Midtown Millionaire’s Row was once at 31st and Troost

Photo courtesy Kansas City Public Library - MIssouri Valley Special Collections.

Photo courtesy Kansas City Public Library – Missouri Valley Special Collections.

When Kansas City pioneer Webster Withers moved his family to this block in 1883, he said he’d decided to move to “the country.” He built his mansion on forty acres of ground on a spot few would recognize today – 31st Street  and Troost Avenue.

“We were tired of town life,” Withers’ wife told the Kansas City Star in 1911, “and desired to get away out on a farm.”

The family had previously lived at 9th and Cherry.  Withers was, at one time, the collector of Internal Revenue in Kansas City. His neighbors along Troost in the late 1800s included some of the wealthiest in the city. Another resident of the block, L.V. Harkness, was said, in fact,  to be the richest man who ever lived in Kansas City. His father was a partner in the Standard Oil Company with John D. Rockefeller. It was no wonder Kansas City residents referred to the block as “millionaire’s row.”

The Withers built a massive home featuring mahogany woodwork and hand-carved fireplace mantels in every room.  And for a while, the area must have suited him. But in what must have seemed to Withers like too short a time, civilization surrounded him.

Another newspaper story that year called 31st and Troost “A Town Within a City,” where, it said, “one could live and die without forgoing any of the luxuries or necessities of life –it has neither mayor nor council and is nameless, but there is no other lack.”

“But along this row of 2-story brick buildings that has very much the appearance of a Kansas or Missouri town, crowds of persons meet and walk up and down, particularly in summer evenings, long lines of electrics, runabouts and motor cars line up at the motion picture theaters and now a real theater that will seat eight hundred persons has opened and vaudeville performances are to be given every night,” the paper reported.

“This country village, so called, has grown up within the last few years within the two blocks bounded by Thirty-first and Thirty-third streets and Troost and Forest Avenues. It began twelve years ago when the old Troost Avenue cable car line, which stopped at Thirty-third street, made that corner a meeting center, where one or two small stores were started.”

Quickly, the new suburbs built up to the east, south and west and the easy access to streetcar lines convinced many “country dwellers” like Withers to sell their property to commercial interests or for the new luxury apartment building that were popping up to meet a housing shortage.

In all of Kansas City, 31st and Troost seemed to be about the choicest location. A photo of the same intersection in 1940 shows how much Wither’s “countryside” had changed.



  1. Beverl says:

    Dear Friends,

    Thanks for the historical look at Kansas City. I research the “House History” for the Symphony Designers’ Showhouse every year, and I always look forward to the hunt for information about the wonderful housing stock we still have from the turn of the 20th century.

  2. Lester T.Walker says:

    I grew up in this city,born & raised…my mom when she was young works at the iris’s threatre !! I also recall this area being call the uptown area & downtown were then integrative !!! Times have really changes now I am 65 yrs old & if my mom were still living she would have been 100 yrs old this year!…Thanks again for a walk down memory lane !

  3. Anne Russ says:

    Webster Withers was my great grandfather!

    • Anne:
      That’s pretty cool. There is a lot of really interesting history around the Withers family. Do you have any old photos or other history you would like to share?

  4. Bette Sterrett says:

    I see the old ISIS theater in the above picture. There is where I spent a lot of time as a little girl in the time before 1942. They used to show 3 movies for 10 cents on Wednesday night. We left K.C.in 1942 and never returned but that picture brought back fond memories of a different time and a lost generation.

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