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Schoolhouse, the first, in Jackson County was in Hyde Park, Lyle Kennedy PDF  | Print |

A Tale of Two "Sites" (with apologies to Dickens)

In 1906 when the Cave Spring was being sealed and the water diverted into a storm sewer, William Mulkey, then 82 years old and the oldest living early settler, was interviewed by a reporter and told the following story:


"I came here with my mother and grandfather when I was only 4 years old. We were the third family to locate above the Big Blue. A scouting party of Mormons, headed by Joseph Smith came here in 1830, and in 1831 they established a settlement on the N.E. corner of 35th Street and Troost Avenue. The remains of the buildings and fences were seen there as late as 1872. Smith soon established a school in a log cabin about 100 yards northeast of the cave. There were only 12 families represented in the school when I first attended there. We brought bottles of milk to school with our dinners and always put them in the cave until noon. I have explored the cave for maybe 100 years with other boys."


There is no record of land owned in the area by James Mulkey, the grandfather. By 1886 William Mulkey is the recorded owner of 125 acres from Brush Creek to 55th Street, and from Holmes to Troost. William R. Nelson purchased the north 45 acres in the early 1900s, and platted a development called Mulkey Park.

The Mormons did not own any of the land he describes, although they did own about 2000 acres in various tracts between 27th Street and 63rd Street, and between Prospect and State Line. Joseph Cockrell patented the Cave Spring area in 1833 and William Marston patented the 80 acres from 31st to 35th, Troost to Paseo, in November 1831.

William Mulkey is credited with building the first brick house in Kansas City at 13th and Summit, and lived there from about 1858 until 1803 when the City condemned the land for a public park.

Some historians give the location of Joseph Smith's School at a site about one and one half miles from the Cave.

Where was it really?

Apologies to Dickens were unnecessary - a third alleged location has now come to light just by accident. In reading the microfilm of the K. C. Journal-Post, searching for information on an entirely different matter, we find in the November 29th, 1925 edition a long article refuting the more traditional location of the settlement of Colesville and the first schoolhouse, and placing it approximately one mile south.

On the south bank of Troost Lake there stands a seven foot granite monument with a large brass plaque stating that it marks the site where Joseph Smith and eleven other men, symbolical of the Twelve Tribes of Israel, laid the first log for a meeting house which was also to serve as a schoolhouse. It was placed and dedicated on September 14, 1963.

Tradition had long placed the schoolhouse in that general location, and it was owned by the church under the name of bishop Edward Partridge, as was all of their land. Haskell and Fowler in The City of the Future place it in Spring Valley Park, a few blocks to the east. The archives at Independence and Salt Lake City indicate only that is "was twelve miles from Independence at the edge of a prairie in Kaw Township." As the "crow flies" this would be in Kansas, but by the meandering Santa Fe trail any one of the locations would be possible.

There may have been a pond where Troost Lake is, and certainly springs, but the dam now existent is man-made. Spring Valley also must have had many springs, and is a beautiful valley park today between Woodland and Brooklyn.

Site #3

In 1925, the centennial year of the Santa Fe Trail, the Missouri Valley Historical Group placed some markers along the old trail, and were anxious to find the location of the Mormon settlement, Colesville, and the school house, for the trail was supposed to have passed nearby.

Letters were sent to all known Mormon and Latter Day Saints historians but no clues except as stated in Part II, other than it was near rich land and was later surrounded by cornfields, and a dairy was established there.

It was know that the Mormon land had been confiscated or sold for taxes as quickly as possible, also that a Joshua Lewis was a leading lay member of the church and that at least one conference had been held in his home in 1832.

An appeal was made to Jesse Crump, a Vice President of the Kansas City Title Company, and a great-great grandson of Daniel Boone to identify the Lewis land. He could find no land entered in that name, and learned that all the church land was held by Bishop partridge. He did, however, find that a tract which had been occupied by Lewis was sold for taxes in 1844. It was the 3500 blocks of Wayne and Highland Streets. A look at that location quickly found that there had been a spring at the rear of 3526 Highland, and quite a gully running southward. They picked this as the site of the schoolhouse and church, the first logs of which were laid by Joseph Smith and 12 other "Saints" on August 2, 1932. No monument was erected there.

From a source not given in this article it is stated that the schoolhouse burned June 28, 1913, and that it was riddled with bullet holes. That location is more than half a mile from the Sante Fe Trail. So far no news article has been found in the newspapers on or near that 1913 date of the burning of such an historic structure. We may never know the correct site.

Where was it?

How far did you walk to school when you were a child? There is an old saying that the older we get, the farther we walked. No doubt the present generation will brag about how far they rode the bus.

W. H. Chick, who lived where Allen School is now located at 42nd and Summit, says, at age 80, that we walked a mile west through the woods to school, and on long lunch hours went swimming in Brush Creek. A mile west would have put the school well into Kansas, in Rosedale, and at least one and one half miles from Brush Creek. Wm. Mulkey, ages 81, claims to have attended the Mormon School located just northeast of the Cave Spring just below Gleed Terrace, and many times saw Joseph Smith get water there. Mrs. Ada MacLaughlin, long time teacher of History at Westport High, and a respected historian, spend the summer of 1933 in research. She also places the school at about 35th and Campbell, and the Mormon settlement, Colesville, at Armour and Troost. The Mormons did not own this land.

In 1925 the Missouri Valley Historical Society determined to locate the site and enlisted the assistance of Jesse Crump, an expert in land titles. Crump determined that Joshua Lewis, a leading member of the Church had a home in Colesville and tried to find a record of his land. It seems strange that an experienced abstractor would have not known that all of the land patented by the Mormons was held in the name of the Bishop, Edward Partridge. He finally located the tract near 35th and Highland, and found a few old-timers who remembered the spring nearby. An on-site inspection even today will confirm that there was a spring at one time nearby. He uses the data of June 2, 1832 as the data of construction, whereas the church and other sources give it as June 2, 1831.

How do we trust this kind of testimony? Yet the Mormons did own this land.

On September 14, 1963 a group of Mormon and Latter Day Saints officials, and many city officials dedicated a monument placed at the south end of Troost, near the more traditional site, a few blocks east in Spring Valley Park. The Mormons also owned this land.

Colesville and the Schoolhouse

Twelve miles from Independence at the edge of the prairie is certainly not a very good clue to the location. The road, later to be called the Santa Fe Trail, left Independence in a southwesterly direction until it passed Pilcher, a small village just north of present Hiway #40: there it continues west for a mile or so and turned back northwest crossing the Blue at about 29th Street just east of Topping; continuing westerly and crossing Jackson at about 25th Street; there it curved back southwesterly to Prospect near 28th Street.

It turned west there for a few blocks, and would certainly have been in sight of Spring Valley Park with its many springs, and the fairly level ground to the east and northeast. By this route it appears to be about 10 1/2 miles from Independence.

There the trail turns south and crossed Paseo at 35th Street in about one more mile. The trail continues southwest and crossed Troost at about 36th Street and at about mile 12, crossed above Old Cave Spring. With slight changes in the route any one of the three could have been the correct site.

Several of the Mormons were killed at Colesville and Independence, and Joseph Smith was killed later in Nauvoo, Illinois. Even if we had letters written by these men describing the terrain as it was in 1831"-1"3, it probably would not be recognizable today. In 1906 Mulkey said that although he had not been there in many years, "if his sight was good enough he would follow the ravines and find it." Actually even in 1906 most of the ravines had been filled with the leveling process that goes with the expansion of a city.

So if the Hyde Park neighborhood wishes to claim the first schoolhouse in the city, it would seem that that claim is as good as the others. While admitting to some bias, this writer chooses the site about Cave Spring.