The Last Stand of Elizabeth Porter

In 1941, the great real estate developer, J. C. Nichols, began planning his newest community: Prairie Village.  While Nichols would later come to regard Prairie Village as one of his jewels, the development was far from easy.  Several obstacles stood in Nichols’ path; a snaking creek that had to be straightened, and a large farmer-used landfill that needed to be covered and graded were just two of the many problems that had to be dealt with.  But one of the largest obstacles that Nichols had to contend with came in the form of a 70-year old woman named Elizabeth Porter.

Elizabeth Porter, born in 1871, was the daughter of Thomas C. Porter, Sr.  Thomas Porter had come to Johnson County in the 1870s and had purchased 160 acres of land that sat between what is today 61st Street and 71st Street, bisected by Mission Road.  When Porter Sr., died, his acreage was divided up amongst his five children: Elizabeth, Harold, Edgar, James, and Thomas Jr.

When J.C. Nichols was planning the community of Prairie Village, he had envisioned a large shopping area to be situated at the center of the development, right where Elizabeth Porter was living.  Elizabeth had been given the family homestead as part of her inheritance; she had lived her entire life in the two-story farm house that now stood in the way of progress.

Elizabeth Porter (center) with her father, Thomas Porter (right) and her aunt, Carrie Porter (left) in front of the Porter family homestead ca. 1900

Having already purchased the land held by the other four Porter children, Nichols went to Elizabeth to buy the 16 acres that she owned.  At 70 years old, Elizabeth was in failing health and was not yet ready to part with the only home she had ever known. Nichols knew that this situation had to be handled as delicately as possible if he wanted to see his vision for Prairie Village realized.  Elizabeth told Nichols that she would sell her portion of the land to him on one condition: that she be allowed to live in the home as long as she wished.  Nichols agreed and, in 1942, Elizabeth sold the remaining Porter family land to the J. C. Nichols Company.

Aerial photograph of Prairie Village. The Prairie Village Shopping Center (center) sits on the 16 acres of Porter family farmland that belonged to Elizabeth Porter.

Elizabeth Porter continued to live in the family home until 1947, when, with her health rapidly declining, Elizabeth knew she could no longer live in the house.  In a supremely touching gesture, Elizabeth was presented with a new, modern home in Prairie Village built by the J.C. Nichols Company.  The new house was located on Prairie Lane west of Mission Road on the northern-most edge of their family’s old property.  Elizabeth lived in this home until her death in 1951.

House built in Prairie Village which was given to Elizabeth Porter by the J.C. Nichols Company

-Katie Keckeisen, Johnson County Museum


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