More Steptoe Homes Lost, Erasing More of Kansas City’s Black History

Homes at the corner of W. 44th Terrace and Washington Street in the Steptoe neighborhood in 1940. Steptoe has been gradually removed from history as homes have been demolished over the years. In June of 2022, three more homes on this block, from 44th Street Terrace to 44th Street between Pennsylvania and Washington, were destroyed to make room for a parking lot. 

It’s been a while since the Midtown KC Post shared any new stories, but here today is a new one. This block history was inspired by the fact that three buildings on the block – part of the historic but increasingly endangered – Steptoe neighborhood have been demolished. Steptoe is one of the most important places in Midtown history and all traces of it are rapidly being lost. Despite the fact that local historians and neighborhood residents have been warning of the demise of Steptoe for years, its destruction continues. 

The late Kansas City historian Joelouis Mattox wrote in 2004, ”Steptoe is the name of an antebellum African American neighborhood in Kansas City, Missouri, that is about to vanish. Located in the historic Westport district, residents of Steptoe once called their community “a little island” and declared it “the best colored neighborhood in the city.” read more of Mattox’s history of Steptoe

On June 21 of 2022 (notably the day after Juneteenth), an entity associated with Saint Luke’s Health System demolished three Steptoe neighborhood residences to make way for a surface parking lot, according to Historic Kansas City. Today, we take a look at the block whose history has been completely erased. 

This Steptoe buildings that were razed in June of 2022 included 4325 Pennsylvania, 513 W. 43rd Terrace and 515 W. 43rd Terrace. These photos show the homes in 1940.

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). This week, the south side of W. 44th Terrace to the north side of W. 44th Street between Pennsylvania and Washington.

The story of Steptoe, home of some of Westport’s freed slaves

An 1886 map of the Kansas City area, showing the village of Westport (annexed into Kansas City in 1897), including Pate’s Addition, the original Steptoe neighborhood, just south of the Westport city limit.

Many residents of the village of Westport, established in 1831, came here from the southern United States. They often brought their slaves with them. Although many residents fought for the Confederacy during the Civil War, Westport had an unusual relationship to slavery. For one thing, Westport had established a mechanism for slaves to buy their freedom. In addition, the town set aside land where those former slaves could live. This area, centered around 43rd Street west of Pennsylvania, became known as Steptoe. 

Black residents of Kansas City who had been scattered in different locations began to move to Steptoe and create a community. They established a school and two black churches. By 1930, Steptoe had expanded east to Broadway Boulevard, but more recently a number of its former homes have been demolished to make room for the expansion of St. Luke’s Health System.

A peaceful, mixed race block prospers from 1900-1930

Pate’s Addition, the subdivision that would come to be known as Steptoe, was laid out in the 1880s, ready for new residents. It didn’t really begin to fill up until after 1900. By 1910, seven families lived on the block from 43rd Street Terrace (then called Steptoe Street) to W. 44th Street between Pennsylvania and Washington. Four of the families were white and three were Black. Three of the families owned their homes while the rest rented. For work, the heads of these families worked as laborers, a teamster, a janitor, a servant, a barber and a baker. 

A 1909-1950 Sanborn map of the block shows it during the time when it was thriving, full of both Black and white families.

By 1920, the block had more structures and eleven families were living there, four of them listed as white.  Although three of the families rented their homes, the rest were owners. Occupations continued to include laborers, porters and in-home laundresses, but also included a carpenter and two chauffeurs to private families.

A home near the corner of W. 44th Street Terrace and Washington in 1940.

 (A note about racial identification in the census: For the 1890 census, enumerators were told to write “white,” “black,”or “mulatto” on  the forms. In 1900, however, the term mulatto was removed. It was added back in 1910 and 1920. Then in 1930, enumerators were given new instructions. They were told to classify people of mixed race as “negro” no matter what fraction of their ancestry was Black.)

The 1930 census recorded 16 families living on the block; five of them white and the rest recorded as negro. Residents continued to work as laundresses, chauffeurs, janitors and laborers, with a few now employed as a public school teacher and a police officer. 

By 1940, fewer families, only ten, lived on the block. Three of the households were Black. The block appears to have become more middle class, with a Black dentist and two Black public school teachers owning homes there.

As was common in many Midtown neighborhoods, families, even those who bought their homes, didn’t stick around forever. On this block, the longest-term residents during this period were the Wagner family. Nicholas Wagner, a baker and German immigrant, owned a home on the block with his wife, daughter, son and two nephews in 1910. In 1920, he was sharing it with his wife, son and daughter. By 1930, his daughter had moved out and Wagner’s son was supporting the family through his work as the owner of a wholesale hay company. Nicholas Wagner died in 1931. In 1940, his son Edward‘s family lived in the home and Edward was a local representative of federal food distribution.

See detailed 1900-1940 census records at the end of this post.

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.

 The book, Kansas City’s Historic Midtown Neighborhoods, is available now at local bookstores, on Amazon.com, or directly through me. (Email me at maryjo@drapercom.com to purchase a copy for $24.68, which includes shipping and handling).

Sources: 

Historic Kansas City call to action

Joelouis Mattox’ article “Taking Steps to Record Steptoe, Westport’s Vanishing African American Neighborhood,” from the Autumn 2004 Jackson County Historical Society Journal

Detailed Census Records for the Block

A mixture of bungalows and two-and-a-half story homes once filled this block of Steptoe.

1910

515 Steptoe: John Conboy, wife, 2 children, white, owned their home. Conboy worked as a janitor.

507 Steptoe: John J. Moore, wife, son, daughter, stepson, Black, owned their home. Moore was a laborer and his stepson worked as a teamster.

503 Steptoe: Charles Russel, wife, two daughters, son, Black, owned their home. Russell worked as a servant.

4326 Washington: William B. Smith, wife, two daughters, Black, rented their home. Smith worked as a laborer.

4332 Washington: Sarah VanCamp, daughter and son, white, rented. VanCamp’s son worked as a laborer. Another family also lived in the rental home: Jack Blutcher, wife, two daughters, son, white. Blutcher worked as a barber.

4333 Pennsylvania: Nicholas Wagner, wife, daughter, son, two nephews, white, rented. Wagner was a baker. (Note: Census records list him as both owning and renting but he appears to have owned the home).

1920

500 W. 44th: Grover D. Brown, wife, son, white, owned. Brown was a tool master for a cash register company.

504 W. 44th: George Wiggins, wife, daughter, son, white, owned. The father and son were for carpenters for Armour and Company; the daughter worked as an elevator operator. 

508 W. 44th: Bert Dunn, wife, white, owned. Dunn was in the horse business.

4333 Pennsylvania: Nicholas Wagner still lived here, now with his wife, son and daughter, white, owned. Wagner was still a baker.

513 Steptoe: June Collins, mulatto, owned. Collins worked as a porter in a restaurant. 

511 Steptoe: Samuel Smith,  wife, two sons, daughter, mulatto, owned. Smith was a  general laborer.

507 Steptoe: Martha Moore, son, daughter-in-law, daughter, mulatto, owned. Moore was a laundress; her son a laborer; and her son-in-law was a waiter at the Baltimore Hotel.

503 Steptoe: Charles F. Russell, wife, son, 2 grandsons, mulatto, rented. Russell was a general laborer and his son worked as a chauffeur for a private family.

4316 Washington: Herbert Edward, wife, Black, rented.  Edward worked as a janitor.

4318 Washington: George Taylor, wife, three sons, Black, wife and children mulatto, rented. Taylor was a chauffeur for private family. 

4324 Washington: Forrest Smith, wife, daughter, cousin, mulatto, rented. Smith and his cousin were both chauffeurs for private families. 

1930

504 W. 44th (2 families): Clyde Sewell, wife, white, rented. Sewell was a barbed wire maker. John Cummings, wife, son, white, rented. Cummings did car repair for the railroad. 

508 W. 44th: Oren R. Irwin, wife, son, white, rented. Irwin worked in the service department of a hotel. 

4333 Pennsylvania: Nicholas Wagner, his wife and son still lived here. Wagner’s son now worked as the proprietor of a hay company.

4331 Pennsylvania: Arlysses S. Bonner, wife, white, rented. Bonner was a candy salesman. 

4329 Pennsylvania: Sylvester Johnson, wife, boarder, rented, negro. Johnson was a chauffeur to a private family and their boarder was a gardener to a private family. 

4327 Pennsylvania: Forrest Smith, wife, daughter, rented, negro. Smith was a police department patrolman. 

4325 Pennsylvania: William Griffin, wife, father, owned, negro. Griffin was a public school teacher. 

513 Steptoe: Eliza Collins, owned, negro.

511 Steptoe: Samuel Smith, wife, two sons, daughter-in-law, two granddaughters, owned, negro. Smith was a laborer doing street construction, his son was a chauffeur for motor service, and the daughter cooked for a private family.

507 Steptoe: Martha Moore, son, daughter, son-in-law, owned, negro. Moore was a laundress at home. Her son worked as a laborer, her daughter as a department store stock girl and her son-in-law as a waiter at a hotel.

509 Steptoe: Loyd Givan, wife, son, mother, owned, negro. Givan was a chauffeur to private family and his wife worked as a maid in a department store.

503 Steptoe: Charles Russell, wife, son, two grandsons, owned, negro. Russell was a janitor in an apartment house; his son worked as a chauffeur for private family; and his grandsons were a high school athletic director and a laborer. 

4324 Washington: Horace Flowers, wife, mother, two daughters, son, sister, stepson, rented, negro. Flowers was a laborer for meat packer and his wife was a servant to private family.

4326 Washington: Bessie Hollard, son, lodger, rented, negro. Hollard worked as a cook in a private school and her lodger cooked for a private family.

4332 Washington: Frank Locke, wife, son, daughter-in-law, owned, negro. Locke was a truck driver,; his wife worked as a maid in furniture store;; his son was also a truck driver for motor service; and his daughter-in-law was an usher in a theatre.

1940

500 W. 44th: Eugene Rummous, wife, owned, Black. Rummous was a dentist.

508 W. 44th: Walter Wesner, wife, owned, white. Wesner was the superintendent of a roofing company.

4333 Pennsylvania: Edward Wagner, wife, white, owned. Wagner was a local representative of federal food distribution.

4331 Pennsylvania: William Lanan, wife, son, rented, white. Lanan was a clerk-typist for a federal agricultural marketing service.

4329 Pennsylvania: Ezekiel Johnson, wife, two sons, daughter, owned, Black. Johnson was a janitor and one son worked as a porter at a diaper wash.

4327 Pennsylvania: Forrest Smith, wife, daughter, owned, Black. Smith’s daughter now worked as a public school teacher.

4325 Pennsylvania: William Griffin, wife, owned,Black. Griffin was a public school teacher.

4324 Washington: John Busch, wife, rented, Black. Busch was a retail coal truck driver and his wife did laundry in the home.

4326 Washington: William Bruce, wife, black. Bruce’s wife did house cleaning.

4328 Washington: Frank Locke, wife, son, grandson, owned, Black. Locke was a retail construction truck driver; his wife was a laundress in home; their son worked as a houseman in a private home.

2 Comments

  1. Valerie Andruss says:

    Great Article!!

  2. Jim Brandes says:

    Don’t see the changed in the old Steptoe area as a destruction of a black historic area. See it more as an ongoing revitalization of older areas of K.C. whether white or black. On a separate matter, is there any info. on the area between Gilliam Rd. And Main St. and from Armour to Linwood Blvd? I grew up in this area during the 1950’s and remember an old red barn that stood just off E. 34 St. in an alleyway was wondering who owned this property prior to development—assume it was a farming community….Thanks.

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