent their days on the ten acre grounds. The women sewed colorful quilts and the men gardened on the site.

In 1907, the Sisters sold four acres to the Kansas City Athletic Club for its new grounds. The club had a two-story clubhouse, tennis courts, running tracks, and fields for baseball and football. A fire in 1923 destroyed the clubhouse.

But the site that had once been a secluded, restful place in the country came up against the movement south after the turn of the century. In 1918, the Kansas City Star referred to the area  between 30th and Armour, Gillham and Broadway as the “Chinese puzzle, “a system of streets unlike any other section of the city. It has developed through various city administrations which have given more consideration to the interests of individual property owners than to traffic needs. Streets begin anywhere and run nowhere.”

It said the area had 16 streets that dead ended. ”There are sixteen chances for a stranger to drive into some residents front or back yard, the alternative being to turn into another yard.”

There was also a public outcry to continue developing Linwood Boulevard as a major east-west connection. Linwood was part of the original Park and Boulevard Plan of 1893. The section from Troost to Gillham was developed in 1900, but it was not until the 1920s when the land was cleared for the Linwood connection from  Gillham Road to Main Street, which went right through the grounds of the Little Sisters of the Poor home for the Aged.

“Kansas City has won another victory for progress. The announcement that the way is now being cleared for the opening of Linwood boulevard from Robert Gillham Road to Main Street is one of the very best triumphs for the city, as a matter of fact, in recent years,” the Star declared in 1921.

The victory for progress, however, was the end of the Home for the Aged in Midtown. In 1923, the Little Sisters of the Poor moved to 53rd and Highland where they operated their second home. The moved again in 1987 to the Jeanne Jugan Center at 8745 James A. Reed Road.


Source: 1907 Tuttle and Pike Atlas of Kansas City.


  1. Jill DeWitt says:

    Fascinating – thanks for this interesting piece of Kansas City history!

  2. Rose says:

    Great story!

  3. Nadja says:

    Not to be picky, but Locust Street is in Hyde Park, not Old Hyde Park. Nice story!

    • I think that the boundary between North Hyde Park and Old Hyde Park is Gillham. Is that correct? So Locust is on the east side of Gillham at about 32nd but is west of Gillham at 31st. So technically the area described in the article is in both neighborhoods really. Am I right about that?

  4. Nadja says:

    You could be absolutely right – its hard to tell.
    Old Hyde Park today doesn’t go up to 31st – only to Linwood so could that be part of the confusion? Anyways, not important. Thank you again for the story.

  5. Cindy Biter says:

    So I guess the home was demolished? What a shame if it was. Is the Old Folks Home still in operation on James A. Reed Rd?

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