Home ARTICLES Misc

Old Hyde Park Was a Child's Wonderland PDF  | Print |

Kansas City Star, August 18, 1957

Cave Exploration and Winter Sledding Were Part of the Excitement Half a Century Ago, It is Recalled.

Continuing a series of three articles on the Armour and Warwick boulevards neighborhood is this second story by Mrs. Ann Peppard White. It deals with the Hyde Park district.

By Ann White

The old substantial homes in Hyde Park still stand sturdy and staunch against the tide of business. The area is protected by zoning laws, which do not allow commerce to intrude into the blocks from Thirty-sixth to Thirty-eighth streets, east and west of Warwick boulevard and including Janssen place.

Surrounded by the noise of new commercial construction, this area has an encompassing invisible wall and the homes on the surface (outside) look as they did when they were young more than half a century ago. Duplexes are allowed, but in most cases the façade of homes has not changed. Most homes have a comfortable middle-aged appearance, with casual flower beds, old open front porches screened in for outdoor living. But none have gone in for the new idea of the patio.

* * * * *

Mrs. Harrison Field, the former Madeline Haff, spent her entire life, until her marriage, at the family home at Thirty-sixth and Locust, just around the corner from Hyde Park.

416 E. 36th Street

416 E. 36th Street

From the HPNA collection.

Once the Town’s Edge,

“We were living on the edge of town when I was young,” Mrs. Field said recently, “and Hyde Park was the meeting place for all the neighborhood children. Skating and safe sledding in the winter, picnicking and tennis in the summertime and all kinds of games were our past times. Exploring partiers that often started at the park and went ‘off bounds’ several blocks east led tot he discovery of caves that rimmed a rock ledge along Thirty-ninth, east of Locust. We even took candles and followed an underground stream. I can feel the thrill now of the damp, clammy air“ and the slippery footing.

“Then there was the excitement— in the springtime when a band of gypsies camped for several weeks on the wooded land back of our house, which ran through the new Armour boulevard. We were the first house in the block, and on East Gillham road, which then was called Oak street, there was a woodsy place filled with wild blackberries.

Gillham Road north of 39th Street looking east 1911

“Katherine Harvey and I used to pick berries and gather wild watercress from around a spring at Thirty-ninth and Locust (now the French convent). We’d sell our products to the Guernsey and Murray grocery store at Fortieth and Main. There was always something to do!

[Photograph courtesy of the Parks, Recreation and Boulevards Department of Kansas City, Missouri. 1911. Right stone wall still exists. Remanents of the Santa Fe Trail are north of the middle stone wall.]

The Riding Lesson.

“I haven’t forgotten the fun of taking riding lessons from Dr. St. Clair Streett’s groom. He held classes on what is now the parade grounds south of Thirty-ninth, and in crisp German accept instructed us in posting. “One, two, three!” Some of the children in the classes were Fred Harvey, Katherine Harvey, Mary Augusta Armour (now Mrs. James Dunn), Abby Hagerman (now Mrs. Morrison Shafroth) and Dorothy Marsh.

“There was always something thrilling to do—gypsies, caves—and with childish imagination we peopled the place with wagon trains and Indians for the Santa Fe Trail had really passed this way, with a stop at our spring for water.”

* * * * *

Mrs. Sterrett Titus, formerly Polly Root, remembers Hyde park at the beginning of this century when the entire area was surrounded by a high iron fence and belonged exclusively to the neighbors. There was a private playground for the children, the iron gates were locked and one had to have a key to enter.

“We neighbor children had a whole kingdom of our own.” Mrs. Titus recalled recently “and it seemed so big—a great place to play ‘run, sheep, run’ in the springtime. Some of the boys in the neighborhood—Fred Harvey, Carroll Haff, Raymond White, the Gregory brothers and Alfred Benjamin—discovered a dark cave at the south and held secret meetings there, girls were not allowed!

“At the extreme southern end was a natural pool and we were forbidden to go in the water; but, occasionally, we just happened to fall in. There would be a sham rescue with the gang splashing around until the caretaker of the park shooed us away. He was a pleasant, friendly person, but couldn’t speak, so he waved and clapped his hands. We called him ‘Mr. Dummy,’ not only because when he was trimming a tree one day, he sawed a limb off while sitting on the extreme end and had a bad tumble!

Loved the Winters

“I think we enjoyed the winter times in the park most of all—such steep hills to go down ‘belly-buster,’ sliding swift and safe into the hollow.

“Our fathers took over the park sometimes when a Scotchman, Stanly Young, showed them a new game for Kansas City—golf. And in only one year or two, the young men became so enthusiastic they sent back to Scotland for proper clubs and rented Hugh and Seth Ward’s big pasture. Thus was formed the Kansas City Country club on the land which is now Loose park. I have often heard this was the first golf course west of the Mississippi.

“It was a neighboring place to live—lots of home-made family fun and excitement, too.

“The elm trees along Warwick were small, straight saplings, and Colonel William Rockhill Nelson had them planted, we heard, so he could have a shady lane to drive to his country home, Oak Hall, located on the site of the Nelson Gallery.”