Category Archives: Events

Rising from the Ashes


Photo pulled from fire damage at the Hickory Grove School

Fire has always been a concern for schools, especially when we’re talking about old school buildings. Fire drills were first introduced because of the numerous severe fires in schools. Of course today, we have the newest technology for early detection, but the early days of Johnson County were not so lucky.  Two such fires were in 1920 and 1949.

In January of 1920, a fire completely destroyed the Overland Park High School building. Sources are conflicting as to the actual date, but the Kansas City Star states the date as Monday, Jan. 26. At that time the building was located at Santa Fe Road and Robinson Street. According to the Kansas City Star, the origin of the fire is a mystery, but possibly caused by a gas explosion. Witnesses claimed to have seen a bright light around 2 a.m. toward the vicinity of the building.


Overland Park High School fire in 1920

This building, built from stone, was not the first school at the location. A wood structure called Pleasant Prairie was built there in 1873. Because enrollment increased over the years by 45% and costs increased 56%, it was felt a new structure was needed. So in 1909 a new stone structure opened. There were four rooms on the first floor and four in the basement, with an annex attached at a later date. Enrollment continued to grow.  Four teachers were hired and the costs totaled upwards of $9,000. But on that fateful morning in January 1920, the building and its contents were a complete loss. The district rallied again, and a new school of a larger scale was built.


Pleasant Prairie School in 1899, the location where Overland Park High was later built.

Overland Park High would not be the last school to experience a devastating fire. The first Hickory Grove school, a one-room wooden structure, was built in 1865 and was once the largest school in the county. The name for the school was chosen because of the beautiful grove of Hickory trees on the site in Mission, Kan. This one-room structure stayed until 1916 when a larger one was needed. Stone structures were popular around this time, possibly from fear of fire, and this two-story stone school with two classrooms and one big community room on the ground floor was built.  The basement was converted to classrooms at a later date, with additions built in 1926, 1937 and 1946. The latest addition consisted of 11 more classrooms, a library, a gymnasium and increased cafeteria facilities.


Fire at the Hickory Grove School in 1949.

On July 21, 1949, a fire erupted in the new stone building.  Children who were rehearsing a play had just left the building when J. M. Smothers, the assistant custodian,  was locking the doors when through the windows he saw a light coming from the auditorium area. He discovered the entire stage curtain on fire. Previously, he had sternly advised the college students who had been directing the play not to smoke backstage.


Fire damage at Hickory Grove School

Firefighters from different local communities rushed to help control the blaze. Fire trucks from Overland Park, Shawnee and Mission townships, Mission and Kansas City, Kan., hurried to the scene. Six pumper trucks with eight streams were directed on the 100-foot high flames. Seen for miles, the fire drew 500 people. Thick black smoke billowed above until the roof was consumed an hour later. The damage was estimated at $100,000, but the new $250,000 addition was saved.

On a happy note, the play was also saved and moved to another school. Just like the old saying, “The show must go on.”

-Terri Bostic, Johnson County Library


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Do you know how Overland Park got its start?

Strang’s Vision

Portrait of William B. Strang.
On May 30-31, 1903, a great flood submerged cities along the Kaw River from Salina to Kansas City and prompted developer William B. Strang, Jr. to propose building a suburban community on higher ground in rural Johnson County. In his vision, residents of the new community of Overland Park would travel to Kansas City via an electric interurban railroad. Strang would build his railroad above the flood plain and provide both convenient access to jobs in the city for suburban dwellers, as well as an easy way for urban residents to visit the country for fresh air and recreation.

Read more about Strang’s story at

Read more about the Flood of 1903 on Kansapedia

Images of the Flood of 1903

1903 Flood of Kansas River at 12th Street Bridge. Sightseers along Kansas River at 12th Street Bridge.

1903 Flood of Kansas River at 12th Street Bridge. Sightseers along Kansas River at 12th Street Bridge.

1903 Kansas River Flood - Railroad Wreckage

1903 Kansas River Flood – Railroad Wreckage

 1903 Flood of Kansas River in Kansas City, KS. Flood of Armourdale and Argentine areas.

1903 Flood of Kansas River in Kansas City, KS. Flood of Armourdale and Argentine areas.

1903 Kansas River Flood - Residential and Business Damage. Families cleaning up damage.

1903 Kansas River Flood – Residential & Business Damage. Families cleaning up damage.

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A Country School Christmas at Lanesfield

Santa Claus, carols, and storyteller Jo Ho bring holiday cheer to the Lanesfield Historic Site on Saturday, December 4 from 1 pm to 4 pm. If you have never visited Lanesfield, this is the day to do it! A Country School Christmas recalls rural Christmas celebrations of the past. Santa will be there to listen to the Christmas wishes of children and to receive their lists—written in old-fashioned pen and ink! The Edgerton Elementary Rainbow Connection Choir will present a Christmas program of traditional carols at 1 pm, Santa will visit from 1:15 pm to 2:15 pm, and at 3 pm Jo Ho will amuse the children with stories of a pioneer Christmas. Refreshments and ornament-making will be going on during the entire event—and it’s FREE!

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Local History Boook Discussion

Are you curious about what reading material exists for local history enthusiasts? The Johnson County Library is hosting a discussion on this topic Monday, Jan. 25, 2010 at 7pm.

Join us at the Central Resource Library on 87th street as we talk about both fiction and nonfiction related to the history of the Kansas City region.

king of kings county

The Central Resource Library has a research collection of historical work about local towns, churches, organizations and people. Learn about these resources in addition to items in our general collection. Copies of books will be available for check out and historical maps will be on hand.

history books

No registration is required. If you would like more information or need special accommodations, please call (913) 495-2400.

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