In 2022, the Johnson County Museum’s special exhibit “REDLINED: Cities, Suburbs and Segregation” took visitors on a deep dive into the history of redlining and how it both shaped and was shaped by Johnson County and the region. Visitors learned the history of systematic disinvestment of some neighborhoods and populations in favor of others, most often on the basis of race, and how the legacies of redlining policy continue to impact Kansas City and communities around the nation today.
The community response to the REDLINED exhibit was astounding, with tens of thousands of visitors pouring over the exhibit’s 22,000 words, and somehow still asking for more. Museum staff led over 100 private tours – a record for the museum – for municipal, county, national, and tribal leaders; religious groups & nonprofits; civic leadership programs & fellow museum professionals; realtors, banks, credit unions, and developers; all of whom spent an hour or more diving deeply into the hard history shared in the exhibit.
The Johnson County Museum’s work on and around the exhibit resulted in several national awards and has been held up as a model for museums nationwide. The feedback from the public was overwhelmingly positive, with many visitors requesting that the exhibit become a permanent fixture. The Museum staff listened and turned the exhibit into a full-color book, available at the Museum Store and local libraries, but still the requests for more continued. In response to the public demand, the Johnson County Museum plans to transform the content of the in-person special exhibit into a high-quality digital experience that continues the deep-dive into this hard history.
“As public servants, it is our job to respond to our community,” said museum director Mary McMurray. “And as historians, it is our duty to seize the opportunity to share our history – the good, the bad, the hard – in compelling ways that inspire, empower, and embolden citizens today to learn from the past and make a better future.”
By transforming the REDLINED exhibit into a digital format, the Johnson County Museum is breaking down physical barriers to access and expanding the reach of the content beyond the Kansas City area. A digital exhibit allows individuals from across the globe to engage with stories, images, artifacts, and educational resources wherever they are. This digital transformation ensures that the profound lessons of the REDLINED exhibit can reach a broader audience, fostering education, empathy, and understanding.
The transition from a physical exhibit to a digital platform requires significant resources, including investment in technology, content creation, and user experience design. Because this work was not planned and museum staff must continue with previously scheduled exhibitions and programming, the Johnson County Museum has launched a fundraising campaign with the goal of raising $125,000 to help make the digital exhibit a reality. The campaign is currently over halfway to the goal thanks to pledges and support of sponsors like the Kansas City Regional Association of Realtors; Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation; The Parks and Recreation Foundation of Johnson County; Resurrection, A United Methodist Church; Black & Veatch; Mazuma Credit Union, and individual donors.
Beyond preserving history, the digital transformation of the REDLINED exhibit offers unique opportunities for community engagement and collaboration. The digital exhibit will provide schools, universities, community organizations, and all interested parties with valuable resources for research, education, and conversation. By embracing technology, the museum is transcending physical barriers, expanding access, and offering innovative ways to engage with this critical chapter of American history. Learn more and donate at JCPRD.com/REDLINED.
This post comes from an article originally written in honor of Johnson County Library’s 25th anniversary in 1976. It has been edited for length and clarity.
Twenty-five years ago the 1951-52 Prairie School PTA Library Committee met to determine its project for the school year. According to Kay Robeson, chairman of the committee, a letter was read from the State Librarian urging all PTA groups to cooperate with their local public libraries. But these women lived in Johnson County, a fast-growing community with a population of 60,000 people and no public library facilities with the exception of the Olathe Public Library. Without a public library, how could they cooperate? The challenge was there!
The idea of starting a public library caught fire. Jean Moore, Prairie School Librarian, advised the group and assured administrators the project was sound. Zelia French of the Kansas Traveling Libraries Commission was contacted for her help. She attended meetings and sponsored two workshops at the University of Kansas and Emporia for the committee. Support, much of it unsolicited, came from the Directors of the Kansas City, MO; St. Louis; Denver; and Linda Hall libraries, from the Kansas City Star and J.C. Nichols Company, and from many individuals. The committee discovered a Kansas law that stated a majority vote could establish a county library maintained by tax support of a 1 1/2 mill levy. They talked with community leaders and planned strategy. Although most teachers were enthusiastic, including Dorothy Dent, the wife of the Prairie School District Superintendent, the committee had to overcome the opposition of the president of the area teachers organization, who said the library would take tax money away from the schools. It is to the credit of these energetic, visionary women that they set high goals: they would start a library to serve all the county, not just their immediate neighborhood.
In the spring they enlarged their group to almost 30 members and organized as the Johnson County Citizens Library Committee. The County Commissioners worked with them and had the County Attorney, John Anderson, Jr., draw up petitions for the women to circulate to get the library proposition on the November ballot. They would need 1,753 signatures; some 400 women circulated petitions during the summer and proudly presented 5,102 names to the County Commissioners.
This committee, headed by Robeson, then organized to promote the passage of the library proposition. With initial working capital of $80.00 given by the PTA groups at Prairie and Porter schools and $1.00 donations given by enthusiastic residents, the group organized a speakers bureau, distributed 10,000 handbills, posters, and 1,000 car stickers, arranged for radio and newspaper publicity, toured the area with a bookmobile borrowed from Topeka, made personal calls, and held rallies. On November 4, 1952, 200 women handed out yellow handbills at the polls. When the final result of the vote was known, Johnson County residents had voted 4 to 1 in favor of the question, “Shall Johnson County establish a county library?”
Johnson County would have a library! All the county would be included in this library district except the city of Olathe with its own established city library. The women’s committee reorganized as a supportive group, Johnson County Library Committee (JCLC), headed by Robeson. In March 1953, the County Commissioners appointed the first Library Board: Tom Parrish, Reverend Ira J. Bailes, Dorothy Hoff, Kay Robeson, and Dorothy Snyder. Eva Bayne replaced Robeson as president of the JCLC. The Library Board went right to work. Parrish and Bailes visited the St. Louis County Library to observe a system similar to the one the Board wanted. The immediate need for the library, according to Parrish, was “a building of approximately 5,000 square feet floor space, conveniently located, and suitable for storing books and housing one or more bookmobiles.”
A county population of 90,000 eagerly awaited the establishment of a library system, but hopes were shattered. The County Commissioners said it would bankrupt the county if they budgeted money for the library. The law permitting a 1 1/2 mill levy for the county library designated that the levy had to come out of the 4 mill county aggregate, the total mills that could be assessed by the county. All the tax money the county received was needed to fund existing county services. “Taking any sizeable amount from the aggregate would put us out of business,” said Martin J. Ziegler, commissioner from Mission Township. The women were furious; they took their young children with them and camped in the waiting room of the County Courthouse, waiting for the Commissioners to see them and help the library, but their protests were unheeded. With no money, there could be no county library.
The Johnson County Library Committee again accepted a challenge. The women would start a volunteer library service for the county.
The Committee opened its first library at the old Dunbar School in Shawnee on June 2, 1955, with over 1,000 donated books. The Shawnee School Board donated the use of the building, and the Shawnee Chamber of Commerce paid utilities and maintained the building and grounds. Curtains were made by the Ideal Home Makers home demonstration unit of the Farm Bureau organization. The Committee collected books and prepared them for circulation, while their husbands built and painted shelves. The home of Edith Daley served as collection depot for book donations and also was open for library service on Thursdays. By July 9th the group had collected 4,500 books. Volunteers manned the libraries, prepared books for circulation, and rotated collections. Donated money was used to purchase book pockets, cards, and paste and to buy a limited number of reference books. Numerous book drives were held to collect volumes for the libraries.
In July 1953, the Prairie Village branch opened in Jay’s Men’s and Boy’s Wear. In August branch libraries were established at Ocheltree (post office-Laux General Store) and self-service libraries at Stanley (Blehm’s Grocery) and Gardner (Poisel Variety Store).
In September Tom Parrish, Library Board Chairman, found a special Kansas law applying to counties “adjoining” a military reservation. Since the Olathe Naval Air Base was a military reservation, Harold Fatzer, Kansas Attorney General, gave the opinion that the Johnson County Commissioners had a right to levy a 6 mill aggregate. However, the Commissioners had already published their budget and allocated tax funds for the coming year so they said it was too late to do anything to help the library.
In the fall of 1953, the Committee opened self-service branches in Edgerton (McCluskey’s Grocery) and Spring Hill (Bruce Furniture Store) and the Mission Library in the Mission Mart in space donated by Klok Craftsman Guild, beneath the Kroger Store. In November the Prairie Village City Council voted $250.00 to the Prairie Village Library, the first of several regular donations. By this time the Committee had 6,000 books, and more were urgently needed.
There were many book drives in the spring of 1954; help came from the Shawnee Mission PTA, the Northeast Johnson County Chamber of Commerce, and the Boy Scouts. The Community Garden Club donated gardening books. Girl Scouts and Horizon Club girls assisted as library helpers. A self-service library was added in De Soto (Ross Electric and Plumbing Company). On May 2 the Committee sponsored a tour of five of its libraries – De Soto, Shawnee, Mission, Merriam, and Prairie Village.
By the fall of 1954, welcome news came from the County Commissioners; $38,000 for libraries had been included in the County budget for 1955. The eleventh library was opened in the old Lenexa grade school, 134 W 94th Street. For its “outstanding citizen action resulting in community improvement,” Johnson County was honored as one of 22 finalists in the 1954 National All-American Cities Competition sponsored by Look Magazine and the National Municipal League. The Johnson County Library movement was the basis for the selection of the county both for the library vote drive and the establishment of 11 volunteer libraries. The case was presented by Betty Wilson, and the county received Honorable Mention. Citizens had contributed 16,000 books, 250 workers contributed volunteer time, and merchants provided free space for libraries.
The population of Johnson County had grow to 105,345 by 1955. In January, Rep. Clark Kuppinger and Senator John Anderson, Jr., introduced special state legislation to take the first mill of the library levy out of the county 4 mill aggregate. The legislation passed.
The Library Board was informed that $32,000 would be received on October 1, 1955. The Board hired its first professional Librarian, Shirley Brother, and made its first budget for October through December 31. Included was $3,600 for salaries, $14,000 for library books and materials, $2,900 for operating expenses, and $11,500 for capital outlay, to include rent, utilities, and the cost of one bookmobile (ordered December 1955).
With a monumental task awaiting her, Brother officially became the first Director of the Johnson County Library on October 1, 1955. She set up a temporary office in a room of the Merriam Christian Church. As soon as a contract could be signed, she moved to the old post office building on Merriam Drive. She borrowed a chair from the church, placed a card table in the room, had a telephone installed, and began her work. The volunteer committee turned over its 16,000 books to the new Library system and agreed to staff its volunteer libraries until January. On February 5, 1956, the Headquarters Merriam Branch Library was officially opened.
In February 1956 the Board approved plans for a new Headquarters building at 50 Highway and Antioch in Merriam to be built-for-lease by Russell Winter and G.F. Moyer. The building was completed in November 1956, and contained 7,200 square feet with an annual rental of $13,200. The staff took over library services in January and February in Mission (Muntzel-Keach Building), Shawnee (11214 Johnson Drive), Lenexa (old Lenexa school), and Prairie Village (the Concourse). The bookmobile made its first run on June 11, starting a schedule of 36 stops in rural areas only. In November the Johnson County Library Committee, headed by Sally May, reorganized as the Friends of the Library of Johnson County. Following a membership drive, the new group had 153 charter members, composed of individuals and organizations.
In 1957 a second bookmobile was purchased and routed to Fairway, Westwood, Leawood, Meadowlake, Nall Hills, and Overland Park. The first bookmobile still went to the “larger communities, such as De Soto and Gardner.” The second van enabled the Library to service a total of 67 stops every two weeks. At the suggestion of Brother, the Friends started collecting historical material dealing with the history of Kansas, especially Johnson County. The women also served as story-tellers and Library aides and provided flowers for the Library. Brother resigned in September 1959 and was succeeded by Mary Moore as Library Director in October 1959.
The Johnson County Museum will soon unveil a new special exhibit titled: TRAINS: Transportation and the Transformation of Johnson County. The exhibit opens on Saturday, May 13 – National Train Day – and explores just how instrumental the railroads were in shaping Johnson County. Below find three surprising ways that railroads changed this area.
1 – Agriculture and New Markets
From the county’s founding in 1855 through the postwar suburbanization of the 1940s and ‘50s, the main thing happening on the Johnson County landscape was agriculture. During the 1850s and 1860s, most county residents were subsistence farmers, growing, raising, and making the things they needed to survive. If a farmer had a particularly good year for a crop, they might trade that surplus with neighbors for other things they needed.
When the first train rolled into Olathe in 1867, Johnson County was suddenly part of a vast rail network that connected it – via Kansas City and over the Hannibal Bridge across the Missouri River – to larger markets such as Chicago and New York, and eventually to Galveston and New Orleans on the Gulf Coast. Rail access meant farmers could sell their crops and livestock to the railroad to sell in these larger markets. Farmers earned money for growing just one or a few crops and they used that money to purchase the things they needed in new stores that sprung up in Johnson County’s depot towns. County residents were no longer limited to what they could grow, raise, or make. With railroads, mail orders from New York City could arrive in Olathe in a matter of a week or less.
2 – Employment and New Residents
Railroad employees lived in nearly every town through which rail tracks ran. Some railroad workers were planners, engineers, and accountants, working in offices. Others were station agents, conductors, and locomotive engineers working in localities. Still others were section workers, those who built and maintained sections of railroad track, working wherever the need arose. In 1930, nearly 8% of Johnson County’s working age male population worked for the railroads. The railroad was the third largest industry employing county residents – the top two were agriculture and the retail/wholesale trades.
The railroad also attracted and recruited workers from around the world. Germans and Eastern European immigrants moved to Kansas (especially Central and Western Kansas) to help build new rail lines and settle in emerging railroad towns. After 1910, workers were recruited from México, which was experiencing the Mexican Revolution. The Santa Fe Railroad and others shipped workers to Kansas City, Chicago, and across the United States to form section labor gangs. These track workers – or traqueros in Spanish – lived in railroad-provided housing and built and maintained the miles and miles of track that stretched across the American West.
In Johnson County, section housing was sometimes small houses, barracks-style dormitories, or even old boxcars. Communities of section housing existed near Gardner, Olathe, De Soto, Holliday, Bonita, and Craig Station, among other locations. Today these section houses and often the depots, too, have been removed from the county’s landscape.
3 – Town Building and Town Moving
Perhaps the most significant way that railroads shaped Johnson County was in the building, growing, or withering of towns. In the 19th century, a railroad depot signaled prosperity and rail access typically brought growth to business districts. Johnson County had a number of railroad lines crossing its landscape on their way to the Kansas City, a national railroad hub. Counties in western Kansas were lucky to have a single depot located at their county seat. By contrast, Johnson County had perhaps 20 depots at the height of the railroads. A surprising number of these depot towns were founded by the railroads. Small depots were located in the rural countryside for agricultural purposes; freight depots in growing towns for business commerce; and passenger or combination depots in high traffic areas such as Olathe, De Soto, Gardner, and Holliday.
Residents believed access to the railroad was vital to a town’s future success. The small town of Lanesfield is a prime example. When a predecessor to the Santa Fe Railroad built a line through southwestern Johnson County in the early 1870s, it bypassed Lanesfield and instead located depots in Gardner and Edgerton. Residents of Lanesfield moved their homes and businesses board by board and brick by brick to Edgerton in order to have rail access. The town of Lanesfield ceased to exist and is home today only to a stone one-room schoolhouse that was built in 1869 and today is a national historic landmark operated by the Johnson County Museum. But Lanesfield was not alone – the closure and demolition of depots in smaller communities such as Stilwell, Wilder, Bonita, and Clare diminished the economies and populations of those communities in the 20th century. Visitors to the exhibit can walk across a large map of Johnson County on the floor with informational stanchions marking the county’s railroad towns.
To Learn More
To learn about the many other important ways that the railroads shaped Johnson County, visit the TRAINS exhibit at the Johnson County Museum. The family-friendly exhibit opens Saturday, May 13 at 9:00am and is included in the cost of regular admission ($6 adults, $5 seniors, $4 children). The exhibit will feature fun interactives for all ages, a number of historic artifacts, video footage of section workers building the railroad, and a model train display based on Johnson County’s rail history. The Museum will host a series of special programs, including the first on May 18, “Kansas City and the Power of the Railroad,” with a special guest speaker from the Linda Hall Library, a repository for science and technology materials. The exhibit will be open during the Museum’s quarterly Free Days on June 11, Sept. 16, and Nov 22. Trains will be on display through January 13, 2024. Learn more at https://jcprd.com/1914/Special-Exhibit—TRAINS.
The Johnson County Genealogical Society (JCGS) is celebrating its 50th anniversary. As a special 50th anniversary project the JCGS in cooperation with the Johnson County Library has established a free Memory Lab at the Central Resource Library in the genealogy area. JCGS is providing equipment and assistance to help patrons digitize family photos, negatives, slides, 8 mm movies and documents so they may be kept for future generations and easily shared with other family members. This service was seen as a priority since so many older media formats are fragile, degrading or obsolete and require considerable space to store. Those wishing to use the equipment may reserve a 2 ½ hour appointment through the JCGS website to bring in their materials and transfer to USB or other digital media. Detailed instructions will be provided on how to prepare materials prior to the visit, how to use the equipment and save to a digital file. JCGS volunteers will be present at each session to help the users get started.
Equipment at this time includes:
Epson FastFoto: Scans multiple photos or documents in an automatic feeder. The capacity is 36 photos. Size range from 3″ x 5″ to 8″ x 20″ including, Polaroid photos. This machine is not for fragile or curled photos.
Epson V39 Flatbed Scanner: Perfect for fragile or curled photos. Also good for odd-sized photos and documents. Up to 8.5″ x 17″ photos or documents.
Large flatbed scanner: Can scan up to 11″ x 17″ documents or photos.
Wolverine Titan Slide and Film Scanner: 35mm slides and 35mm, 127, 127, 110, and APS negatives.
Epson V600 Flatbed Scanner: Converts 35mm slides and 35mm, 120 and 620 negatives. Up to 8.5″ x 17″ photos or documents.
Wolverine Movie Maker Pro: 8mm and Super 8 Film on reels up to 7 inches. Silent only.
Funding for the Memory Lab was provided by a grant from the Johnson County Library Foundation. Phase 2 of the project will include digitization equipment for VHS and audio cassette tapes.
For more information on the Johnson County Genealogical Society or the Memory Lab, visit jcgsks.org or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Johnson County Genealogical Society Turns 50
The Society was formed in December 1972 with 98 charter members as an outgrowth of a genealogical workshop with representatives from the Johnson County Library, Johnson County Community College and volunteers interested in genealogy. The society’s first regular meeting was held in 1973 at the Johnson County Library headquarters, now known as the Antioch branch. From that meeting the organization began to collect materials of genealogical interest from the public, hold programs and staff the Kansas Room with volunteers who began to help patrons with their family histories.
Today the JCGS has 250 members, conducts monthly public programs, beginner classes and skill building sessions, hosts the Genealogy Day Open House and Resource Fair, and provides volunteers for the Genealogy Desk at the Central Resource Library, Monday through Saturday, 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. to assist patrons with their family histories. The society has six special interest groups which meet monthly: FamilySearch, Family Tree Maker, Roots Magic, and Legacy users groups as well as the Writing Group and Digital Scrapbooking. The Society also offers one-on-one help for patrons who have questions relating to their research or DNA and genetic genealogy. JCGS also supports the Library by providing information for patrons around the world requesting local obituary information.
The Johnson County Genealogical Society has a collection or more than 7,000 items that are housed at the Central Resource Library and are made available to the public for reference. The titles are listed in the Library’s online catalog. The materials relate to genealogy topics from many geographic regions, ethnic, religious, military to specific families. Books, periodicals, written family histories and microfilm are all available for use within the library in additional to many online genealogy websites such as Ancestry.com and FamilySearch.
Membership in JCGS is open to anyone who has an interest in genealogy. Annual dues are $25 for individuals and $30 for a family membership. Most people join to benefit from the network of genealogists helping each other with research and breaking down those brick walls they have encountered in their searches. Monthly programs, workshops and other educational opportunities are very popular and well attended.
The JCGS website provides information about the society, meetings and events, plus some essential genealogy resources and forms such as ancestor charts, census, worksheets, timelines, finding aids and checklists that can be downloaded and filled in as research progresses.
-Marsha Bennett, Johnson County Genealogical Society
Johnson County Park and Recreation District’s (JCPRD) Big Bull Creek Park is a beautiful, serene, natural setting located near Edgerton. Visitors likely have no idea that the area was once the setting for some of the most contested moments in the county’s history. The history of the Border War and the Civil War played out along the banks of Bull Creek, where differing visions for the future of Kansas clashed. A new interpretive marker soon to be installed in the park reveals more of that history and is the subject of this month’s blog post.
A War of Beliefs
Conflict on Johnson County’s landscape arose when Congress created the Kansas Territory in 1854. Johnson County was organized the following year. When the federal government opened Kansas to Euro-Americans, Congress did not designate the new territory as slaveholding or a free state. Instead, the controversial idea of popular sovereignty, which argued that the people who lived in a territory should vote on whether slavery would be permitted, was applied to Kansas.
Although individual Kansans held a spectrum of beliefs about slavery, those beliefs are most often categorized as simply proslavery and free-state. Abolitionists from New England flooded into the territory and called for the end of slaveholding in the U.S. While some Free Staters imagined a Kansas free of slavery, other Free Staters desired a Kansas without any African American residents at all.
Proslavery sympathizers, which included slaveholders and non-slaveholders, were typically from Missouri or other nearby slaveholding states, such as Tennessee, Kentucky, and Arkansas. For slaveholding Missourians, the idea of Kansas as a Free State threatened their way of life and economic prospects. Slaveholders streamed across the Missouri boundary into Kansas Territory in an attempt to ensure the future of slavery.
Vigilante Violence – The Border Wars
In November 1855, a simple land dispute ended with one neighbor, who was proslavery, killing the other, who was a Free Stater. While not about politics, the event set proslavery and free-state forces squarely against each other. Armed bands of men assembled, forming vigilante groups that took extra-legal action against their neighbors.
In May 1856, proslavery forces attacked and burned much of the free-state stronghold of Lawrence, Kansas. Only one fatality occurred, but the situation exploded. Abolitionist leader John Brown launched attacks in the Pottawatomie Creek area in retaliation, murdering several proslavery civilians. The state of affairs turned into continual tit-for-tat action back and forth across the Kansas-Missouri border. These Border War raids continued through the beginning of the Civil War in 1861 and led to many deaths in the border region.
The “Battle of Big Bull Creek”?
Large-scale military action did not occur in the Big Bull Creek Park area, but a series of events that almost led to it are called the Battle of Big Bull Creek to this day. The story begins when a large proslavery force under the direction of David Rice Atchison was camped along the Santa Fe Trail crossing at Big Bull Creek, near where the Lanesfield Schoolhouse stands today (approx. 3 miles from the park). Free-state troops under James Lane, numbering around 250 to 300, arrived on September 1, 1856.
What happened next is unclear. Some sources report a skirmish ensued, while others say no engagement ever took place. One enduring legend suggests Lane marched his significantly smaller number of troops in a circle, single file up on a rise, making their numbers appear larger to the proslavery forces. Most sources agree the proslavery force retreated to Missouri before an actual battle could occur.
The Civil War on the Border
The Civil War began on April 12, 1861, less than three months after Kansas became a state on January 29. Many Border War guerillas became Union and Confederate troops. Both sides were mainly white, Protestant farmers. Both sides perpetrated similar crimes: freeing or recapturing African Americans, destroying property, killing enemy combatants and civilians, and sacking and burning towns and homes along the Kansas-Missouri border.
Of the 24 proslavery guerilla raids that occurred in Kansas during the war, at least eight happened in Johnson County, including two raids in Gardner. After Union victories in 1861 and 1862, William Clarke Quantrill emerged as a leader of Confederate guerillas raiding in Kansas. Desperate to end the attacks, the Union Army issued General Order No. 11 in August 1863, which required everyone in three and a half Missouri counties, regardless of loyalty, to remove to select towns or out of the region. The vital countryside support for Quantrill and proslavery guerillas dwindled. Although many Johnson Countians supported slavery, Quantrill’s continual guerilla raids caused many to join the Union cause for safety. Confederate forces were beaten back from the Kansas-Missouri border region in late October 1864 during the Battle of Westport. Within six months, the Civil War came to an end with a peace treaty in Virginia in April 1865.
You can learn more by visiting Big Bull Creek Park later this spring after the new interpretive marker is installed there. The marker is part of JCPRD’s History in the Parks (HIP) marker series, a collaborative project between the Parks and Golf Courses Division and the Johnson County Museum, part of the Culture Division of JCPRD. Similar markers about local history have already been placed in Shawnee Mission Park at Barkley Plaza, at Verhaeghe Park, and a marker is underway for Meadowbrook Park. To learn even more about Johnson County’s history, visit the Johnson County Museum at 8788 Metcalf Ave in Overland Park – open Monday through Saturday, 9am to 4:30pm. Plan your visit at jcprd.com/Museum.
Each year the Johnson County Library hosts a ‘Kansas Day’ event in January to celebrate the anniversary of Kansas’ statehood (January 29, 1861). Pre-pandemic, the library would host two or three Kansas Day events throughout the month (spread across the Johnson County Library system). For the last two years, the library hosted a Past is Prologue event (online) in lieu of a traditional in person celebration. This made the January 21st Kansas Day all the more special. That Saturday was a come-and-go celebration for the public, held at the Central Resource Library. There was music, games, prizes, informational material, and of course cake. Check out some of the highlights below.
Let them eat cake
Cake is a very important staple of the Kansas Day Celebrations at the Johnson County Public Library. This year’s cake was a vanilla sheet cake proudly displaying the state flower in the middle. Patrons loved indulging in a sweet treat – the dessert was demolished in two hours!
Music and Merriment
In previous years, the library has incorporated a speaker to come in and speak about a topic relevant to Kansas history. This year, the library hosted two musician groups to entertain patrons in the Carmack Community Room. Guitarist Matt Hopper kicked off the festivities and was followed by a quartet group led by bass player Jeff Harshbarger.
The Carmack Community Room also hosted an array of coloring pages for all ages, courtesy of the Kansas State Historical Society. In addition to cake, coloring has been a must-have at our Kansas Day celebrations. Each page features a specific Kansas symbol – fun and educational!
The Johnson County Library mission is to ‘provide access to ideas, information, experiences and materials that support and enrich people’s lives. Book displays, postcards, and information packets have become another Kansas Day staple. Located right outside of the Carmack Community Room, patrons could find a table filled with books (primarily non-fiction) centered on Kansas History. Additional information was provided by the Johnson County Genealogical Society. With spring on the horizon, information sheets on gardening and native Kansas plants were also distributed. For more booklists and additional resources, visit the JoCo History profile page.
Fun and Games for All Ages
The Johnson County Library always looks to promote learning through fun, hands-on experiences. To that note, there were a variety of games and activities for the young and young at heart. Patrons had the opportunity to try their hand at some Kansas trivia and see just how much they knew about their state. Featured prizes included pens and notebooks – all participants were winners!
Central’s newly renovated youth area featured even more games and fun times, starting with a scavenger hunt featuring some local symbols.
To play, each patron was given the opportunity to see Topeka on the on the large poster board map. Patrons were then instructed to take a colored sticker, close their eyes and turn around three times (five times for grown ups!). After that, patrons were told to keep their eyes as closed as possible and try to put the sticker as close to the capital as they could.
There were nearly half a dozen other games for patrons to sample during the wintry Saturday. Folks could choose from card games (Uno or traditional playing deck), checkers, chess, Jenga, Mancala, or dominos.
We sure hope everyone had a wonderful time, and we can’t wait to see you all again next year.
Guest written by Jennifer Laughlin, Site Director, Shawnee Indian Mission National Historic Landmark
The Johnson County Museum is hosting Away from Home: American Indian Boarding School Stories through March 18, 2023. The nationally touring exhibit from Kansas City’s Mid-America Arts Alliance explores the history of the federal, off-reservation Indian boarding schools in operation between the 1870s and the 1980s. What is today known as Haskell Indian Nations University in Lawrence, Kansas was the closest federal, off-reservation boarding school to Johnson County. The exhibit does not tell the story of the Shawnee Indian Mission State Historic Site in Fairway, Kansas, however. The Shawnee Indian Mission history has been featured in several blogs on JoCoHistory.org (more here), but the site’s role in state history is lesser known. For today’s blog, staff at the Shawnee Indian Mission State Historic Site compiled four things readers might not know about the Shawnee Indian Mission.
Surrounded by residential homes, a private high school, and the 53rd Street thoroughfare, many people drive through what is considered the most important historic site in the state of Kansas – the Shawnee Indian Mission National Historic Landmark in Fairway, Kansas – every day. And yet many do so without knowing what it is and why these nearly 12 acres in northeast Johnson County are a national historic landmark. Below are four facts from the long history of the Shawnee Indian [Methodist] Mission.
1. Two Locations
The Fairway site is actually the second site of the Shawnee Methodist Mission. The first was located on a wooded bluff of the Kansas River, southeast of present-day Turner in Wyandotte County. The Fish band of the Shawnee Tribe accepted a Methodist proposal for establishing a mission school in 1830. The one-room school building was ready by the spring of 1831. By the fall of 1835, the school had 34 students, 19 of whom lived on-site. The other 15 received one meal a day at school and returned home to their parents each night. Students learned in both English and their native languages (under the supervision of Native class leaders). Students were taught cabinet making, shoe cobbling, and other trades at the school. By 1838, the school had a waitlist and plans were made to build a larger school in Fairway. Neither school location had forced, federally mandated enrollment like the schools covered in Away from Home. That practice became common after the mission closed.
2. Site of a Vote for Slavery in Kansas
The Shawnee Indian Mission State Historic Site played an important political role in early Kansas State history. Andrew Reeder, the first governor of the Kansas Territory, kept offices in the North building of the Shawnee Indian Mission when he arrived in the Territory in October of 1854. In July 1855, when school was on summer break and students were back with their families, the Kansas Territorial Legislature (sometimes called the Bogus Legislature) met in the Mission’s East building to pass a bill moving the statehood vote to the Shawnee Indian Mission near pro-slavery Missouri. Governor Reeder, who supported the concept of popular sovereignty (letting the residents of the Kansas Territory decide whether slavery would be allowed in Kansas), was in support of the vote. When the legislature gathered, Governor Reeder announced that President Pierce had removed him from office. Nonetheless, the legislature voted on a slave code for the territory. With this “bogus” vote, Kansas was deemed a slave state. Abolitionists worked to have the vote thrown out. Eventually, the pro-slavery government left the mission site and moved to Lecompton, Kansas.
3. A Civil War Encampment
The site was also significant in the Civil War. In 1862, as Kansas and Missouri’s Border War intensified, Union Captain E. Harvey reported that his 6th Kansas Cavalry Regiment had been encamped at the Shawnee Indian Mission for two months. The school soon closed and by July 31, 1863, General Thomas Ewing, Jr. established a Union military post at the site to protect Kansas from Missouri guerilla raiders. The 6th Regiment used the buildings to care for and as quarters for Union troops. On the north end of the East building, there is a noticeable difference in brick color that is slightly circular in shape. A historical account says that it was the result of a cannon ball hitting the building, most likely a misfire during Union training exercises. In October 1864, reports detailed that 12,000 militiamen were in the Mission’s vicinity. These troops helped defeat General Price’s Confederate troops at the Battles of Big Blue and Westport. After the Civil War, the Mission remained private property until 1927.
4. A National Historic Landmark
In 1927, the State of Kansas acquired the mission site by eminent domain – the only time eminent domain has been used in this way in Kansas. The site opened as a museum two years later in 1929 as the Shawnee Indian Mission State Historic Site. In 1968, the site was named a National Historic Landmark. This highest designation in the country was bestowed on the site because of its national significance in terms of places, people, and events that illustrate the history of the United States.
To learn more about the history of the Shawnee Indian Mission State Historic Site in Fairway, view historical markers on the property and explore the interior of the Mission site during public operating hours Wednesday through Saturday, 10am to 5pm. Learn more and plan your visit.
Visit the Johnson County Museum’s special exhibit, Away from Home, about federal, off-reservation Indian boarding schools through Saturday, March 18. The Museum is open Monday through Saturday, 9am to 4:30pm, and there will be upcoming programs associated with the exhibit. Learn more at www.jcprd.com/Museum.
What we call Kansas today has long been contested space. Kansas has been a crossroads of people, lifestyles, and ideas for hundreds of years. The struggle between Native culture, traditions, and society and their Europeanized counterparts played out across the American West, including in Kansas and Johnson County. A new exhibit at the Johnson County Museum highlights this tension by exploring the history of federal, off-reservation Indian boarding schools. Titled Away from Home: American Indian Boarding School Stories, it is a nationally traveling exhibition, on display at the Johnson County Museum for just seven weeks before moving in 20 crates to its next destination. The exhibit is packed with original photos, artifacts, artwork, and multimedia storytelling. In the exhibit, the tragic and the positive, the despicable and the empowering are all wrapped together in a nuanced exploration of our shared national history.
The Federal Indian Boarding School System
Beginning in the 1870s, the U.S. government attempted to educate and assimilate Native populations into “civilized” society by placing children – of all ages, from thousands of homes and hundreds of diverse tribes – in distant, residential boarding schools spread across the American West. Many were forcibly taken from their families and communities and stripped of all signs of “Indianness,” and were even forbidden to speak their own language amongst themselves. Up until the 1930s, students were trained for domestic work and trades in the highly regimented environments of federal Indian boarding schools. Many children went years without familial contact, resulting in a lasting, generational impact. Away from Home explores these off-reservation boarding schools through a kaleidoscope of voices.
Native children responded to the often-tragic Indian boarding school experience in complex ways. Stories of student resistance, accommodation, creative resolve, devoted participation, escape, and faith in one’s self and heritage speak individually across eras. Some families, facing increasingly scarce resources due to land dispossession and a diminishing way of life at home, sent their children to Indian boarding schools as a refuge from these realities. In the variety of reactions, Ojibwe historian Brenda Childs finds that the “boarding school experience was carried out in public but had an intensely private dimension.”
Flipping the Script – Indigenous Led Education
Unintended outcomes, such as a sense of “Pan Indianism” and support networks, grew and flourished on campuses, and advocates demanded reform. Indian boarding schools were designed to remake Indigenous children, but it was the children who changed the schools. After graduation, some students became involved in tribal political office or the formation of civil rights and Native sovereignty organizations. The handful of federal boarding schools remaining today embrace Indigenous heritage, languages, traditions, and culture. What is today known as Haskell Indian Nations University in Lawrence, Kansas was the closest federal, off-reservation boarding school to Johnson County. In the 20th century, it transitioned from a federally run Indian boarding school to a Native-run university that teaches, explores, and celebrates Indigeneity.
Before the Federal Indian Boarding School System
The federal system that Away from Home explores does not include the Shawnee Indian Mission State Historic Site, located in Fairway, Kansas. In fact, there were nuanced but important differences between it and the federal system:
First, the Shawnee Methodist Mission and Manual Labor School, as it was known in the 19th century, pre-dated the federal system by several decades. Methodist missionary Thomas Johnson first opened it in 1829 in Turner, Kansas, before moving the Shawnee mission to Fairway in the late 1830s. Despite a nearly 20-year operational history, the Shawnee school closed in the 1860s – more than ten years before the federal system developed.
Second, the Shawnee Methodist Mission and Manual Labor School was an on-reservation Indian boarding school located on the Shawnee reservation. Students generally lived nearby, and according to records, were able to return home when school was not in session. But, in another example of contested spaces, the Shawnee reservation was land that had previously been inhabited by the Kanza and Osage people. The federal government had removed the Shawnee there in the 1820s as part of what in 1830 became known as the policy of Indian Removal. Though located on the Shawnee reservation, more than 20 different Native tribes sent their children to the school.
Third, as its name might imply, the Shawnee Methodist Mission and Manual Labor School was religiously affiliated and run by the Methodist church – specifically by missionaries like Thomas Johnson and others, not federal officials (though it did receive some federal funding). In the 19th century, there were also Baptist and Friends (Quaker) mission schools in Johnson County.
Know Before You Go
Away from Home contains stories of resilience, revitalization, agency, honor. Yet also it also contains descriptions of human indignities, hardships, and phrases that reflect historically racist perspectives and language from past eras. In presenting historical facts about acts of seemingly unfathomable violence and suffering in the lives of Native peoples, this exhibition is advised for more mature audience members, grades eight to adult. Away from Home will leave visitors thinking more deeply about contested spaces, the role of education in society, and the complexities of hearing from all the voices of the past.
This traveling exhibition was adapted from the permanent exhibition, Away from Home: American Indian Boarding School Stories, organized by The Heard Museum in Phoenix, Arizona. Both exhibits were supported by the National Endowment for the Humanities. Any views, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this exhibition do not necessarily represent those of the National Endowment for the Humanities. It is brought to you by the Mid-America Arts Alliance in Kansas City’s Crossroads District, The National Endowment for the Arts, and The Chickasaw Nation.
Away from Home: American Indian Boarding Schools will be on display February 1 to March 18, 2023, at the Johnson County Museum. The Museum will present related programming during the exhibition’s run. Visit www.jcprd.com/museum for more information and to plan your visit.
Johnson County Library’s Corinth branch, at 8100 Mission Road, is popular with patrons from Prairie Village and beyond. It opened Feb. 24, 1963, so 2023 will mark its 60th anniversary milestone.
In the 1950s, before the Johnson County Library had funding, volunteer run libraries were spread through the county. In 1953, a branch was opened in the Prairie Village Shopping Center. It was located in the basement of one of the shops. When funding was available in 1956, the library moved upstairs to a rented space on the Concourse.
In 1961, voters approved a bond issue that allowed for the site purchase and build of a library in Prairie Village. Corinth opened its doors on February 24, 1963. The branch site and that of the adjacent Corinth Shopping Center were already famous in Kansas City history. The clothier Herbert Woolf built Woolford Farm on 200 acres and raised thoroughbred racing horses. He hosted lavish parties whose guests included Theodore Roosevelt and many other notables. In 1938 his horse Lawrin won the Kentucky Derby. Lawrin is buried on the top of the hill just west of the library.
In 1967 Corinth expanded on both the north and south sides to reach its current size of 20,475 square feet. In 1988 it had an interior renovation, with the addition of an elevator and east side windows.
The building has had some major maintenance in recent years, including a new roof and updated electrical and heating/cooling work. It has a well-stocked children’s section and a spacious computer area and remains a favorite Library destination for young families and adults.
“We are quite busy. We are well loved,” says Amy Barclay, who has been branch manager since January 2019. “Corinth is known for being a place for families to come and meet and connect. We have tutors here all the time. We often rank quite high on customer service.”
But there’s also a recognition that the community could use a more modern facility. The current land-locked location is not conducive to expansion. The 2015 Comprehensive Library Master Plan identified the need to replace Corinth with a new building, but no timeframe was specified.
The Library Board has been weighing how to prioritize the timing of new construction for Corinth and the best way to work with Prairie Village city officials.
Very preliminary talks began in 2019 between the Library and Prairie Village leaders over possibly collaborating on a civic campus that could include a new community center and Library, in proximity to Harmon Park. Survey results in December 2019 showed strong support for the Library in Prairie Village overall, and support for the Library being included in a shared campus. Talks were then put on hold due to COVID-19.
Stakeholders from the Library and city of Prairie Village resumed conversations earlier this year and indicated a willingness to keep working together.
Barclay and other Library leaders would love to see a new Corinth branch with a convenient drive-thru, larger meeting rooms, better accessibility for people with disabilities, and other amenities found in the newest branches — Monticello and Lenexa City Center — and in the renovated Central Resource Library.
The Prairie Village City Council is beginning to explore the feasibility of building the community/civic center, but this remains very tentative. On Oct. 3, the City Council debated whether to conduct a survey to gauge citizen support for the project, but postponed a decision. At their November meeting, the City’s ad hoc civic center committee elected to send an updated version of the survey to residents. If citizen support exists, the city would still need to figure out a location, conceptual design and how to pay for it.
The Library, which has its own dedicated funding source, will also pursue its own areas of inquiry, including programming and how much space will be needed; site feasibility including traffic flow, parking and potential phasing; and cost estimating.
In the meantime, Barclay says Corinth is doing well and enjoying the return to in-person programming, with its popular Storytimes, book groups and Legislative coffees.
“It is really refreshing to be in a branch where the community is so invested in this building,” Barclay said. “I do still think the community pretty much loves this branch. We’re not losing patrons to the prettier branches. There’s a lot of loyalty to Corinth and to Prairie Village.”
-Lynn Horsley, freelance journalist for Johnson County Library -Johnson County Library staff
The Johnson County Museum’s year-long run of REDLINED: Cities, Suburbs, and Segregation comes to an end on January 7, 2023. Although Museum staff spent 18 months researching what would become a 22,000-word exhibit, we still found ourselves learning something new with practically every group tour, REDLINED program, and countless redlining-related news stories published this past year. As we prepare to close the exhibit, we wanted to share six of the things we learned since REDLINED opened.
1. Redlining Impacted Farm Loans
We frequently were asked the question: what about rural and farm loans? Although the federal government and private banks made redlining maps representing urban centers and suburban developments, it might not be surprising that the federal government’s agricultural loan programs in the 20th century denied investment to Black farmers. In 1920, the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) recorded that 14% of all farmers in the U.S. were Black (925,708). During the New Deal, the Agricultural Adjustment Act (AAA) reduced the amount of land used for producing crops to help drive up prices. But since 40 percent of Black workers were sharecroppers or tenant farmers, more than 100,000 Black farmers were driven off their land in 1933 and 1934 alone. Legislation throughout the 20th century continued this trend, and today just 1.4% of all farmers are Black. The loss of Black-farmed land is equal to 16 million acres over the last century. The topic of funding for Black farmers has been in the news recently around alleged discrimination in COVID-19 agriculture funding.
2. Native Americans were Redlined, Too
In REDLINED, there are physical examples of racially restrictive covenants prohibiting Black homeownership and reports how the legacies of redlining continue to impact African Americans, Latinos, and other communities of color. This includes Native Americans. Redlining practices denied Indigenous people access to home loans and other sources of funding for decades, too, and the inability to access banking continues to impact Indigenous communities today. For example, a 2017 Native Nations report found that the average distance to a bank from the center of a reservation is three times the national average of four miles. Lack of access to banks and mortgage products has resulted in a rate of Native homeownership that is 22.5% lower than the national average (50.8% for Indigenous populations, 73.3% for white non-Hispanic Americans) in 2019.
3. Just How Much was Invested in the Suburbs
One researcher estimated that the federal government extended mortgage insurance for over $129 billion in 1950s money for home purchases — or more than $1.239 quintillion in 2019 dollars. This unfathomable number accounts for just the initial injection of money into suburban communities through buying and building homes. It does not, however, account for any of the subsequent investment that occurred in those new communities for things like schools, highways, and other infrastructure. The FHA backed approximately 11 million home loans nationally between 1934 and 1972. By 1970, less than 2.5% had gone to homebuyers of color. Of the 77,000 FHA-backed loans issued to the Kansas City area in between 1934 and 1962, less than 1% (less than 770 loans) went to Black homebuyers.
For more on the FHA’s investment meant for Johnson County, check the out “The FHA and Suburbia” blog we published earlier this year.
4. Factoring Life Expectancy
One of the Museum’s REDLINED-related public programs was a panel discussion about how the environment around us can impact our health. During the program, Dr. Alex Francisco with the Kansas City Missouri Health Department shared data from Health Explorer, a new online dashboard that dives into the factors that make up a person’s life expectancy. While half of a person’s life expectancy is determined by genetics, behaviors and risk factors make up the other half. Analyzing health data at the census tract level, the KCMO Health Department’s Health Explorer reveals health disparities are clearly geographic in nature. The areas of the city most impacted by risk factors generally align with areas previously redlined. In REDLINED, we compare a life expectancy map from 2019 to redlining maps. These maps show that a person born into a previously redlined neighborhood on the city’s East Side would have 16 years less life expectancy than a person born in a previously greenlined neighborhood along Ward Parkway. Using census tract data, Dr. Francisco discovered a life expectancy difference of 18 years in one area of town by crossing a single street — Troost Avenue. For decades, one side of this street received systematic investment while the other did not.
When a group of bankers toured the REDLINED exhibit, they pointed out a lack of information on the 1977 Community Reinvestment Act (CRA) in the section on undoing the system of redlining. The intent of the CRA was to ensure that banks invested in the local community, regardless of who made up the community around the bank. Yet the legislation’s lack of objective standards and ambiguous wording has made the CRA difficult to navigate and enforce. Just last week, the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency made changes to certain banking thresholds and is considering more changes in the future, and an upcoming Supreme Court case about race and banking may decide if the CRA continues to exist at all.
6. Hoarding Opportunities
Areas that experienced systematic investment during the period of redlining continue to reap the benefits today. Dr. Sheryll Cashin, Georgetown law professor, acclaimed author, and featured speaker a program we partnered on with the Kansas City Public Library and UMKC’s History Department, calls the continued investment in areas already invested in “opportunity hoarding.” Dr. Cashin spoke about not just how systematic investment begets continued systematic investment, but how boundary maintenance often keeps that investment closed off to some of the population. In the Kansas City area, it is easy to think of several boundaries — real and imagined — that divide populations, neighborhoods, and levels of investment. Whether talking about the racially restrictive covenants that were in force throughout northeastern Johnson County through the mid-20th century, the racial steering practiced by real estate developers and real estate agents, or home prices that have risen beyond the purchasing power of the systematically disinvested populations (typically communities of color), various barriers continue to maintain opportunity hoarding in this region and in communities across the nation. Dr. Cashin writes extensively about this topic in her 2021 book, White Space, Black Hood.
One last thing we learned during the course of this exhibition is how little known and understood the history and legacies of redlining are today. From the research that made the exhibit to the lessons learned since it opened a year ago, we are constantly reminded the breadth and depth of the history and legacies of redlining. There is so much more to learn. And we remain committed to that learning. Continue to learn more with us by following the hashtag #RedlinedKC on social media, and by checking out program recordings and more resources at www.jcprd.com/Redlined. You can also take home the exhibition after it closes — the Museum published the exhibit as a book for sale in the Museum Store. More information coming soon on how this exhibit will live on in the future.
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