About the Porter Farm Historic District Preservation Project
While luxury homes, redeveloped commercial buildings, and new families are moving into Kansas City's central core, the rich history of the Porter Farm Homestead is in danger of being overlooked, demolished and ever lost to history.1 The goal of the Porter Farm Historic District Preservation Project is to gather existing history of the area and encourage residents - former and current - to share their interest in the area that began as the Porter Farm Homestead.
Many may not know but the reported history of the Porter Farm Homestead began well before James Porter arrived in Missouri in 1834. For example, even today, a Mormon marker lies at the south end of Troost Lake, indicating the site where Joseph Smith and 11 of his followers of the Colesville branch of the Morman Church met and camped in August 1831. A log was laid for the first house and school as a foundation of Zion in Kaw township.2
Joseph Smith, like some of the earliest settlers in Jackson County were Christian missionaries, including Methodists, Baptists, and Catholics who focused their efforts on conversion of Native Americans. Reverend Porter, a Methodist, wasn’t the only such “missionary”.3 In July 1831 Smith, Edward Partridge, W. W. Phelps, and several others arrived in Jackson County, Missouri. They were joined a week later by members of the Colesville, New York Church of Christ congregation. The congregation settled en masse in the western part of Kaw township, and sometime in 1832 opened a school in what is now Troost Park.
Members of the church believed Jackson County, and specifically Independence, had been designated by "divine revelation" to be the place of Zion- the New Jerusalem. During Smith's visit the summer of 1831, he dedicated the Temple Lot in Independence, Missouri, on August 3rd for the building of a temple. He did not stay, but returned to Kirtland, Ohio, then the headquarters of what later became the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints.
It wasn't long, though, before other residents took violent exception to these "Mormons,", perhaps including the Methodist preacher, Reverend James Porter. Those antagonistic to these early settlers around Troost Lake were derogatorily called “Mormons” for their belief in The Book of Mormon. Adding fuel to the discord amongst these “missionaries” was the fact that the Mormons were anti-slavery in what became a slave state, and their intention to make Independence the "New Jerusalem" did not sit well with the others. James Porter owned slaves and was not likely a supporter of a continued Mormon presence within his newly acquired farmstead.
Of course, there were those who resided in and around the area settled by the Mormons and later appropriated by the Porter family. Those residents included the Osage Indians. Prior to western expansion in the United States (and the arrival of both John Smith and James Porter) the Osage Indians often used a path that became Troost Avenue. The land that comprised the Porter Farm Homestead was a part of those Osage lands. The natural spring that still feeds today’s Troost Lake provided a water supply for the Indians who congregated in the area and frequented a trail that later became known as Troost Avenue.
As to more recent history and development of the Porter Homestead, there have been serious efforts to catalogue and document the historic character of buildings and geographic artifacts of what we are terming "The Porter Farm Homestead Historic District".
The Porter Farm Homestead itself originally extended west as far as what is now McGhee Trafficway. On the western edges of the Farmstead the areas now known as Union Hill and Crown Center evolved. Begining in March, 1981 and ending in July, 1985 the City of Kansas City, Missouri, with grant assistance from the Missouri Department of Natural Resources, Division of Parks and Historic Preservation, conducted a historic survey of the area bounded on the north at 15th Street to 31st Street on the south, and from Troost on the east to the Southwest Trafficway on the west. This 5 ½ square mile area embraced a substantial portion of the Porter Farm Homestead.
Within the survey boundaries and within which lies the Porter Farm Homestead, researchers found, when the Midtown District survey was completed, that there were approximately eighty extant buildings from standing from the early 1900's. One of the oldest buildings surveyed was a residence located at at 2300 Troost. The story brick residence at 2300 Troost was built in 1883. Unfortunately, it has since been demolished and lost to redevelopment of a hotel in what is now called Beacon Hill.
Many other historic buildings existed in the area until recently, many being demolished in the name of “urban redevelopment”. For example, the Midtown Survey found that in 1899 a portion of the original Porter estate that had been used for many years as pasture (lying between 27th and 29th Streets, Harrison and Charlotte) was platted as the Hill Crest Addition.
George Kessler, the famous landscape architect for the Board of Park and Boulevard Commissioners (his designs including today’s Paseo Boulevard and Ward Parkway), and Stephen A. Mitchell laid out the subdivision. They avoided the regular street grid pattern and allowed the streets to curve in order to follow the natural topography. Two circular pieces of ground, dedicated to public use, are sited in traffic circles in the subdivision where curving streets that still exist today intersect. Most of the construction in this subdivision occurred in the first two decades of the 20th century.
Just to the south of the Hill Crest subdivision is what was once known as the Beacon Hill Park subdivision which was platted in 1887. Many of the residences in this subdivision were constructed in the l 890's and many exhibited Queen Anne stylistic elements (2832, 2839, 2900, 2906, 2910, and 2914 Campbell; 2815, 2817, 2822, 2825, 2828, 2900, 2904, 2912, and 2915 Charlotte; and 2832 Harrison.
An especially noteworthy residence of this period is the Frank P. Burnap residence that still stands at
2924 Harrison, constructed in 1896. Burnap was the founder of the F.P. Burnap Stationery and Printing Company and was a noted collector of antique English pottery. The large two story brick residence features a variety of ornamental elements and ornate dormer treatment. Several other residences from this decade still stand and are scattered throughout the southern portion of Porter Farm Historic Preservation Project area.
Several houses in the present day Union Hill neighborhood, also within the boundaries of the Porter Farm Homestead, were constructed in the 1890's, primarily on the 3000 blocks of Walnut and McGee Streets. In 1898- 99 a group of houses was built on DeGroff Way for William Rockhill Nelson which was one of his earliest ventures in residential development. Rather than face the north-south street, these houses are sited so that each faces south onto a broad expanse of lawn. In 1897, the estate of Thomas Corrigan, another famous Kansas Citian, constructed a row of two story brick residences on the 2500 block of Holmes. Some of the original eight residences remained today.
As is obvious, there is a lot of history in the Porter Farm Homestead. Documenting and preserving that history in words and deed is the mission of the Porter Farm Historic Preservation Project.