Ashner Greenwood Dairy

The corner of 49th Street and Lamar Avenue is now dwarfed by apartment buildings, but more than 90 years ago Bessie (Penner/Pencharz) and Charley Ashner rose early each morning to work the first Jewish-owned dairy farm in Johnson County. Greenwood Dairy supplied nearby neighbors (and the Ashner’s family of ten) with milk, cream, cheese and butter for three decades before the press of post-war suburban development demanded other use of the land.

a view of the Charles Ashner dairy farm, the Greenwood Dairy, at 49th Street and Lamar Avenue in Mission. A frame farm house is at the center, surrounded by hillsides. Several outbuildings are partially in view. The bare branches of a tree in the foreground obscure portions of the image at the left and upper two-thirds. Out of focus in the distance are buildings in a nearby residential area.

Charles Ashner dairy farm, the Greenwood Dairy, at 49th Street and Lamar Avenue in Mission (Source: Johnson County Museum Collection on JoCo History)

Elizabeth “Bessie” Penner (Pencharz) was born in Ciechanowiec, Russian Poland about 1901, and arrived in New York City on the Zeeland on September 9, 1913, with her father Jacob, mother Freda, and brothers Isadore (Itzig Tajbel) and Joseph (Abraham Joal.) The family settled at 3023 Prospect Avenue in Kansas City, Missouri and Jacob set up a shoe shop. Five more siblings followed: Fanny, Minnie, Maurice, and Samuel. The 1920 Census notes the family’s native tongue as Hebrew and all family members speak English, but the children are able to speak and read in English, too.

Charles “Charlie” Asner was born August 16, 1896 in Lieda, Russia to Louis and Ida Ashner. The Ashners immigrated in 1906 and by 1910 owned a dairy in Kansas City, Kansas. The family’s first language was Hebrew and all spoke, read, and wrote English. Charley served in the United States Army from September 11, 1918 to February 14, 1919; he applied for and was granted American citizenship at Camp Funston during the course of his enlistment.

Charlie Ashner in a World War I army uniform

Charlie Ashner in a World War I army uniform (Source: Johnson County Museum collection on JoCo History)

Charlie and Bessie married March 5, 1922 by Rabbi Simon Glazer of the United Synagogues of Kansas City, who also happened to be responsible for the bottling of kosher l’Pesach milk for the Jewish community of Kansas City. The young couple lived and worked with the Ashners at 1885 Benton Avenue, Kansas City, Kansas for several years before venturing into the wilds of Johnson County with their children Fern Ruth “Eva” (1923-2009), Leo (born 1925), and Anna May (1927-2007). Five more children followed in their home on the Kansas City Road, later 4946 Lamar Avenue: Dorothy (1929-2016), Frances (born 1932), Louis (1934-2015), Bernard (1936-2017), and Herbert (born 1938).

10 member Ashner family at farm.

Anna Ashner, center of second row; Barney Ashner, far right in front of mother; Bessie Ashner, on right behind small children; Charlie Ashner, center back row; Dorothy Ashner, far left 2nd row; Fern Ashner, standing between parents; Francis Ashner, to left of mother; Herb Ashner, smallest boy in front of mother; Leo Ashner, far left by father; Lou Ashner, in foreground with overalls. Ashner family at farm (Source: Johnson County Museum collection on JoCo History)

Unfortunately, Bessie suffered a stroke and passed away at Menorah Hospital in 1953. Work at the dairy continued for a few more years; the Greenwood Dairy or Ashner dairy listing disappears from the local directories between 1955-1958. Charlie never remarried. He passed away in June 1990.

The loss of their mother did not dissuade the entrepreneurial spirit of the Ashner family. Several Ashner children became successful business owners in the area, thanks to their start on the first Jewish-owned dairy farm in Johnson County.

Identification for the back row, from left to right: Louis Ashner, Anna Mae Ashner Rice, Frances Ashner Feldman, Barney Ashner, Herb Ashner. Middle row: Eva Ashner, Dorothy Ashner Parness and Leo Ashner. Seated in the front is Charlie Ashner (Source: Johnson County Museum collection on JoCo History)

-Melissa Horak-Hern, Johnson County Library

Works referenced

 

Bernard Ashner obituary (9 Mar 2017). Kansas City Jewish Chronicle. Retrieved from

http://kcjc.com/index.php/community/913-obituaries.

Louis Ashner obituary (5 Aug 2015). Kansas City Jewish Chronicle. Retrieved from

http://kcjc.com/index.php/community/913-obituaries.

Jackson County (MO) Office of Recorder of Deeds (1922). Marriage license of Charlie Ashner and Bessie

Penner, 28 Feb 1922 (number A935). Retrieved from https://www.ancestrylibrary.com/.

Johnson County (KS) Farm Bureau (1929). Johnson County, Kansas, Farm Directory. Retrieved from

https://www.ancestrylibrary.com/.

  • Ibid. (1950).

Missouri Department of Health (13 May 1953). Certificate of death number 14023 for Bessie Ashner.

Retrieved from

https://www.sos.mo.gov/images/archives/deathcerts/1953/1953_00014021.PDF.

Polk’s Directories (1953). Northeast Johnson County Directory, 1953. Retrieved from

https://www.ancestrylibrary.com/.

 

  • Ibid. (1955).
  • Ibid. (1957).
  • Ibid. (1958).

 

Schultz, J. P. and C. L. Klausner (1983). Rabbi Simon Glazer and the Quest for Jewish Community in

Kansas City, 1920-1923. Retrieved from

http://americanjewisharchives.org/publications/journal/PDF/1983_35_01_00_schultz_klausner.

pdf.

U.S. Census Bureau (1910). Thirteenth Census of the United States: 1910 Population Retrieved from

https://www.ancestrylibrary.com/.

U.S. Census Bureau (1920). Fourteenth Census of the United States: 1920 Population. Retrieved

from https://www.ancestrylibrary.com/.

U.S. Census Bureau (1930). Fifteenth Census of the United States: 19300 Population Schedule. Retrieved

from https://www.ancestrylibrary.com/.

U.S. Census Bureau (1940). Sixteenth Census of the United States: 1940 Population. Retrieved from

https://www.ancestrylibrary.com/.

U.S. Department of Labor, Immigration and Naturalization Service (1918). Naturalization Index for the

Western District of Missouri, compiled 1930-1950, documenting the period ca. 1848-ca. 1950:

Charles ASHNER Form No. 1-IP. Retrieved from https://www.ancestrylibrary.com/.

U.S. Department of Veterans’ Affairs (2010). Beneficiary Identification Records Locator Subsystem Death

File. Retrieved from https://www.ancestrylibrary.com/.

Western District of Missouri (1926). Missouri Federal Naturalization Records, Petition no. 4311 for

Naturalization of Abraham Joal Pencharz. Retrieved from https://www.ancestrylibrary.com/.

Western District of Missouri (1926). Missouri Federal Naturalization Records, Petition no. 4312 for

Naturalization of Icze Lajbel Pencharz. Retrieved from https://www.ancestrylibrary.com/.

World War I Draft Registration Cards, 1917-1918. Charley Ashner registration number 265, Draft Board

2, City of Kansas City, Kansas. Retrieved from https://www.ancestrylibrary.com/.

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Johnson County Speaks Out about The Turbulent Twenties

Although it seems like the Johnson County Museum’s special exhibit, The Turbulent Twenties, just opened, it closes very soon—May 11, 2019. That means there are only a few weeks left to view this full-scale exhibition. It is never too early to reflect on an exhibit, and perhaps the best way to do that is to take a look at comments visitors have left on the “feedback wall” at the end of the exhibit.

"Let your voice be heard!" interactive wall in The Turbulent Twenties exhibit.

The “Let your voice be heard!” interactive feedback wall in The Turbulent Twenties exhibit at the Johnson County Museum.

After learning all about the 1920s, exhibit-goers are faced with modern headlines on a variety of topics. These headlines closely mirror topics presented in the exhibit. Yes, the 2010s are not unlike the 1920s in many ways. In addition to these headlines, which are meant to pull visitors back to the present-day, they are asked to consider three questions:

 

  1. How is the period of the 1920s still influencing American politics and society today?
  2. Of today’s issues, which is the most important to you?
  3. If the 1920s brought the “Modern Age,” how would you describe American society today?

 

Nearly 350 visitors have responded, placing their comments, thoughts, and exhibit reviews on stark white post-its. Some contain just one word, others a short essay. Many address multiple topics of concern. Not all answer the questions posed, but all offer insight into what Johnson County museum-goers think. We have collected every post-it, and our curatorial staff developed categories against which to tally the responses. The Turbulent Twenties clearly got our visitors thinking!

Bar graph of the responses on The Turbulent Twenties feedback wall. Answers were grouped by rough topics.

Bar graph of the responses on The Turbulent Twenties feedback wall. Answers were grouped by rough topics.

After viewing the exhibit, the topics of race and racism—in the past and the present—were on visitors’ minds. Some responses dealt specifically with the KKK, whose regional 1920s history is revealed in the exhibit. Immigration as a theme or word was another topic that saw a high number of responses. Visitors wrote: “Most important—solving immigration issue,” “We need to realize we are All immigrants,” and “Struck by how little some things have changed, e.g. attitude toward immigrants.”

 

In a related topic, equality or the theme “all people” were common.  Often, these comments were paired with the theme of “love,” another category with many responses. The topics of civility, ethics, and truth were also on peoples’ minds. Some of the comments relating to these topics were accompanied by religious messages, including one that included a quote attributed to the Buddha.

Comment on the feedback wall about equality.

A comment on the feedback wall regarding equality.

Three other notable themes emerged. First, visitors urged others to “learn from the past.” This idea, that similar events occur across time and that we must learn from history, was mentioned in fifteen post-its. As one visitor wrote, “Always learn from the past. Never overwrite history. Learn to use that knowledge to CHANGE THE FUTURE.” On the opposite side philosophically, and appearing in an equal number, was the idea that “nothing changes.” Both of these responses suggest that exhibit-goers saw parallels between the 1920s and today. Lastly, and perhaps a call to action from both of those existential positions, was the theme “vote.” This most often appeared as a lone word, typically accompanied by at least one exclamation point. “Vote” appeared during the November election season in the highest numbers.

 

Other topics that repeatedly appeared included the president and the government, environmental activism (“Protect the environment,” “save water!”), and post-it comments that were reviews of the exhibit (“Excellent exhibit—vital info & message for today!”).

Comment on the feedback wall about the emotional power of The Turbulent Twenties exhibit.

A comment on the feedback wall about the emotional power of The Turbulent Twenties exhibit.

Comment on the feedback wall observing parallels between the 1920s and the 2010s.

A comment on the feedback wall observing the parallels between the 1920s and the 2010s.

Most exciting, post-its were placed on the board in conversation with one another. They were written directly in reply to other post-its already on the board, often with arrows or other references that made the relationship clear (such as positioning). In this way, the feedback wall served as an on-going conversation about history and its relevancy to current events.

Five responses on the feedback wall in conversation with one another on the topic of race relations.

Five responses on the feedback wall in conversation with one another on the topic of race relations.

One goal of the exhibit was to help visitors understand how the events and themes of the 1920s inform our current society and culture. The responses on the feedback wall provide evidence that this goal was met. Exhibit-goers were thinking, making connections, and applying history to their own lives in the present-day. So what do Johnson County museum-goers think? You will just have to come see The Turbulent Twenties exhibit for yourself! And add your own thoughts to the board. But don’t wait: the exhibit closes May 11.

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The Johnson County Museum opened The Turbulent Twenties exhibit on August 25, 2018. It will close on May 11, 2019. The Museum is open Monday through Saturday, 9:00am to 4:30pm. Please see our blog posts from August 2018 through February 2019 for exhibit related content. For an overview of the exhibit, see this post specifically: https://jocohistory.wordpress.com/2018/08/24/the-turbulent-twenties/.

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Dairy Farming: Johnson County’s Most Prominent Industry

With the current expanse of suburbs covering much of Johnson County, it’s hard to imagine that dairy farming served as the county’s leading industry from the 1870s to the 1950s. Family dairies dotted the countryside, and in the 1870s, the county had over 2,500 farmers producing almost 25,000 pounds of cheese and nearly 220,000 pounds of butter. By 1929, farmers  in Johnson County regularly produced over three million gallons of milk a year. At one point, 285 dairy farms thrived in the Kansas City metro area. These dairies primarily produced milk, cream, and butter for the family and farmhands who resided there before excess product was sold to local residents and grocery stores.

Horizontal rectangular black and white copy photograph of man identified as Medard "Boots" Vankeirsbilck standing next to delivery truck marked "MAPLE DAIRY" He wears dark colored cap, long sleeved shirt and overalls; holds a wire basket/tray containing 6 bottles of milk.  Snow on ground.

Medard “Boots” Vankeirsbilck standing next to a Maple Dairy delivery truck. Source: Johnson County Museum Collection on JoCo History

A typical day at a dairy began between 1:00 and 2:00 am when milking started. This continued until about 6:30 am when trucks started delivering milk to individual homes and grocery stores. Milk delivery went out daily, regardless of weather conditions. The left over milk and separated cream would then be made into cheese, yogurt, and other dairy products. The entire family worked on the farm by completing various chores including herding cattle, gathering eggs, bottling and delivering milk, canning, and cleaning milk bottles. Usually, additional help came from farm hands who lived on the property with the family. Gene White recalls his mother cooking three meals a day for not only her family, but also their farm hands during his family’s time operating the Wolverine Dairy Farm, located at 85th and Metcalf. Hugh and Mary White bought the farm from F.O. Hebeler and operated the dairy from 1941 to 1949. When the family sold the dairy, they opened the White Haven Motor Lodge.

Black and white photographic print, an informal portrait the four children of Hugh and Mary White on the Wolverine Dairy farm. The four are near a shed on the farm. Three stand while Gene, the youngest, sits on a horse. Bob White stands at the left. Joe stands at the center. He wears a cap and holds a light-colored rabbit. Louise, at the right, wears a dark-colored sweater, light-colored skirt, and holds a dog. The silo is visible in the background at the left. A fence is at the extreme right. Museum label: ""2013.22.12"" Handwritten on back of original print: Bob 15 Joe 8 Louise 14 Gene 4 Pony 2

Bob 15, Joe 8, Louise 14, Gene 4, Pony 2: the four children (and pony) of Hugh and Mary White on the Wolverine Dairy farm. Source: Johnson County Museum Collection on JoCo History

Black and white photographic print, an exterior view of the cow barn at the Wolverine Dairy farm. The light-colored, single story frame building has a row of small windows along the side and three in the gable end. The roof sags and bricks weight down a section at the left. A cylindrical metal vent is at the peak of the roof at the left. A small lean-to is at the right. A gate and fence is at the far right.

Barn on the Wolverine Dairy Farm Source: Johnson County Museum Collection on JoCo History

As men left for the war in the 1940s, seventy-five dairies in Johnson County closed because of the lack of farm hands. In the 1950s, industrialization began to overtake Johnson County’s rural infrastructure. In 1951, dairy farmer Harry Walmer sold the farm his family established in 1879. He explained his decision by stating, “workable land is becoming too scarce and the taxes are getting too high. The real estate men are beginning to call more and more – but that’s what you have to expect when each acre will sell for $1,000 – $1,500.”  Though it seems much of Johnson County’s farming past has made way for shopping centers and subdivisions, dairy farming is still a thriving, billion dollar industry. Residents can even take a tour of a working dairy barn at the Deanna Rose Children’s Farmstead located at Switzer and 135th St in Overland Park. Here, visitors can see live milkings twice daily and view a video on the history of the dairy industry in Kansas, in addition to many other activities on the farmstead.

Black and white photograph of Richard Jorgensen standing beside a cow in a yard. Richard wears a long sleeved shirt with the sleeves rolled. He stands to the right of the spotted cow. Behind him there are several other cows, a partially visible silo, and two partially visible structures. This photo is a part of the 1950-51 F.F.A. Scrapbook; "Supplemental Section." Typed on white paper above photo: "Jorgensen, Bill- Sophomore; 2nd yr. vo-ag; Greenhand; One Reg. Holstein Bull Calf; One Reg. Holstein Cow; One red Feeder Calf; Dairy, Beef, Corn, etc.; 15 acres of field corn and ¼ acre of potatoes; Chapter Property managing and Repair Committee; C Judging Team."
Richard Jorgensen circa 1950 Source: Johnson County Museum College on JoCo History

-Amanda Wahlmeier, Johnson County Library

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The 19th Amendment: Empowering Local Women

March is Women’s History Month, and the next two years mark important anniversaries in the struggle for women’s equality in the United States. This year is the centennial of Congress’ approval of a constitutional amendment guaranteeing American women the right to vote. This effort was passed on June 4, 1919. Next year will mark the centennial of the ratification of that legislation as the 19th Amendment, on August 18, 1920. These two major dates fit comfortably into the historical line up of amendments, laws, and political changes we are taught in school, and that we may (or may not) remember into adulthood. The long road of women’s suffrage is often overlooked, and perhaps even less understood is the local importance of these big, national changes.

League of Women Voters poster, c. 1920. Courtesy Library of Virginia.

League of Women Voters poster, c. 1920. A graphic of this poster is included in the Johnson County Museum’s temporary exhibit, The Turbulent Twenties, on view through May 11, 2019. Courtesy Library of Virginia.

The women’s suffrage movement began early in the 19th century. The movement catalyzed when Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Lucretia Mott organized a meeting at the Wesleyan chapel in Seneca Falls, New York, in 1848. Three hundred attendees met to discuss the social, civil, and religious rights of women. Women’s suffrage—seeking the right to vote—became the major issue as women’s organizations began to challenge the social and cultural mores of conservative politicians and anti-suffragists who believed that if women were allowed to vote they would destroy the American family. Some who opposed women’s suffrage felt that women who wanted to change the social order were a threat to society and to themselves! By 1890, several women’s suffrage organizations combined to become the National American Woman Suffrage Association, with President Susan B. Anthony choosing Carrie Chapman Catt as her successor.

Photograph of a National Anti-Suffrage Association booth, c. 1911. Courtesy Library of Congress.

Photograph of a National Anti-Suffrage Association booth, c. 1911. Courtesy Library of Congress.

With the ratification of the 19th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution in 1920, over half the population of the United States gained the right to vote. The National American Woman Suffrage Association held one last convention in 1919, where Catt proposed a “league of women voters.” She challenged women to remain on the battlefield and “finish the fight” for changes in “custom, laws and education.” While a descendant of the women’s suffrage fight, the League of Women Voters was organized to address these issues more directly. Jane Brooks of Wichita was elected as the chairwoman of the League, having previously served as the president of the Kansas Equal Suffrage Association.

Photograph of a suffragist picket line at the White House, Washington, D.C., c. 1917.

Photograph of a suffragist picket line at the White House, Washington, D.C., c. 1917. Courtesy Library of Congress.

At the local level, the League’s purpose was to establish positions on public policy through member participation, take action that secured public policy consistent with their positions, encourage citizens to be involved at all levels of government, and to increase citizen participation in the electoral process. The League adhered to a strict non-partisanship stance, emphasizing the fact that it did not support political candidates but rather issues. Women involved in the League were encouraged to work for candidates or parties of their choice, and to run for offices themselves.

 

How did all of this ripple down to Johnson County? Early on, the League of Women Voters’ activities were primarily limited to Wichita, Topeka, and Lawrence. Kansas City, Kansas, organized a chapter in 1947, and Mrs. Margaret Holditch of Mission, Kansas, began attending meetings there. Wanting to discuss issues more in line with the community in which she lived, Holditch placed an advertisement in the Johnson County Herald. In November 1951, twenty-five women attended a Johnson County Provisional League meeting. They named themselves the League of Women Voters of Shawnee Mission, as the Shawnee Mission High School was the only clear unifying organization in northeast Johnson County at the time.

Annual report from the organization’s first year as a county-wide entity, c. 1972. Prior to that year, the organization was named the League of Women Voters of Shawnee Mission.

Annual report from the organization’s first year as a county-wide entity, c. 1972. Prior to that year, the organization was named the League of Women Voters of Shawnee Mission. Johnson County Museum.

The Shawnee Mission League was unique in the fact that it represented thirteen second- and third-class cities and two townships. For this reason, the national office hesitated to charter the group. It finally granted permission in February 1952, with a total membership of 55 women. The Shawnee Mission League undertook studies of county school districts, collaborated with the Prairie School PTA to develop a Johnson County Library district, developed a “Guide to Johnson County Government” for new citizens, advised on the necessity of a community college in Johnson County and led the effort to develop one, published a report on land use in the county, and studied and supported the need for unification of the Shawnee Mission School District.

The League of Women Voters of Johnson County was a sponsor for the 1984 presidential debates, held in Kansas City, Missouri. The debate was between President Ronald Reagan and former VP Walter Mondale.

The League of Women Voters of Johnson County was a sponsor for the 1984 presidential debates, held in Kansas City, Missouri. The debate was between President Ronald Reagan and former VP Walter Mondale. Johnson County Museum.

In 1972, the League of Women Voters of Shawnee Mission decided they should incorporate all of Johnson County and not just the northeastern corner. Subsequently, their name was changed to the League of Women Voters of Johnson County. Two years later, in keeping with the Equal Rights Amendment, the National League made provisions to allow men the opportunity to join the organization. The League continues to be very active in studying county issues, supporting initiatives on various political, social, and economic topics, and working on behalf of Johnson County residents. In January 2019, the League released a position paper on the lack of affordable housing in Johnson County (read the report here), and held a public presentation on the issue. A future program will address inclusion, equity, and diversity in the county, and the League remains a strong advocate and resource for voter empowerment.

 

Note: The League of Women Voters of Johnson County archive their records at the Johnson County Museum. The records are available for research with an advance appointment.

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The Johnson County Museum is planning an interactive digital exhibit in 2020, to mark the centennial of the ratification of the 19th Amendment, which guaranteed women the right to vote. The Museum’s signature exhibit, “Becoming Johnson County,” highlights many strong women and women-led organizations who helped shape the Johnson County we see today. Tours of the exhibit are available Monday through Saturday at 11am and 2pm.

 

For more information about the history of women’s suffrage, see the Our Documents website, a collaboration between National History Day, the National Archives & Record Administration (NARA), and USA Freedom Corps. For more information on the League of Women Voters of Johnson County, read the Museum’s newsletter from Spring 1999, available on the JoCoHistory website.

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Research Tips: Obituary Index

The Obituary Index, maintained by the Johnson County Genealogical Society (JCGS), consistently tops the list of most visited JoCo History website collections. Upon first glance, the index can seem overwhelming, but once you learn how to use this tool, it can serve as a valuable resource in genealogical research.

Volunteers from the JCGS comb through the obituary sections of area newspapers each month to extract basic information about the deceased. They compile the name, date of death, and newspaper information including the date published and page number of each obituary. Johnson County Library staff then upload this information to guide researchers to the print obituary. Using this index cuts out hours of browsing through many newspapers by giving researchers the exact newspaper and page number to find any given obituary.

First, navigate to the Obituary Index, located towards the bottom of the home screen, so only that collection is searched.

Home page

Users can search in two different ways. To simply see what the collection has to offer, click ‘Browse’ at the bottom of the page. To search for a particular person, type the name into the search box in the top right.

search

For example, Angeline Carter passed away in Olathe in 1906. Note the multiple results for this name.

search results

Don’t assume that each result represents a different person as there are often multiple entries per individual. The index lists one entry per obituary so check each potential record. Note on the following screenshots that the date of death is the same, indicating all three of these entries are for the same Angeline Carter.

Angeline Carter 1Angeline Carter 2Angeline Carter 3

Also notice that two entries list the same newspaper. Check the publish date to determine if the same newspaper ran two different obituaries for this particular person. In this case, the Olathe Tribune published obituaries for Angeline Carter on January 26 and February 2, 1906.

The most important thing to remember is that the actual obituary will not show up linked to the index. Unfortunately, copyright laws and limited staff/volunteer time and resources keep us from publishing full newspaper articles. Remember that this is an index meant to direct users to the location of the obituary. Most of these newspapers are on microfilm at the Johnson County Library’s Central Resource Library in Overland Park. By using the information found in the index record, researchers can use the microfilm machines to find the actual obituary. Don’t know how to use the microfilm machines? No problem! The Johnson County Genealogical Society staffs a volunteer desk in the Genealogy section of the library 9:00 – 5:00 Monday – Saturday.

-Amanda Wahlmeier, Johnson County Library


Want to learn more about the library’s Genealogy area? Attend the National Genealogy Day Resource Fair on Saturday, March 9 from 10:00 – 3:00 at the Central Resource Library! For more information visit the National Genealogy Day Event Page.

 

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From Exodusters to Suburban Insurgents

African Americans have lived in Johnson County since before it was organized in 1855. Rev. Thomas Johnson, missionary at the Shawnee Methodist Mission in Fairway, Kansas, brought enslaved African Americans with him in the early 1830s. Free blacks chose to move to Johnson County early after the Civil War ended. They opened businesses, worked in agricultural fields, and created communities across the county.

 

The first major migration of African Americans into Kansas and other areas of the Midwest came in the late 1870s. “Exodusters” were newly freed, Southern blacks, disillusioned by continued racism and violence, as well as economic and social poverty. They fled Missouri, Kentucky, Tennessee, Louisiana, Arkansas, Mississippi, and Texas, among other states. Johnson County boasted nearly 900 African American residents in 1880, up from 375 in 1865. In all, during the Exoduster period, some 16,000 blacks settled across Kansas.

 

The Exoduster era saw the establishment of two important black communities in Johnson County. African American neighborhoods often formed in response to racist, segregationist white attitudes and actions. But within these racialized neighborhoods, African Americans carved their own social and cultural spaces by building schools and churches, as well as businesses and fraternal organizations.

David Page, c. 1930, with Civil War veteran medals.

David Page, c. 1930, with Civil War veteran medals. Johnson County Museum.

Forced to create their neighborhood away from the downtown Olathe, African Americans settled in the Fairview neighborhood, in the town’s northwestern quadrant. Fairview was home to more than 200 African Americans by 1880, and many African American-owned and run businesses, such as the Ferby barbershop and the Douglas tailor shop, as well as Union Army veteran David Page’s laundry service. Most African Americans in Fairview worked in a service industry, as porters, waiters, cooks, cleaners, and household servants. Fairview was also home to two black churches, and a racially segregated, all-black school, Lincoln School.

Ferby Barbershop, Olathe, c. 1909. Located at 140 N. Cherry St.

The Ferby Barbershop, Olathe, c. 1909. Located at 140 N. Cherry St., and run by the Ferby family, who also had a popular music group at the time. Johnson County Museum.

The second African American neighborhood was South Park, near Merriam. A mainly residential neighborhood, blacks living in South Park worked on local farms and dairies, for construction projects, and in nearby rock quarries or for the railroad. The South Park community also had a black church and a segregated school, the Walker School.

 

Besides the county’s urban areas, the small farming communities of Holliday, Wilder, and Cedar Junction were home to enclaves of black families who grew crops typical of the area, such as potatoes, melons, cabbage, and spinach. In a 2014 oral history with the Johnson County Museum, farmer Dale VanLerberg remembered the McCallop family helping his father haul manure and vegetable harvests in the Shawnee area. VanLerberg recalled, “Oh that Bob McCallop [Harrison and Nellie’s son], he was a super guy.”

Cedar Junction School class photo, c. 1925.

Cedar Junction School class photo, c. 1925. Johnson County Museum.

Harrison and Nellie McCallop, c. 1875. Formerly enslaved in Tennessee, the McCallops moved to a farm in Wilder in the 1870s, and raised their fourteen children there. Harrison served in the Union Army during the Civil War.

Harrison and Nellie McCallop, c. 1875. Formerly enslaved in Tennessee, the McCallops moved to a farm in Wilder in the 1870s, and raised their fourteen children there. Harrison served in the Union Army during the Civil War. Johnson County Museum.

World War I acted as a major catalyst for a new wave of African American movement known as the “Great Migration.” Nationally, 300,000 African Americans left their homes in the south for locations in the northeast and Midwest. A second wave of the Great Migration in the early 1920s saw an even higher number, some 700,000, African Americans moving north and west. Two major “push and pull” factors influenced this population movement. First, many industrial positions were left open as men and women joined the armed forces and were shipped overseas. African Americans moved north to fill positions in ammunition factories, the auto industry, meatpacking houses, and on railroad lines. Secondly, immediately after the war ended in 1919, the U.S. experienced a major agricultural glut—too much farm product, meant for the war effort, now sat unused in fields and in warehouses. As farms closed and fields sat vacant, African Americans again moved northward. Kansas City witnessed a major rise in the black population, from about 24,000 in 1910, to nearly 40,000 by 1930. Besides filling industrial jobs, the Great Migration brought black professionals to the Kansas City area, including doctors, insurance agents, business owners, and educators. The 18th & Vine District developed as a cradle of African American business and culture (especially known for jazz music) for the Kansas City area. The growth of Johnson County’s black population was, of course, much less pronounced during this era, growing from 599 in 1920 to 765 in 1930.

Forge for artillery shells in ammunition factory, World War I era. Courtesy National WWI Museum and Memorial (1989.39.206)

Forge for artillery shells in ammunition factory, World War I era. Courtesy National WWI Museum and Memorial (image 1989.39.206)

Both the Exoduster and Great Migration movements led to an increase in Johnson County’s African American population. While the early waves of migrants mainly filled service and agricultural positions, those who arrived in the early 20th century added to the black businesses and professionals in the Kansas City metro. The children and grandchildren of these migrants grew up in Johnson County and Kansas City. Within a generation or two, they fought for Civil Rights and were elected to public office. Their descendants continue to seek the good life, and to make their communities into better places for us all.

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Johnson County Museum’s temporary exhibit, The Turbulent Twenties, explores in more detail the history, causes, and effects of the Great Migration. The exhibit is on view through May 11, 2019, and is included in the cost of Museum admission.

Two upcoming presentations in the Museum’s “History on Tap” program series directly relate to the black experience in the Kansas City and Johnson County region: “The Community at 18th & Vine,” on Tuesday, February 12, and “The KKK in Johnson County, 1921-1930,” on Tuesday, March 19. Both programs begin at 5:30pm, cost $7, and include admission to The Turbulent Twenties exhibit. Snacks and drinks provided.

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Monticello Area History

The Monticello Library is the newest branch in Johnson County, but did you know it serves one of the oldest settlements in Kansas?

The first people who lived in the Monticello area were of the Kaw or Kanza nation who came west as European settlement displaced them from areas east of the Mississippi River. The Kaw soon faced pressure and illness in their Kansas lands, though, as more groups of native people from the east migrated west due to continued European settlement into Ohio, Illinois, and Missouri.

Catlin portrait of Tenskwatawa

Portrait of Tenskwatawa, Shawnee leader, by George Catlin

In 1825, representatives of many native nations and an agent of the U.S. government agreed to a treaty that “removed” native people from any legal claims to lands east of the Mississippi River.  In exchange, many groups received reservations of land in Kansas Territory, which then stretched west to the Rocky Mountains. The Shawnee agreed to relinquish scattered land in Ohio and southeastern Missouri for a contiguous reservation west of the present Missouri-Kansas state line- the same area in which the Kansa had settled centuries before. The Kansa, in turn, had to move farther west to a reservation near Council Grove, and again south to Oklahoma where they are now headquartered.

By 1828 the first group of about one hundred Shawnee arrived on their reservation in Johnson County and built their log homes along the heavily wooded streams crisscrossing the rolling prairie. The Shawnee initially thrived in their new lands and were able to hunt freely the bounty of wildlife on the territory.  Unfortunately, a band of Shawnee who made their way from Ohio to Kansas in 1830 brought with them the scourge of smallpox and killed nearly all the people who lived in the reservation’s largest settlement (just south of present-day Merriam.)

Besides there being rather more trees, beavers, and muskrats than we might first imagine, the weather in Kansas was significantly colder and drier than it is now. Kansas winters were long, harsh, and often so frigid that the Kansas River froze solid enough to allow traders to cross in heavily loaded sleds and wagons until mid-April. Summers were short and hot with very little rain, but the prairie grass grew so high that it effectively halted travel by horses. In fall and spring the temperatures moderated, but wild thunderstorms crashed and roared over the waving grass. Throughout every season, a strong, relentless wind was constant.

Even so, white settlers found the siren song of rich, black, fertile soil too enticing to ignore. Frederick Chouteau established in 1828 the “French Trading Post” on the south bank of the Kansas River at the mouth of Mill Creek, his home base for trading trips all along the Kansas and Missouri Rivers. One of the first white farmers in the Monticello area, John Owens, made his claim to a spot along Mill Creek around 1840 not far east of the Monticello Library. Unusually mild weather in the following years caused a flood of settlers from the east, and the Shawnee reservation was dissolved in favor of individual land allotments in May 1844. Shawnee who did not wish to mimic white settlement patterns were expelled to Indian Territory in present-day Oklahoma.

Coker family on porch of store

Coker family in front of their Monticello store Source: Johnson County Museum Collection on JoCoHistory

Kansas Territory was broken into counties in 1855, and the counties into townships. Monticello Township was platted in October 1857. The town of Monticello was founded and laid out in June 1857 at the crossing point of the Midland Trail running east-west from Westport to Lawrence and a military road running north-south between Fort Leavenworth and Fort Scott. A year later, the nascent town was wiped out by a tornado, but by 1860, Monticello town boasted three stores, a hotel, and a blacksmith shop. Monticello was a prime candidate for county seat due to its strong economy, but was determined to be too far from the county’s center to serve.

Among the early white residents of Monticello Township was James Butler Hickok, better known as the “Wild Bill” Hickok. Hickok first lived with John Owens on his Mill Creek farm near Monticello town, then claimed a homestead of his own in the township around 1859. Although Hickok was apparently well-respected enough to be elected one of the township’s first four constables, he was said to have no particular occupation and no money, but plenty of time to astonish fellow residents with his pistol shooting prowess. Monticello must have quickly become too calm for “Wild Bill,” as he had left the area by the time the Civil War officially broke out.

Santa Fe Depot at Zarah

The Santa Fe Depot at Zarah Source: Johnson County Museum Collection on JoCoHistory

Monticello town made it through the war largely unscathed, as Johnson County’s decidedly pro-slavery sympathies protected it from Missouri’s “bushwhacker” raiders riding west to Lawrence. Shortly after the war, Monticello town’s wings were clipped when the first railroad through Johnson County, the Atchison, Topeka, and Santa Fe, was built to pass about two miles east of town in 1869. The town’s growth stagnated, and by the early 1900’s the original town plan was abandoned altogether. Towns like Holliday, Zarah, and Wilder popped up along the new rail tracks, drawing residents and commerce away from Monticello town.

Monticello Township remained largely rural and agricultural through much of the early 20th century. As development crept westward and towns scrambled to annex swaths of unincorporated Johnson County, suburban housing began to replace rolling fields. Areas along the Kansas River were turned into light industrial and transportation centers, and commuter railways were replaced by highways. On January 26, 2006, the Johnson County Commission approved a resolution that finally dissolved Monticello Township, which by then had been shrunk down to a few random right-of-way parcels along K-10. Most of the former township, including the land on which the Monticello Library was built, are now part of the city of Shawnee.

-Melissa Horak-Hern, Johnson County Library

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