A Great History of the Great Mall of the Great Plains. Part Three: If You Build It, They Will Come (1995 to Mid-1997)

This is a third in a seven part series on the Great Mall of the Great Plains.


A black and white aerial view of farmland with buildings scattered throughout and roads bisecting it.

An aerial view of the land the Great Mall of the Great Plains would eventually sit on, 1996.

1995 would bring a trickle of good news for the mall, but no construction. In April, local theater chain Dickinson Theatres announced that they would be building a deluxe theater at the mall that would be open in the fall of 1996. The initial plan was for a 14-screen, 50,000 square-foot theater that would serve as another mall anchor. “It’s going to be as nice as anything we’ve built in Kansas City. It’s going to have high-back rocker seats, carpeting in all the auditoriums, cupholder armrests. In fact, we’re going to shoot for 100% THX certification in all the theaters,” company president Wood Dickinson told the KC Star.

That same month, Jordon Perlmutter & Co. (JP&Co) and Petrie Dierman Kughn got city approval for their final development plans for the Great Mall. The mall was going to have a prairie theme. The entrances were to have canopies over them shaped like Conestoga wagons, and there would be wheat stalks carved into the outside walls of the mall. Inside, there would be life-sized buffalo sculptures, giant sunflowers, sculptures of historical figures whose bodies would spell out “Great Mall,” and a ticker updating mall-goers about grain production. The food court was going to have picnic tables with checkered tablecloths. And the mall would be divided up into three sections to help mall patrons orient themselves in the massive facility: Buffalo, Sunflower, and Breadbasket of America. It doesn’t exactly scream “Johnson County in the 1990s” to me, but it sounds like it would have been pretty cool.

In August, JP&Co. bought out Petrie Dierman Kughn’s interest in the mall, forming a joint venture with Glimcher Realty of Columbus, Ohio. From what I could see the new partnership wasn’t publicly announced until early the next year, however in October JP&Co. told Olathe that they were having ongoing troubles with financing, and still couldn’t start construction. They had some tenants lined up and ready to go, but they needed more tenants to sign on so that they could secure final financing for the project. It seems that Glimcher was brought in to help secure the tenants and financing that Petrie Dierman Kughn had been struggling to get.

The developers were now anticipating that the mall would open in early 1997 instead of the fall of 1996.

Meanwhile, after a relatively slow start to the decade, retail in Johnson County was about to explode. By the middle of 1995, there were four other major shopping centers in development in Johnson County, and all of them were expecting to open by the end of 1996. Town Center Plaza in Leawood, Merriam Town Center, the WestGlen Shopping Center in Shawnee, and Shawnee Station were all underway. On top of that, Oak Park Mall was expanding. That November, two other developers announced that they were planning a large retail development plus a huge movie theater in Olathe at Strang Line and I-35, less than five miles away from where the Great Mall was to go.

Nevertheless, the Great Mall persisted. By December, there had at last been a break in the financing efforts. While they still didn’t have the requisite tenant commitment for the Great Mall, JP&Co.’s new partner Glimcher Realty had come through. Their strong reputation with Ohio banks (along with a substantial amount of their own equity) finally unlocked the additional financing they needed to get started on the project.

The developers quickly obtained a first-phase building permit from Olathe, allowing them to begin on foundation and structural work for roughly the first half of the shopping center. The city also agreed to $1.7 million (to be paid back to the city by the developers) in infrastructure improvements such as relocating streets and storm drains, and building sewer and water lines.

Around this time, reporting in the KC Star added one more tenant of note: The Burlington Coat Factory.

In January of 1996, the Olathe City Council updated the previous deal with the developers (I assume because certain things had changed over the years and Glimcher had replaced the other developer) and approved $110 million in industrial revenue bonds* (up from $85 million in 1992) and reconfirmed a 50% property tax abatement through 2006.

(*Note: If, like me, you did not know what industrial revenue bonds were at the start of all of this, allow me to share with you this helpful description from the KC Star’s Stacy Downs: “Cities issue industrial revenue bonds to help companies finance building construction. A city and a company enter into an agreement that essentially gives the city ownership of the company’s property. The company leases the property, and the payments go toward retiring debt.”)

Finally, on Tuesday January 23rd, 1996 ground was broken. Olathe mayor Larry Campbell, Kansas Commerce Secretary Gary Sherrer, Jordon Perlmutter, and David and Herb Glimcher were pictured in the KC Star with shovels, digging into the ground. However, being January, Stacy Downs noted, “It was more of a snow shoveling than a ground breaking.”

Still, the mall was officially underway. It was expected to cost $110 million in total, measure 1,000,000 square-feet, and open in March or April of 1997. Estimates now projected that it would employ 2,000 people, and bring in about $150 to $200 million per year. (I suspect the decrease in estimated revenue came from accounting for all of the other new developments that would be springing up in Johnson County, many of which weren’t even announced when the first assessment was done.)

By the start of summer, the skeleton of much of the mall was complete, and in June the developers announced their intention to add a 200,000 square-foot addition to the mall that would feature an entertainment area. They requested an additional $10 million in industrial revenue bonds for the entertainment addition, and the Olathe City Council granted it.

Around this time, I began to notice that mall spokespeople were really emphasizing tourism and entertainment in their public remarks. It had come up before, but it now seemed to be a point they were highlighting. Based on the tenant list, it was still an outlet mall, and discounts and outlet stores were regularly touted, but with the announcement of the entertainment addition, spokespeople talked a lot more about the mall being a tourist destination and a place where people would go to spend the whole day. For example, the president of the mall’s leasing company, Lord Associates, Courtney Lord told the KC Star, “People will come for the experience, and it’s a place people will travel longer distances to see.” In July there was even an announcement that they had hired Donna Pottier (previously of the Overland Park Convention and Visitors Bureau) away from the Olathe Area Chamber of Commerce to be the Director of Tourism for the mall.

By the fall of 1996, the 14-screen Dickinson theater at the mall had been upgraded to a 16-screen theater. However, in October the Olathe City Council gave final approval for a 30-screen AMC theater in the aforementioned Strang Line area less than five miles away, which was sure to be tough competition. By the end of 1997 Olathe would be going from a city with eight theater screens (Dickinson’s Olathe Landing 8) to one with 54, and only time would tell how sustainable that was.

Another problem was emerging for the Great Mall, although it was not something that most people wouldn’t generally consider problematic. The average unemployment rate in Johnson County in 1995 was a remarkable 2.9%. Up through the fall of 1996, the average unemployment rate was 2.6%. With such a competitive labor market, it was going to be very difficult to staff the mall with the 2,000 to 3,000 people it would need without higher-than-average wages. In the KC Star, Robert A. Cronkleton wrote, “Some Johnson County fast-food restaurants pay well above minimum wage to attract workers. Some even offer partial benefits to workers who would not have qualified otherwise.” Retailers had the option to hire people from outside Johnson County, but Olathe’s position away from the Kansas City area made that a tricky prospect for people without a car, further narrowing the hiring pool.

By the end of 1996, the local economy was finishing strong, and 1997 was projected to be even better. It was going to be a great year to open a mall in Johnson County.

In January of 1997, the exterior walls were up and work was being done inside the mall, but developers announced that they were pushing back the grand opening from March to August for two reasons. First, they wanted all of the stores to open at the same time, thinking it would be better to make a big splash than to have a slow build up to a completely operational mall. And second, according to Gail Redmond, president of the Olathe Area Chamber of Commerce, there had “been more input about the design and technology of the mall, which has contributed to a later opening date.”

The developers had decided to (mostly) ditch the prairie theme of the mall, and instead go with a high-tech aesthetic. It was revealed that the mall would now have exposed ceilings and glass storefronts to fit with the more cutting-edge style of the late 1990s, but at first very little else was disclosed about the new look, which JPRA Architects was working on. A few months later, a promotional leasing video described the mall as “the value and entertainment center of the future,” saying it would have 32-inch monitors at metallic kiosks near the entrances promoting stores in the mall and displaying movie showtimes. What seems to have been lost in this redesign is the prairie kitschiness that could have made for a more interesting tourist attraction. And tourists had been deemed crucial to the success of the mall.

However, there was also talk at the time about Jeepers*, an indoor amusement park for children, and “Metropolis,” an area for adults with themed restaurants and a rotunda for live entertainment, which could have been appealing to tourists.

(*Note: I wasn’t able to tell for sure, but I think that Jeepers replaced the previously-planned planned Fun Factory arcade, which would have had a “western-motif” under the earlier prairie theme of the mall.)

In late April, the Olathe City Council and Planning Commission members were given a tour of the mall. Many seemed impressed with the size of the structure overall, but some seemed underwhelmed by the progress on the interior. “There’s still quite a bit left to the imagination at this point,” Councilman John Bacon told Cori Cornelison of the KC Star.

In May, William Carpenter Jr., president and chief financial officer of Prime Retail, which was one of the country’s largest outlet mall developers at the time, shared a bit of industry gossip with the KC Star, saying that the rumor was that the Great Mall’s leasing was still not where it needed to be, and that their close proximity to a major city was working against them as an outlet center. Michael Glimcher acknowledged that leasing was lower than ideal, but countered that even though they were closer to a major population area than was common, outlet centers had broken the “sensitivity barrier” before and still enjoyed success. He was optimistic that once retailers saw the grand opening of the Great Mall in August, they would have many more stores signing up.

In that same article, Eric Palmer of the KC Star wrote, “The Great Mall will open at the same time financial analysts claim shoppers may have gotten too much of a good thing. […] Full-price retailers have been more aggressive, giving shoppers less reason to drive out of their way to search for bargains. According to a report last year from the consulting firm of Arthur Andersen, sales per square foot at outlet malls dropped 3% in 1995. As the number of outlet malls has increased, competition for tenants has gotten intense, according to retail experts.” He also noted that most of the value-oriented malls successfully breaking the proximity rule were in places with much larger populations than the Kansas City area, and usually in areas with high tourist traffic.

In the early 1990s, outlet malls were a rare bright spot in retail, but as the economy improved across the country, it seems like the tables had turned, both due to overbuilding and customers not having to prioritize bargains as much.

Still, it was not all doom and gloom in the first half of 1997. On Thursday May 22nd, 1997, Jeepers, the 30,000 square-foot indoor amusement park for kids, had a grand opening celebration, becoming the first part of the mall to open to the public. There was a ribbon-cutting and hundreds of people attended, riding the indoor Python Pit roller coaster, bumper cars, and kiddie train, while others played laser tag or played in the big, tubed play structure, which I believe was dubbed “Jungle Junction.” The Tiny Rhino Diner served up appetizers, hamburgers, pizza, pasta, sandwiches, and salads, and I have to imagine a good time was had by all.

The rest of the mall was scheduled to open on August 14th.

In July there was an article with interviews from foreign exchange students who were returning to their native countries. A disappointed Viviane Crosa of Paraguay said, “I can’t believe I won’t be here to see the opening of the Great Mall. It stinks.”

One hopes she made it back to see it in all its glory before it was gone.


Thank you for reading this history of the Great Mall of the Great Plains. I hope you enjoyed reading it as much as I enjoyed researching and writing it. I would like to thank all of the journalists at the Kansas City Star, the Kansas City Business Journal, and The Olathe News whose hard work I drew from. I would also like to thank everybody who provided pictures and/or anecdotes. Special thanks to Bryan for research tips and spending countless hours walking malls with me. And finally, thank you to all of the people who made the mall possible, and everybody who worked and shopped there and made it what it was during its all-too-short existence. If you have any memories about the mall you would like to share, please leave us a comment, or shoot me an email at kellerm@jocolibrary.org. Also, if you have any pictures of the mall you’d like to share, please send them my way!

-Mike Keller, Johnson County Library

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Johnson County’s Hospitals and Healthcare Systems

Johnson County is fortunate today to be home to many outstanding hospitals, clinics, doctor’s offices, and other medical facilities. But this was not always the case. In thinking about how much health has been in the news with the COVID-19 pandemic, this three-part blog series will explore the history of healthcare in Johnson County. Note: healthcare refers to a system of doctors, clinics, and hospitals, while health care refers to the treatments of those providers and the things people do to address their health.

 

From the 1850s to 1934, healthcare in Johnson County had transformed from house calls by “horse and buggy” doctors to hospital visits. Over the course of the second half of Johnson County’s history, access to medical care, like the county’s population, exploded. What began with the establishment of a three-bed hospital, Reece Hospital, in Gardner in 1934 had expanded to include the Olathe Community Hospital in 1953, Shawnee Mission Hospital and Gardner Community Medical Center in 1961, and Olathe Medical Center in 1968. By the end of the century, as the county’s population skyrocketed to nearly 500,000 people, Johnson County would be home to five additional hospitals and medical centers. These large facilities, along with smaller clinics and doctor’s offices located throughout Johnson County, provide essential services for people throughout the region and contribute to the overall quality of life in Johnson County.

 

Johnson County’s Largest Medical Center to Date

Between 1968 when Olathe Medical center opened and 1976, Johnson County’s population grew by 50,000 people. The increasing population prompted Humana Healthcare to build Johnson County’s largest medical center to date. Located at I-435 and Quivira, the new Suburban Medical Center included a staggering 400 beds when it opened in 1976.

 

In 1984, the Suburban Medical Center expanded to include the Women’s Center, the first medical facility in Johnson County dedicated specifically to the care of women. Women from around the region relied on the Women’s Center for regular health checks, pre-natal appointments, and to birth a new generation of Johnson Countians.

 

Today the Suburban Medical Center is called the Overland Park Regional Medical Center. In addition to a women’s clinic, its main campus at 10500 Quivira Road in Overland Park includes a Cardiac Rehabilitation and Diabetes Center and The Human Motion Institute.

Overland Park Regional Medical Center’s expansion for medical office space. Sun Newspaper Collection, Johnson County Museum.

Overland Park Regional Medical Center’s expansion for medical office space. Sun Newspaper Collection, Johnson County Museum.

Care for Children

In 1987, Children’s Mercy Hospital located their new medical offices in Johnson County. Six years later, they opened the Surgicenter in Overland Park, which provided emergency medical and planned surgeries for some of the youngest residents of Johnson County and neighboring areas. In 1997, the hospital’s centennial, Children’s Mercy South opened on West 110th Street. In 2004, the hospital expanded again, adding more than 140,000-square feet in a second hospital tower. Today, Children’s Mercy also has a facility in Johnson County’s Blue Valley.

Children’s Mercy South. Sun Newspaper Collection, Johnson County Museum.

Children’s Mercy South. Sun Newspaper Collection, Johnson County Museum.

A Kansas City Transplant

In 1989, Menorah Medical Center relocated from its Kansas City location at 49th Street and Rockhill Road, where it had operated since 1931. The new 60,000-square foot facility stood at the border of two Johnson County cities, Leawood and Overland Park. In 2005, Menorah Medical Center in Johnson County expanded to 158 beds. Since that time, Menorah Medical Center has grown several times, including the addition of the Ambulatory Surgery Center.

3.Menorah Medical Center, c. 1996. Johnson County Museum.

Menorah Medical Center, c. 1996. Johnson County Museum.

Healthcare in the Nineties

Johnson County’s population grew by 321,727 people or more than 965% from 1940 until 1990. Between 1980 and the end of the century, population grew by another 28%. That’s nearly another 100,000 Johnson Countians in just 20 years. The sustained population boom drew additional hospitals to a county that started the century with no formal health care.

 

One of Kansas City’s largest hospitals, St. Luke’s, opened a Johnson County location as St. Luke’s South in 1998 at 12300 Metcalf in Overland Park. In the early 2000s, the site underwent a massive renovation, including a 92,000-square foot addition. Today the facility has a strong reputation for cardiology and has expanded as the residential area to its south continues to develop. St. Luke’s also has facilities in Olathe and Roeland Park, creating a Johnson County system.

St. Luke’s South campus rendering. Sun Newspaper Collection, Johnson County Museum.

St. Luke’s South campus rendering. Sun Newspaper Collection, Johnson County Museum.

As the century drew to a close, University of Kansas Hospital opened a Johnson County location. Called KU MedWest, the facility opened at I-435 and Midland Drive in Shawnee in 1999. This location serves the western portion of the Johnson County, as well as the communities of Leavenworth, Lansing, and Lawrence. Eight years later in 2007, the University of Kansas Hospital – Westwood Campus opened at Shawnee Mission Parkway and Rainbow Boulevard. The facility includes a 55,000-square foot Cancer Center and the Midwest Prostate Center.

5.KU MedWest. Sun Newspaper Collection, Johnson County Museum.

KU MedWest. Sun Newspaper Collection, Johnson County Museum.

These large hospitals and the larger healthcare systems in Johnson County today provide comprehensive care with access to urgent care clinic facilities, hospitals with in- and out-patient, surgery, pharmacy, and specialist services. Several major hospitals, eyeing Johnson County’s growing population, purchased sites along the K-10 corridor in the early 2000s. These include Olathe Medical Center, the Shawnee Mission Medical Center, and St. Luke’s Medical Center. Their expansion plans are based both on population movement westward as well as an aging population in Johnson County.

 

Conclusion

From doctors traversing unpaved roads to reach farms at the far corners of the county to the emergence of major medical centers serving huge populations in the very places that once seemed remote, the healthcare industry in Johnson County has changed dramatically since the county was founded in 1855. Perhaps the most lasting lesson that emerges from reviewing 165 years of healthcare history in Johnson County is that the industry develops to meet the needs of the community.

Johnson County population by age, according to Johnson County Health and Environment’s “Community Health Assessment and Community Profile,” 2016.

Johnson County population by age, according to Johnson County Health and Environment’s “Community Health Assessment and Community Profile,” 2016.

As we look forward to the future healthcare needs of the community, it is important to look back as well. As a large post-War suburban community, Johnson County has a huge population of Baby Boomers. Last year, close to 33% of Johnson County’s population was over the age of 50, with one in five over the age of 60. Next year, the first Baby Boomers will reach the age of 75. Additionally, Johnson County’s population is continuing to grow—it is expected to surpass 600,000 in the 2020 census. The combination of a growing and aging population will require that healthcare continues to respond to the needs of Johnson County’s changing population in order for the county to thrive.

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A Great History of the Great Mall of the Great Plains. Part Two: A Bridge to the Big Time (1992 to 1994)

This is the second of a seven part series on the Great Mall of the Great Plains. Read part one here.


A black and white aerial view of farmland with buildings scattered throughout and roads bisecting the image.

An aerial view of the land the Great Mall of the Great Plains would eventually sit on, 1991.

If you have read Romeo and Juliet, you probably remember the classic line, “A mall by any other name would smell as sweet.” That’s not exactly the line, but it’s something like that. Anyways, I have to assume that phrase was on everybody’s mind in October of 1992 when Jordon Perlmutter & Co. announced that in a joint venture with fellow developers Petrie Dierman Kughn of Washington D.C. they would be building a one-story, 1,000,000 square-foot outlet mall in Olathe. They intended to buy another thirty-four acres from the Olathe-Santa Fe Partnership soon. Construction was expected to start in the fall of 1993, and the mall would be open by the spring of 1995. The mall would feature outlets for high-end department stores, seven to nine anchors, discount retailers, a food court, and possibly also a movie theater. No tenants were signed yet, but developers were optimistic.

And the mall’s name? “Southpark Plaza” was out. Now it was going to be (cue trumpet fanfare) The Great Mall of the Great Plains.

By 1992, after a few years with a sluggish economy, American shoppers were flocking to outlet malls. The Lawrence Riverfront Plaza Factory Outlet had opened in 1990 and enjoyed enough success that another company built an outlet mall basically just across the river in the early ‘90s. All around the country outlet malls were a bright spot in otherwise cloudy retail atmosphere. Regular shopping centers in general were considered overbuilt, and it made sense at the time for the developers and Olathe to bet on an outlet mall, even if it was unconventional for one to be so close to a highly-populated area.

At the time there was an unwritten rule called the “sensitivity barrier” that discouraged outlet centers from building within 40 miles of places where regular department stores existed, since the outlets would potentially be selling the same merchandise for much less. (They at least wanted to make you drive for it!) But if it was unconventional at the time, it seems that retail norm was eroding, because as the Great Mall was being pitched, the owners of the ailing Indian Springs Shopping Center in Kansas City, Kansas (a mere twenty miles away) were considering converting their mall into an outlet mall. This upped the pressure on Olathe to act quickly in getting everything approved for the developers.

This time the Great Mall’s developers requested $85 million in industrial revenue bonds (which would make them eligible for tax abatements under Kansas law), and property tax abatements to the tune of 50% for ten years. They said the property tax incentives would help them draw in tenants, and they couldn’t finalize their additional financing for the project until they had commitments from half of their tenants.

According to a city report, the mall was going to generate $2.7 million per year in property taxes for Olathe (without abatement). It could be expected to generate as much as $207 million in retail sales annually, and employ 1,800 people. In other places, outlet malls had been popular with tourists, and from the Great Mall’s beginning it seems that bringing in tourists was recognized by all parties as an essential part of the mall’s success strategy. The report estimated that half of the sales in the mall would be to people living outside of Johnson County, although the developers did tell the KC Star that the 2 million people in the Kansas City area alone should generate enough business to sustain the mall.

In December, the Olathe City Council voted unanimously to approve of the $85 million in industrial revenue bonds and the property tax abatement. However, there was a catch. The City Council included a performance agreement, saying that if the mall failed to produce a certain amount of sales tax revenue, the city would be allowed to end or reduce the property tax abatement. They also required that the developers open the mall by 1996, lest they lose at least a year of abatement.

Some citizens, journalists, and officials from surrounding cities criticized the tax incentives to varying degrees, saying that they were cheating residents by lowering the amount of money that could have gone to public services. It was also argued that existing Olathe retailers who were paying full property tax would now be at an unfair disadvantage when competing with the mall. The criticism voiced by a handful of officials from surrounding cities was that this meant they would probably also have to start offering greater tax incentives to draw businesses in, and there was mild concern that they would lose sales tax revenue as Olatheans started shopping in their own city more (which, for Olathe, was the main point of the mall).

However, proponents pointed out that residents wouldn’t benefit at all if the mall wasn’t built. In the KC Star, Charley Vogt of the Olathe Chamber of Commerce was quoted saying, “50% of something is a lot better than 100% of nothing.” Many Olatheans were also happy because if abatements secured a mall, and the mall paid off for the city, the tax burden of homeowners stood to decrease. No less than Olathe’s mayor, Jacob F. Ruf, weighed in on the matter, writing in to the KC Star to defend the decision and provide some optimistic numbers. He said that the City of Olathe had carefully considered the mall investment, and believed it would be good for Olathe, Johnson County, and the entire metropolitan area.

The next month (January of 1993), the KC Star reported that Kansas representatives were discussing revisions to abatement procedures. The statewide mill levy for schools was allowing “taxing entities” (such as cities) to grant tax breaks without impacting their local schools, as the money would be made up elsewhere throughout the state. Legislators hoped to change that in order to reinstate accountability and make things fairer across Kansas.

That same month, the Aetna Life Insurance Co., which owned the Indian Springs Shopping Center, was discussing expanding their mall and redefining it as an outlet center called The Great Plains Marketplace. Kansas City, Kansas, mayor Joe Steineger specifically stated their wish to get the project started before Olathe’s Great Mall, because the area probably could not sustain two outlet malls. The race between Indian Springs and the Great Mall would continue throughout 1993.

Clearly, the Great Mall was making waves from its earliest days. The mall was not without some controversy, but city officials felt it was worth the risk. Millions of dollars left Olathe every year as residents went to other cities to shop. The mall stood to increase their annual sales tax revenue 50%, from $4 million to $6 million. Revenue like that would help the mostly residential city lower the property tax burden on homeowners, and make Olathe an even more appealing place to live. And on top of that, many city officials hoped that the Great Mall would give Olathe an identity and make it a destination for people in the Kansas City area and beyond.

In January of 1994, the Great Mall’s developers released a partial tenant list of the retailers they had been able to secure. The anchors were SuperSports USA, Linens N Things, Marshalls, Service Merchandise, and Fun Factory (an arcade). Among the smaller stores were Ballard Sports Outlet, Benetton Outlet, Book Warehouse, Claire’s Boutique Outlet, Famous Footwear and No Nonsense Outlet. And, since it wouldn’t be a mall without fast food and candy, the mall would also contain a Mr. Bulky store, Auntie Anne’s Pretzels, Blue Chip Cookies, Rocky Mountain Chocolate Factory, and Sbarro. Many of these stores were new to the Kansas City area, allaying some fears that the mall would cannibalize already existing businesses.

In addition to the partial tenant list, the developers announced that the newest plan for the mall was that it would be 1.2 million square-feet (the same as the nearby Oak Park Mall, which hadn’t added on its Nordstrom store yet) and have 175 stores. It was now expected to employ around 1,900 people, and would hopefully still enjoy the previously mentioned $207 million in sales every year.

Two days later, the Aetna Life Insurance Co. announced that they were dropping their plans to redevelop the Indian Springs Shopping Center.

By summer, construction of the interchange at 151st St and I-35 had begun, and street, sewer, and waterline projects were underway on the mall property. After some rezoning, grading was planned for the fall, and the mall was expected to open a year and a half later in the spring of 1996. Total construction costs for the mall were estimated at $85 million.

The interchange was completed in November, seven months ahead of schedule. The interchange was expected to open up an economic gateway for Olathe, much like the one at 119th and I-35, not just for the mall, but for all kinds of other economic opportunities. It also made the Olathe Medical Center much more accessible. One of my favorite things that I found while researching the Great Mall came in a November 30th KC Star article by John C. Patterson detailing the celebration of the opening of the interchange: “Two school buses loaded with business leaders and various government officials crossed the 151st Street interchange Tuesday in celebration of the official opening of the $28.5 million exit.” Talk about a party!


Thank you for reading this history of the Great Mall of the Great Plains. I hope you enjoyed reading it as much as I enjoyed researching and writing it. I would like to thank all of the journalists at the Kansas City Star, the Kansas City Business Journal, and The Olathe News whose hard work I drew from. I would also like to thank everybody who provided pictures and/or anecdotes. Special thanks to Bryan for research tips and spending countless hours walking malls with me. And finally, thank you to all of the people who made the mall possible, and everybody who worked and shopped there and made it what it was during its all-too-short existence. If you have any memories about the mall you would like to share, please leave us a comment, or shoot me an email at kellerm@jocolibrary.org. Also, if you have any pictures of the mall you’d like to share, please send them my way!

-Mike Keller, Johnson County Library

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Johnson County’s First Community Clinics

Johnson County is fortunate today to be home to many outstanding hospitals, clinics, doctor’s practices, and other medical facilities. But this was not always the case. In thinking about how much health has been in the news with the COVID-19 pandemic, this three-part blog series will explore the history of healthcare in Johnson County. Note: healthcare refers to a system of doctors, clinics, and hospitals, while health care refers to the treatments of those providers and the things people do to address their health.

 

Johnson County’s healthcare history changed drastically after World War II. A few dozen medical doctors making house calls were enough to take care of the county’s population when it was mainly rural, but this level of care was grossly inadequate as the county’s population rose sharply after 1940 with postwar suburbanization. There grew a real need for a more robust system of healthcare, and a change in how that health care was delivered. Johnson County’s healthcare had to transform from house calls to health clinics.

Johnson County’s population was roughly the same from 1880 to 1920, growing from 16,850 to only 18,350 residents. But in 1930, the first visible growth occurred: suburban arrivals spiked to 27,179, and the population has not stopped growing since.

Johnson County’s population was roughly the same from 1880 to 1920, growing from 16,850 to only 18,350 residents. But in 1930, the first visible growth occurred: suburban arrivals spiked to 27,179, and the population has not stopped growing since.

The first hospital in Johnson County opened in 1934 in Gardner. At the time a rural agricultural community with less than 500 residents, Gardner also served as an economic and societal hub for the southwestern portion of the county. Residents from Gardner and surrounding areas who needed advanced medical attention had to drive almost an hour up Highway 56 (Interstate 35 today) to St. Luke’s Hospital in Kansas City.

Dr. Reece with Reece Hospital’s first birth, Opal Sawyer, born in 1941. To read more about Dr. Reece and his efforts to bring health care to southern Johnson County, see the museum’s former newsletter, The ALBUM. Johnson County Museum.

Dr. Reece with Reece Hospital’s first birth, Opal Sawyer, born in 1941. To read more about Dr. Reece and his efforts to bring health care to southern Johnson County, see the museum’s former newsletter, The ALBUM. Johnson County Museum.

Dr. Adelbert S. Reece, who had been practicing medicine in Gardener since July 1930, opened Johnson County’s first hospital, Reece Hospital, in 1934. Although Reece Hospital was located in downtown Gardner, the building – a former barn – was originally located in Olathe. Dr. Reece purchased the barn, then had it dismantled and rebuilt in downtown Gardner. When the hospital opened, it had just three beds. By 1948, Reece Hospital had 24 beds.

Reece Hospital as it appeared in 1934. Johnson County Museum.
Reece Hospital as it appeared in 1934. Johnson County Museum.

Dr. Reece did not stop with Reece Hospital. In 1961, Dr. Reece helped create the Gardner Community Medical Center to serve the larger geographic area. Later, the group established the Meadowbrook Rehabilitation Hospital, which specializes in head injuries. This site serves as a legacy of Dr. Reece’s hope for modern medical facilities in the Gardner community.

Gardner Community Medical Center was built in 1961. Johnson County Museum.

Gardner Community Medical Center was built in 1961. Johnson County Museum.

Johnson County citizens were also the driving force behind the creation of other county hospitals. Sometime around 1950, enterprising residents joined forces to form the Olathe Hospital Foundation, Inc. The group collected enough donations to fund the building of the Olathe Community Hospital, which was completed in 1953. The hospital served a significant need in the community, caring for 1,511 residents in 1955 alone. Hospital staff delivered 411 babies in 1956. As the community grew, a larger facility was needed. In 1968, Olathe Medical Center opened with 36 physicians, a 24-hour emergency room, new surgery, lab, and pharmacy facilities, 12 intensive care beds, three pharmacists, and full-time radiologists and anesthesiologists. Olathe Medical Center continues to operate today at its location on West 151st Street.

An early view of the Olathe Community Hospital, likely from the late 1950s. Courtesy Olathe Public Library. For more photos, see JoCoHistory.

An early view of the Olathe Community Hospital, likely from the late 1950s. Courtesy Olathe Public Library. For more photos, see JoCoHistory.

The Olathe Community Hospital as it appeared in 1970, following the construction of a new facility two years earlier. Courtesy Olathe Public Library.

The Olathe Community Hospital as it appeared in 1970, following the construction of a new facility two years earlier. Courtesy Olathe Public Library.

Johnson Countians living in the northeastern portion of the county were also in need of healthcare facilities during the 1950s. Seventh Day Adventists had planned to open a geriatric clinic in the area, but  when the J.C. Nichols Company donated land near 75th Street and I-35, the group instead worked with community leaders to open the Shawnee Mission Health Center. The modern facility opened in 1961 with 102 beds. The next year, the first hospital located in Johnson County’s suburbanized neighborhoods, Shawnee Mission Hospital, opened with two operating rooms.

 

In 1971, Shawnee Mission Hospital expanded to become Shawnee Mission Medical Center. The center included 187 beds. Shawnee Mission Medical Center expanded again in 2007 with the development of the Shawnee Mission Outpatient Pavilion opened in Lenexa, as well as a second Shawnee Mission Urgent Care location. The next year, plans for a Critical Care Services expansion were announced. Today Shawnee Mission Medical Center is part of the Adventist Health System.

Shawnee Mission Hospital, constructed in 1962 at 75th and Antioch, c. 1991. Johnson County Museum.

Shawnee Mission Hospital, constructed in 1962 at 75th and Antioch, c. 1991. Johnson County Museum.

The Shawnee Mission Medical Center, larger than the Hospital, was opened in 1971. Sun Newspaper Collection, Johnson County Museum.

The Shawnee Mission Medical Center, larger than the Hospital, was opened in 1971. Sun Newspaper Collection, Johnson County Museum.

Reece Hospital, Olathe Community Hospital, and Shawnee Mission Hospital provided much needed access to healthcare in the years immediately prior to and after World War II. As Johnson County’s population continued to grow due to suburban construction, each of these community hospitals expanded as well. Even with the growth of these medical facilities and the eventual development of full-scale medical campuses, Johnson County simply needed more hospitals. This need ushered in a new era of healthcare, which will be the topic of our final blog in this healthcare series: the era of the hospital system.

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A Great History of the Great Mall of the Great Plains. Part One: The Prehistory of the Great Mall (1987 to 1991)

This is the first in a seven part series on the Great Mall of the Great Plains. 


A black and white aerial view of farmland bisected by a few small roads.

An aerial view of the land the Great Mall of the Great Plains would eventually sit on, 1986. (Source: Johnson County AIMS)

In January of 1987, in a very different Olathe than the one we know and love today, the Olathe-Santa Fe Partnership – a group of local investors led by retiring City Commissioner Larry Huckleberry – announced plans for a retirement community, an executive hotel, offices, and a 700,000 square-foot mall that they wanted to build in an area near Interstate 35. The area was bound on the north by US 56, on the east by K-7, on the south by 151st Street, and on the west by Lone Elm Road. The project was called Southpark, and although plans for the mall would change quite a bit over the next ten years, this appears to have been the first official step in the creation of The Great Mall of the Great Plains.

The Southpark developers had secured about $100 million in financing for the first phase of their project by May, and wanted to break ground in June. However, it seems that waiting for the city to review and approve the plat – coupled with the lack of a sewer line in the area – held the project up. At the time there were some lawsuits between landowners and the city that were delaying the construction of a sewer line, and until those suits could be resolved, the Southpark project could not be approved.

In early 1988, Jordon Perlmutter & Co., a Denver developer (which I will occasionally refer to as JP&Co. for brevity’s sake), agreed to buy 70 acres from the Olathe-Santa Fe Partnership with plans to build a $50 million indoor shopping mall called the Southpark Plaza. The initial plan was for a two-story, 550,000 square-foot mall, and there were hopes of breaking ground in the spring of 1989 and having the mall completed as early as 1990. As far as I could tell, the sewer line situation remained unresolved until a few years later, but it does not seem to have been holding back JP&Co.’s plans in 1988. Within months of announcing their first plan, they announced a revised plan which upgraded the mall to 900,000 square-feet.

The City of Olathe was excited about the potential for the project to bring in new business, feeling it would complement the Olathe Medical Center and the new Holiday Inn very well. On top of that, JP&Co. estimated that the mall would create 1,650 jobs and generate $6.7 million in sales tax plus $1.5 million in property tax annually. Olathe quickly began plans to build an estimated $30 million interchange with an overpass taking 151st St across I-35, which developers felt was crucial to the success of the project. (Olathe would share the cost of the overpass with the Kansas Department of Transportation, I believe.)

Next, probably inspired in part by looming property tax reappraisals, JP&Co. requested that Olathe grant them ten years of property tax abatement, saying that it would be necessary in order to attract anchor stores given Olathe’s population and demographics. The Kansas City Star’s real estate editor, Chris Lester, was not alone in observing that Olathe could not sustain a mall alone. Most of the shoppers the mall would need, he said, lived north and east of Olathe, closer to Oak Park Mall and Metcalf South Shopping Center. However, he might have been alone when he wisely noted, “Miscalculations about the pace of future growth have hindered Independence Center and Metro North Shopping Center, two malls at the outer fringes of the metropolitan area where vacancies remained high and sales volume low for years after completion.” I mean, he probably wasn’t completely alone, but maybe he wasn’t the most popular fellow in the room.

In June, Olathe granted JP&Co. a seven-year, $11 million dollar property tax abatement. There was some grumbling in opinion columns, such as Michael Grimaldi noting in the Star that, “if the Olathe market is such that it will support a mall, then a developer should recognize the profit potential and build one without tax abatements.” But many also noted that tax incentives certainly weren’t unheard of, and since they enabled Olathe to get their mall and start winning back sales tax dollars from other municipalities, the strategy made good sense.

Then the economy dipped a bit. The Federal Reserve’s battle against inflation tightened monetary policy, and the Tax Reform Act of 1986 eliminated several tax shelters for real estate investments, causing many investors to sell their assets, thereby lowering real estate prices across the country. News about the mall became very scarce until a full year later in June of 1989 when it was reported that the Olathe-Santa Fe Partnership’s sale of 71 acres of land to JP&Co. was complete.

The plan was now for a 950,000 square-foot mall, presumably still two-stories. In October Jay Perlmutter, a partner with the company, told the Star that they were focusing on securing tenants, and that once that was settled, construction would take about 2.5 years, meaning the mall would open by late 1992. But the economy didn’t improve for another couple of years, and plans for the Southpark Plaza seem to have petered out.


Thank you for reading this history of the Great Mall of the Great Plains. I hope you enjoyed reading it as much as I enjoyed researching and writing it. I would like to thank all of the journalists at the Kansas City Star, the Kansas City Business Journal, and The Olathe News whose hard work I drew from. I would also like to thank everybody who provided pictures and/or anecdotes. Special thanks to Bryan for research tips and spending countless hours walking malls with me. And finally, thank you to all of the people who made the mall possible, and everybody who worked and shopped there and made it what it was during its all-too-short existence. If you have any memories about the mall you would like to share, please leave us a comment, or shoot me an email at kellerm@jocolibrary.org. Also, if you have any pictures of the mall you’d like to share, please send them my way!

-Mike Keller, Johnson County Library

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Johnson County’s “Horse and Buggy” Doctors

Johnson County is fortunate today to be home to many outstanding hospitals, clinics, doctor’s offices, and other medical facilities. But this was not always the case. In thinking about how much health has been in the news with the COVID-19 pandemic, this three-part blog will explore the history of healthcare in Johnson County.

Several trained medical doctors called Johnson County home from the time of its creation during the Kansas Territorial era. Many did not have an office as we expect today—instead, they traveled by buggy or wagon making house calls. Most illnesses and injuries were treated at home since traveling to hospitals in Kansas City was impractical and could take hours over poor roads. House calls were not quick either, as the doctor would have to be fetched. True medical emergencies and life-threatening injuries often resulted in permanent loss or even death in the 19th century. Despite working alone and at the speed of their best horse, “horse and buggy” doctors, as they were known, saved countless lives. They increased the quality of life for Johnson Countians and were important members of society in the rural county.

Dr. Tiberius Gracchus Jones, a horse and buggy doctor in Tennessee, and father-in-law to Kansas’ infamous Dr. John R. “Doc” Brinkley, in 1898. Courtesy Kansas Historical Society.

Dr. Tiberius Gracchus Jones, a horse and buggy doctor in Tennessee, and father-in-law to Kansas’ infamous Dr. John R. “Doc” Brinkley, in 1898. Courtesy Kansas Historical Society.

Medical bag belonging to Dr. S.C. Parker, of Monticello, c. 1895. Johnson County Museum collection.

Medical bag belonging to Dr. S.C. Parker, of Monticello, c. 1895. Johnson County Museum collection.

The earliest trained physician recorded living in the area was Dr. Johnston Lykins, and although he came in the 1830s as a Baptist missionary to the Shawnee, he did help administer smallpox vaccines. Dr. John T. Barton, who was surgeon for the Shawnee Indians after 1850, was perhaps the first medical professional to start a practice in Johnson County. The 1874 Atlas Map of Johnson County, Kansas, a booklet with maps, a history of the county, and biographies of important residents, described Dr. Barton as “a man of fine personal appearance, an accomplished physician, with a clear head and good judgment, and altogether was a person who would attain more than ordinary local importance in any community.” By 1858, there were four doctors listed in the county, and the 1874 Atlas Map listed a half dozen or more, including a dentist, Dr. A. Doud, who lived at Cedar and Walnut Streets in Olathe.

Olathe residence of dentist, Dr. Doud. 1874 Atlas Map of Johnson County, Kansas, Johnson County Museum collection.

Olathe residence of dentist, Dr. Doud. 1874 Atlas Map of Johnson County, Kansas. Johnson County Museum collection, available on JoCoHistory.org.

Because of their education and prominence in society, doctors were often involved in government and leadership. Dr. W.M. Shean arrived in the Gardner area in 1857 and served in the Kansas legislature in 1861, as did Olathe’s Dr. R.E. Stevenson, who served in 1868. Dr. O.S. Laws settled near McCamish in 1856 and in 1864 became the County Superintendent of Public Instruction. Dr. Barton helped found the city of Olathe and served as county treasurer in 1858.

Dr. Simeon B. Bell was a strong abolitionist who attracted the ire of the roving bands of pro-slavery guerillas during the late 1850s. In fact, his home was robbed at least twice, his house and store were burned, he was beaten severely and threatened to be hanged, he was forced to attend to injured members of Quantrill’s band, and had to flee the “Cassidy gang” who had set out to murder him! He later moved to Rosedale in Wyandotte County, Kansas. Courtesy KSGenWebProject.

Dr. Simeon B. Bell was a strong abolitionist who attracted the ire of the roving bands of pro-slavery guerillas during the late 1850s. In fact, his home was robbed at least twice, his house and store were burned, he was beaten severely and threatened to be hanged, he was forced to attend to injured members of Quantrill’s band, and had to flee the “Cassidy gang” who had set out to murder him! He later moved to Rosedale in Wyandotte County, Kansas. Courtesy KSGenWebProject.

Following the turmoil of the Civil War, some doctors in Johnson County opened offices in towns, but many continued making house calls. Dr. Zelas Alexander Harkey was an early settler in Gardner and served as a horse and buggy doctor in the area. His son, Dr. William C. Harkey maintained offices in Gardner after earning his medical degree in 1900 from University Medical College in Kansas City, Kansas. His name is still familiar to many Johnson Countians today.

Dr. Zelas Alexander Harkey, a “horse and buggy” doctor in Gardner. Johnson County Museum collection.

Dr. Zelas Alexander Harkey, a “horse and buggy” doctor in Gardner. Johnson County Museum collection, available on JoCoHistory.org.

Dr. William C. Harkey at his farm near Overland Park, but continued to serve as the community as a doctor until his death in 1935. Johnson County Museum collection.

Dr. William C. Harkey at his farm near Overland Park, but continued to serve as the community as a doctor until his death in 1935. Johnson County Museum collection, available on JoCoHistory.org.

Perhaps the most interesting of the horse and buggy doctors was Dr. Jessie Thomas Orr. She taught in Johnson County schools for three years before saving enough to attend the Woman’s Medical College at Northwestern University in Chicago. Earning her medical degree in 1886, she later returned to Johnson County and set up a house call practice. Dr. Orr was known for her kindness, aptitude, and the ponies that pulled her buggy. When she married in 1906, she made a strict arrangement with her husband to continue serving as a doctor (she was one of just 100 women doctors in Kansas in 1918). Governor George Hodges appointed Dr. Orr to the State Board of Health in 1913, and she was reappointed by Governor Arthur Capper. When Dr. Orr died in 1936, a lengthy obituary made clear how important her services had been for Johnson Countians over the past several decades.

 

Although community doctors continued to serve Johnson Countians in the countryside into the 1950s (Dr. A.S. Reece in Gardner, for example, will be highlighted in part two), with the suburbanization of the northeastern part of the county, demand for regular healthcare service and professional hospitals grew. From riding doctors to community hospitals and later to massive clinics, the history of healthcare in the county reflects the history of community growth.

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For more from Johnson County Museum, check out the new Virtual Museum page: www.jcprd.com/virtualmuseum. The Museum has launched a new collecting initiative around the COVID-19 pandemic and how it is impacting Johnson County and the KC Metro. Submit your thoughts, objects, and photos here: www.jcprd.com/collecting.

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The Two Governors

In the early 20th century, two ambitious men owned businesses across the street from each other in Olathe. George Hartshorn Hodges owned Hodges Lumber Yard and Herbert Spencer Hadley owned the Hadley Milling Company. These two men also served as governors of Kansas and Missouri, respectively.

Black and white gubernatorial portrait of George H. Hodges with his name and the dates 1913 1915 at the bottom of the image

Governor George H. Hodges (Source: Kansas State Historical Society)

Black and white portrait of Herbert S. Hadley

Governor Herbert S. Hadley (Source: St. Louis Post Dispatch)

On February 6, 1866, George Hodges was born in Richland County, Wisconsin. He moved to Olathe with his mother Lydia, father William, and brother Frank, when he was 3 years old.   At 17 his father died so he and Frank felt compelled to care for his mother and sister.  For a few years he worked for others in the lumber business, until he gained the confidence to obtain a loan and open his own lumber yard.  For two years he ran the business on his own until Frank and George eventually joined forces in 1889. Over the years their business grew to 8 hardware stores and 14 lumber yards.

Black and white photo of several people standing with horses and wagons on the street outside a lumberyard.

Customers and staff of Hodges Brothers Lumber Company gathered with their horse-drawn wagons outside the lumberyard at the corner of Kansas and Elm in Olathe. (Source: The Olathe Public Library collection on JoCo History)

George had a successful political career, first serving as city councilman in 1896, then mayor of Olathe, and was elected State Senator in 1904.  In 1912 he was elected by 29 votes the 19th Governor and second Democrat to be elected in the majority Republican state.  He held the office from 1913 – 1915 and oversaw major governmental initiatives such as adoption of women’s suffrage and collaborating with the Missouri Governor on infrastructure improvement. George was not reelected and ended his time in public office with the end of his gubernatorial term in 1915.

John Milton Hadley once a free thinking vegetarian, came to Kansas from Indiana to help start a Vegetarian Utopian society, but when he fell sick he had to consume meat to survive, so his vegetarian belief fell to the wayside.  He moved back to Indiana and taught for a period until Kansas called to him again.  He spent a short time homesteading near Emporia before returning to  Johnson County where he was elected Justice of the Peace for 3 years.  After enlisting in the Union Army in 1861, he returned to the area as a Major and was elected Johnson County Sheriff.  He married Harriet Beach and had 5 children.  However, only two of these children survived to adulthood, Henrietta and Herbert, who was born on February 20, 1872 in Olathe.  Herbert went on to become the 32nd Governor of Missouri.

Hadley’s father purchased the DeSoto Mill in 1880 and ran it until his death in 1909.  Herbert and his sister Henrietta owned the mill until it burned in 1911.  Wanting to continue in the milling business the company purchased the Olathe Mill in a remote part of the city on Elm Street, across the street from the Hodges Lumberyard.

Black and white exterior photograph of Hadley's Mill in De Soto, Kansas. The three story, brick building has a mansard roof. There are several windows visible on each floor of the building. Along the bottom edge of the print train tracks are just visible. One train car is stopped beside the mill. On the side of the car is painted: ""Santa Fe"" ""A.T.S.S.F. 33496."" A man, who is slightly out of focus walks across the yard in front of the mill. Museum Label: ""1984.8.4"" In small white handwriting at the bottom left corner of the print: ""C. W. Mettner"" ""Lawrence, Kans."" In black handwriting across the bottom edge of the print: ""HADLEM'S MILL, DE SOTO, KANS."" ""BURNED MARCH 22, 1911""

Black and white exterior photograph of Hadley’s Mill in De Soto, Kansas. (Source: Johnson County Museum collection on JoCo History)

Herbert Hadley earned his Bachelor of Arts degree at the University of Kansas and his law degree from Northwestern University.  He practiced law in Kansas City, Missouri, as a prosecuting attorney. He gained a reputation after a successful case against the Standard Oil Company.  This success helped win his gubernatorial election as a Republican in a majority Democratic state.  He held the office from 1909-1913. Herbert’s legacy as governor involved passing of a railroad passenger rate discrimination law, reforms to penal laws, and the creation of several environmental protection boards. Herbert also retired from public life at the end of his gubernatorial term, returning to his legal practice in 1913.

Herbert Hadley retired from pubic office the day fellow Olathe businessman George Hodges became Governor of Kansas.

-Terri Bostic, Johnson County Library

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Introducing the Virtual Museum

What makes a museum? This is something our staff has been thinking about a lot lately. An institution that is valuable to a community. A place that cares for a community’s collection of artifacts, photographs, and documents. A place where the public can come and learn something new—about their community, about their history, about themselves. A place where truth can be found, with sources to back up the text you read, and objects to back up the stories you hear. For the best museums out there, a place where nostalgia and memory combine with history and objects to tell a story that speaks to the visitor, deep inside.

 

How can we be a museum when the most important part of each of those statements is missing—the visitor, the public, the community? The Johnson County Museum closed to the public beginning Monday, March 16. The Savages and Princesses traveling exhibit has been deinstalled, packed up, and shipped out to its next location in Spokane, Washington. The temporary gallery sits empty for now. The screen that hosts our digital exhibit, Women and the Vote, sits dark in the  Johnson County Arts & Heritage Center Commons. Our programs for kids and adults have been canceled or postponed. How can we define a museum when people cannot come to the museum?

#StayHomeKC encourages you to stay home, social distance, and stay healthy.

#StayHomeKC encourages you to stay home, social distance, and stay healthy.

The answer is we redefine ourselves! You have seen other museums, zoos, and art galleries do that in the past few weeks. When the people cannot come to the museum, we must do our best to take the museum to the people. We are happy to announce that we are working away on new content for our website—a “Virtual Museum.” While we will not have a full exhibit tour posted here—after all, we want you to come and see us again when this has all passed—we are excited about the new features at www.jcprd.com/virtualmuseum.

 

We will have a virtual, clickable tour of the 1954 All-Electric House, the museum’s largest collection item. This house, advertised as the “lazy man’s paradise,” is a blast from the past—peach and green tile bathroom, wood paneling, pink laminate kitchen counters, and cupboards stocked with 1950s dishware, foodstuffs, and accessories. If you have not visited or visited many times, you will get a kick out of this tour. Additionally, we will be presenting short overview videos of the main sections of the permanent exhibit, Becoming Johnson County. These will cover the main eras and themes in our exhibit, and leave you wanting to know more. Plus, check out our social media accounts for some quick “Behind-the-Scenes” collection tours, “Ask the Staff” moments, and “Staff Faves.”

The 1954 All-Electric House is located inside the Johnson County Museum. A new clickable virtual tour is available online. Image courtesy Bob Greenspan Photography.

The 1954 All-Electric House is located inside the Johnson County Museum. A new clickable virtual tour is available online. Image courtesy Bob Greenspan Photography.

We are also thrilled to be able to present the Women and the Vote digital exhibit in an online format. This important exhibit marks the Centennial of the 19th Amendment, through which women across the nation finally won the right to vote. The exhibit traces women’s struggle for suffrage (the right to vote) across the country, in Kansas, and women’s electoral history in Johnson County. You can view the exhibit as a PDF and find out more about what the museum is doing this year to mark the occasion at www.jcprd.com/womenandthevote. Learn what other institutions in the KC Metro area are doing by checking www.19at100.org. Know that many great exhibits, programs, and presentations are currently postponed, but will be picking back up after this all passes.

We have put the "Women and the Vote" digital exhibit online. Check it out today!

We have put the “Women and the Vote” digital exhibit online. Check it out today!

Kids won’t feel left out either—we will be posting “home edition” scavenger hunt and History Detective ideas to keep them entertained with just what you have in your home. While we cannot read our “Retro Storytime” stories online for you (it’s a copyright thing), we are happy to provide a link to a great website created by our story time pals at Little Golden Books. The activities they have created will pair with your own Little Golden Book stories at home. Plus, keep up with us on social media and see what our famous green, orange, and white dog chairs are up to while the building is quiet!

 

Lastly, there is always amazing content to be found on our existing websites. Perhaps the greatest Johnson County history website yet the least well-known is www.jocohistory.org. This fully searchable website is the digital repository for not just the museum, but the JoCo Library, JoCo Archives, the Overland Park Historical Society, the Lenexa Historical Society, the Olathe Public Library, and the Kansas School for the Deaf, among others. Created in 2006 with grant funds from IMLS, this site contains over 30,000 digitized photographs from our collection, as well as other great content from our partner institutions. Check out full issues of The Squire magazine, aerial photography from the county’s history, the Atlas Maps of Johnson County (they contain some great history write ups, too), and back issues of the museum’s former newsletter, The ALBUM. Plus, the Johnson County Museum and the Johnson County Library share a blog—the JoCoHistory Blog. Each institution posts once per month. You never know what incredible stories you will read here. The back issues are fully searchable, so there are hours of reading: www.jocohistory.wordpress.com.  Lastly, sit back and enjoy an audio tour of the Lanesfield Historic Site online or while you walk the grounds of the site and read the accompanying interpretive panels: https://jcmuseum.wixsite.com/lanesfield.

The lights may be off at the Johnson County Museum, but the neon of the White Haven Motor Lodge sign always burns bright, day or night!

The lights may be off at the Johnson County Museum, but the neon of the White Haven Motor Lodge sign always burns bright, day or night!

To close, while we miss welcoming you into the Arts & Heritage Center, miss giving you tours of our exhibits, seeing your kids explore KidScape, and attending our programming, know that we are working hard to continue to provide you with great content through our websites and our social media accounts. Follow us on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter (@JoCoMuseum and by searching #JoCoMuseum and #JoCoHistory.) Have some thoughts on what you’d like to see us talk about? Send us an email jcmuseum@jocogov.org or send us a message through our social media.

 

In the meantime, stay home, stay healthy, and know that we are looking forward to seeing you in the museum again soon!

 

-Johnson County Museum Staff

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Dividing Lines

Kansas City remains one of the most segregated cities in America, with Troost Avenue serving as a de facto dividing line running north and south through the heart of the city. Journey through the history of social, physical, and economic segregation in Johnson County and Kansas City with the Dividing Lines tour on the VoiceMap app via your smartphone.

Horizontal rectangular black and white copy photograph of school exterior on hill, viewed from slightly below. Three story rectangular brick building with large windows. Several bare trees. Sidewalk at right winds uphill to entrance. Handwritten in bottom margin:"SM - East."

Shawnee Mission East High School (Photo courtesy of the Johnson County Museum Collection on JoCoHistory.org)

Starting at Shawnee Mission East High School, the app will direct you along a route that tells the story of segregation in our community that ends at the Ivanhoe Community Center. The tour is designed so that you can safely drive through the city at your own pace while hearing stories about each area you pass. The 90 minute tour includes insightful context and fascinating interviews from area residents and notable Kansas Citians like activist Mamie Hughes, executive director of the Ivanhoe Community Center Margaret May, author and Kansas City Star columnist Bill Tammeus, and attorney Sidney Willens.

Horizontal rectangular black and white film negative of aerial view of Prairie Village. Area is primarily residential. View looks west. Roe Avenue runs left-right above the center of the image. Mission Road runs left-right along the bottom of the image. Tomahawk Road runs diagonally from the upper left to the bottom edge near the center. 71st Street runs from Mission Road to Roe Avenue to the left of the center of the image. 67th Street runs from Mission Road to the upper right corner of the image. Commercial development on Tomahawk Road near its intersection with Mission Road. Portion of airplane strut visible in top left corner.

Aerial view of Prairie Village looking west. Roe Avenue runs left-right above the center of the image. Mission Road runs left-right along the bottom of the image. Tomahawk Road runs diagonally from the upper left to the bottom edge near the center. 71st Street runs from Mission Road to Roe Avenue to the left of the center of the image. 67th Street runs from Mission Road to the upper right corner of the image. (Photo courtesy of the Johnson County Museum Collection on JoCoHistory.org)

The Dividing Lines tour guides listeners through the history of segregation in the Kansas City metro areas of Johnson County, Kansas, and Kansas City, Missouri. It primarily discusses segregation through the areas’ real estate and some of its most recognized landmarks. The tour courses through neighborhoods that are considered the crown jewels of the metropolitan area as well as neighborhoods that fell victim to redlining, blockbusting, and white flight. The app tour explains how and why these neighborhoods look the way they do today. It is a complex story that few people know yet continues to unfold and affects our everyday lives.

Color postcard of landscaped area along a street and stone bridge in Mission Hills. The horizontal image has a white border. The view is of a residential area. A portion of a large house is at the extreme left. The street curves near the right of the image. The house is partially obscured by trees. The stone bridge is at the right of the road and is arched over a small waterway. Flowers are in bloom at the right. The postcard was not postally used. The back has a space for the message at the left and the address and stamp at the right. Museum label: "2005.34.2" Black text in upper right corner: "PEMBROKE LANE, MISSION HILLS, KANSAS CITY, MO" Black text in lower right corner: "97996" Vertical text on the back, along left edge: "PUBLISHED BY R. B. HARNESS GREETING CARD CO., KANSAS CITY, MO." Vertical text on the back, at the center: "C. T. AMERICAN ART COLORED" above loco for "C T" "Chicago"

Postcard of Mission Hills (Photo courtesy of the Johnson County Museum collection on JoCoHistory.org)

“Dividing Lines” was created as a part of the Johnson County Library’s “Race Project KC.” The Library’s Civic Engagement Committee’s “The Story of Segregation in Kansas City” bus tour and Tanner Colby’s book “Some of My Best Friends are Black: The Strange Story of Integration in America” inspired much of the ongoing work of Race Project KC. This tour was made possible by support from Johnson County Library and the Kansas Humanities Council. It was produced by Brainroot Light & Sound, and written by Nathaniel Bozarth (“Wide Ruled”) and Christopher Cook. The tour features music from Hermon Mehari and KC Jazz.

The content of this tour may contain controversial material; such statements are not an expression of library policy.

Get more information and download the app now.

-Johnson County Library staff

 

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Women and the Vote

This year, 2020, is the 100th anniversary of the 19th Amendment, which guaranteed women the right to vote (called “suffrage”). Although hard to believe, the 1920 presidential election was women’s first chance to vote. With a national election occurring during this centennial year, it is worth understanding Kansas women’s suffrage history.

A mural graphic for the "Women and the Vote" digital exhibit at the Johnson County Museum. Original, historic images from Kansas Historical Society and Library of Congress are included.

A mural graphic for the “Women and the Vote” digital exhibit at the Johnson County Museum. Original, historic images from Kansas Historical Society and Library of Congress are included.

After Kansas became a territory in 1854, there were several attempts to craft a constitution. Clarina I.H. Nichols, a suffragist, abolitionist, and journalist who lived in Quindaro (Kansas City, Kansas) petitioned the Wyandotte constitutional convention in 1859 to include women’s suffrage. She was shouted down as too radical, but ultimately she secured the right for women to own property and to vote in school elections. These considerations were included when the Wyandotte Constitution became the state constitution in 1861.

 

In 1867, Kansas took up the issue of women’s suffrage again. Suffrage for black men and white women were up for a state referendum. Susan B. Anthony, one of the national suffrage leaders, visited Olathe and other Kansas towns on a speaking tour ahead of the election. At the time, only white men were able to vote. In the end the referendum failed—nearly twice as many men voted for giving suffrage to black men than to white women, but neither had enough votes to pass (black men would secure the right to vote with the passage of the 15th Amendment in 1870, during Reconstruction following the end of the Civil War).

Two of the national leaders for women's suffrage: Susan B. Anthony, standing, and Elizabeth Cady Stanton, c. 1900.

Two of the national leaders for women’s suffrage: Susan B. Anthony, standing, and Elizabeth Cady Stanton, c. 1900. Courtesy Library of Congress.

Women in Kansas were more politically active than in other states, perhaps because of their role in the state’s long struggle to achieve state-wide alcohol prohibition in the late 1800s. Once achieved in 1881, the powerful speakers of the Women’s Christian Temperance Union and suffragists (referred to as “suffragettes” in the past) were often included in speaker’s circuits across the Midwest, such as the immensely popular Chautauqua Assembly. The Kansas Equal Suffrage Association, founded in 1884, became an influential force in Kansas politics. Women began to hold elected offices beyond school board positions starting in 1887. In that year, an all-woman city council was elected in Syracuse, Kansas, and Susanna Madora Salter of Argonia, Kansas, was elected the first woman mayor in the nation. Despite this, another state equal suffrage amendment was defeated at the polls in 1894.

Delegates from the Kansas Equal Suffrage Association to the national suffrage effort, assembled in Topeka, Kansas, in 1916. This group led the charge to successfully pass women's suffrage in Kansas in 1912. Courtesy Kansas Historical Society.

Delegates from the Kansas Equal Suffrage Association to the national suffrage effort, assembled in Topeka, Kansas, in 1916. This group led the charge to successfully pass women’s suffrage in Kansas in 1912. Courtesy Kansas Historical Society.

The Kansas Woman Suffrage Campaign of 1912 was a massive struggle, but was finally successful in achieving an equal suffrage amendment. Kansas was the eighth state in the union to grant women full suffrage. It would be another eight years before the national women’s suffrage movement would claim victory. Carrie Chapman Catt, president of the National American Woman Suffrage Association with its two million members, finally convinced Congress and President Woodrow Wilson to craft the 19th Amendment in 1919. It was ratified by a majority of states the next year and became law. It granted all women (but in practice mainly white women) the right to vote in all elections. The text was simple but profound: “The right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of sex.”

 

To learn more about women in elected position in Kansas and Johnson County’s trailblazing women politicians, view the Johnson County Museum’s free digital exhibit, Women and the Vote, on display in the Johnson County Arts & Heritage Center Cultural Commons from March 2 through the end of 2020 (JCAHC open 9am-9pm Monday – Friday, and 9am-5pm Saturday). For more information about the broader movement in securing women’s right to vote, see the museum’s past JoCoHistory Blog post, “The 19th Amendment: Empowering Local Women.” Additionally, there is a concerted effort by museums, archives, and other historical institutions throughout the Kansas City Metro region to mark the 19th Amendment Centennial with programming, exhibitions, and special events. For more information, visit [forthcoming website], and search the hashtags #19at100MO and #19at100KS on social media platforms.

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