Kearney History...Plus other Links of Interest


Kearney, located in Clay County, Missouri is approximately 15 miles northeast of Kansas City, Missouri. It is intersected by State Highways 33 & 92 and is bordered by Interstate 35 to the west.

Kearney is a fast growing community that was once largely farm land. It is slowly changing into a bedroom community of Kansas City as farm land is being changed into housing developments. These changes add greatly to the financial success of this community. However there are still several large farms, raising cattle, hogs and a variety of crops. Today the business community offers almost any service that you might want. This makes Kearney the best of both worlds, country living with city convenience.

What is now the southeastern portion of the town of Kearney was originally called Centerville, and was laid out by David T. Duncan and W.R. Cave in the spring of 1856. Duncan lived on and owned the south half of the site of Centerville. Cave purchased the north half from his father, Uriel Cave, the original owner. The first houses were built by Adam Pence and W.R. Cave, and theirs were the first families in the village.

Barney Spencer, a Kentuckian, owned the first store in Centerville, which was run for some time by his brother-in-law, Sam Trabue. The second store was owned and run by John Wade, of Ohio. These stores were established in the spring of 1857.  John Gilboe had the third store.

The first school was built in 1858 by W.R. Cave.

Upon the outbreak of the Civil War, Centerville contained about 20 families, but when it closed there were only two or three. During the war only two houses were destroyed. These were burned by the Federals -- Ford's and Jeanison's men. They were owned by John Corum and John Gilboe, but at the time they were burned, Dr. Cravens lived in Corum's house, and W.R. Cave had a small grocery in Gilboe's building. The Federals claim that they did the burning in retaliation for the filling of Mr. Bond by the bushwhackers.

The murder of John Julius, an old man and a reputable citizen, by Lysander Talbott, shortly after the war, was the only tragedy of note that ever occurred in Centerville. The killing was wholly unprovoked. Talbott was on the "warpath" and "wanted to kill someone". He was arrested, indicted, took a change of venue to Clinton county, escaped from jail, went to Texas, and was killed in a fight.

April 12, 1869, Alfred Pyle shot and killed Charles Smith in a difficulty in Kearney, but Esquire Corbin acquitted Pyle on the ground that he had acted in self-defence, and he was never indicted.

The town of Kearney was laid out upon the building of the Hannibal and St.Joseph Railroad in the spring of 1867, by John Lawrence. The first house was built by George H. Plitt on the southwest corner of Washington Avenue and Railroad Street, fronting the depot on the east. Plitt originally used it as a storeroom and it was later used as a hotel called the Oklahoma House. The building was erected before the railroad depot. Both are still standing today. Plitt was proprietor of a lumber yard, and the leading spirit of the place for sometime. It is believed that James Hightower had the second store.

The town was named by John Lawrence for Fort Kearney, Nebraska and not for a certain worthy citizen of the community. It is understood that Lawrence was a one time a resident of Fort Kearney before he came to Clay County. Soon after its establishment the village began to grow very rapidly. Stores and shops of all kinds were built, and in a little time Kearney and Centerville were practically united.

Kearney was incorporated "as a town or village" by the county court, April 5, 1869. The first board of trustees was composed of George H. Plitt, Peter Rhinehart, R.B. Elliott, D.T. Dinkin and George Harris. As the location of the town is very attractive, the town itself presents a handsome appearance.  Washington Street is still the principal street and is well lined with stores and businesses.

The first newspaper was a five-column sheet, called the Clipper, and was established by Thomas H. Frame, in July, 1883.

The first church was the Missionary Baptist, which was called Mount Olive. This church was started when a group of consecrated pioneers met at the home of John S. Major on Saturday, Christmas Day, 1856. Meetings were held in the Major's home until June, 1857, then in a school house in Centerville (now the south part of Kearney). It was decided to build a building on a lot in the northwest corner of Uriel Cave's farm. This site is now a part of Mt. Olivet Cemetery. The building plans were begun in 1857, but were not finished until after the Civil War. In 1872, three years after Kearney was incorporated the name of the church was changed to First Baptist Church of Kearney. In June, 1900, the church was badly damaged by a tornado. A new building was completed in 1902. This building served the congregation until 1987 when this building was torn down and replaced with a much larger structure. Many items of historic value were saved and incorporated into the new building. This was completed in April of 1988.

Kearney has always been a great place for "nicknames". Northeast Kearney was long called East Tennessee after some ancient Tennessee people who lived there. Battle Row was the name given to a certain section of the town here in rougher pioneer times. Beer Creek was given it's name because women razed a certain liquor store and dumped the liquor into the creek. The phase "down in Guinea" refers to an old water hole in the southwest part of town west of the railroad where the boys 75 years ago used to go swimming. Little Italy is the name of which many people referred to the part of town down by the depot. Some of the people in the north part of town referred to their neighborhood as the north end, apparently the north end of Kansas City. What today is Prospect Street was called Ridge Street. For 80 years it has been called by other names such as High Street, Pious Ridge, Holy Ridge, Hallelujah Avenue and Christian Ridge, probably because there was once two churches on the street. They were the Kearney Christian Church and the old Central Presbyterian Church of Kearney, which later became the Methodist Church.  The Methodist Church later built a new building on Jefferson Street. Jefferson Street was once called Water Street. Grove Street was called Delaware Street and later Cottonwood Avenue. Lawrence Street was called Church Street although no one ever knew of a Church on the street.

To the northeast of Kearney is found a farm that plays an interesting part in the history of the Kearney area as well as other parts of the country. On January 10, 1843, Alexander Franklin James was born on a farm three miles northeast of Kearney. He died on the James farm on February 18, 1915. His body was cremated in St. Louis. Mrs. Frank James died July 6, 1944 at Excelsior Springs, Missouri.  Her body was cremated in Kansas City. Their ashes are buried in a cemetery in Hill Park, 23rd. and Rock Creek Rd. in Kansas City, MO. Mrs. Frank James' mother was a Hill and Hill Park was once the property of the Hill family. Jesse Woodson James was born September 5, 1847 on the James farm and was killed by Robert Ford, a member of his own gang at 1318 Lafayette St., St. Joseph, Mo. on April 3, 1882.  His body was brought back to Kearney by train and his funeral was held at the old baptist church in Mt. Olivet cemetery. His body was originally buried in the southwest corner of the yard at the James Farm. In 1902, the remains of the body were removed to Kearney and reburied in Mt. Olivet Cemetery. The father of the James boys was Rev. Robert James and their mother was Zerelda Cole. After the death of Rev. Robert James, Zerelda married an elderly man named Mims. He died and she later married Dr. Ruben Samuels. Miss Zerelda Cole was born in 1825 and died in 1911. Frank & Jesse also had a full sister, Susan, who married a Mr. Palmer and a half brother Archie Samuels. Frank and Jesse were members of the infamous gang called "The James Gang". This gang consisted of about 28-30 members. It operated from February 13, 1866 to April 3, 1882, a period of 16 years. It was finally forced to discontinue it's activities.  Frank & Jesse had been in the Civil War on the Southern side and some of the other members of the gang had also followed the southern side.

As the years went by, some of the first members of the gang died or were captured and sent to prison. Al least five members of the gang, Frank, Jesse, Ed & Del Miller and James Cummings were from Kearney. Jesse James was a member of Mt. Olive Baptist Church and was a member of the choir. It is noted in the minutes of the church an incident where "A group of brethren have been asked to talk with Mr. James about his activities".

Jesse James; his wife, Miss Zerelda Sims, his first cousin; His mother, Mrs. Zerelda Samuels; his step-father, Dr. Ruben Samuels; and his little half-brother, Archie Payton Samuels are buried in the left half of a lot in the west end of Mt. Olivet Cemetery.

The original James farm was 275 acres but now has only 40 acres. The original house is still standing and is open to the public. Many people from all over the United States and Canada and other foreign countries come each year to see the grave of Jesse James and to visit the Farm and Museum.

Also east of Kearney, is Watkins Mill State Park. This park contains the first woolen mill west of the Mississippi River. It started about the time of the Civil War and continued to operate until about 1882. This site was part of the bustling "Bethany" plantation, which included a church, an unusual octagonal school house and the woolen mill, which was the center of the community. The mill, which has been restored, is one of America's few 19th century factories with its original machinery still intact. Mt. Vernon Church (1871) and the Franklin School (1856) have also been restored.

Today, Kearney continues to grow and become an even better place to work and live.  Many new subdivisions have been built. Some of these are Bogart Addition, Second Addition, Pence Addition, Cutherbertson Addition, Arnold's Addition, Porter's Addition, Kearney Manor, Southbrook, Regency Park, James Point, Jamestowne, Marimack, Marimack Farms, River Meadows, Stonecrest, Shadowbrook and Whitegates.  Southbrook is part of a former feedlot owned by the Greenfield Brothers where thousands of cattle were fed through the years.

The railroad has played a great part in the development of Kearney. In years past, as many as fifty to sixty trains a day came through Kearney on their way to the markets in Chicago and Kansas City. It is through the railroad that the Kearney Water Department was first purchased for $1.00 per year for their main lines from the wells and about $1.00 a year for the tower.

The railroad has removed the tracks to the north, but there is still a spur from the south. The old depot still stands and has been converted into a community meeting room by the VFW.

Many old homes have been remodeled and are a pleasant reminder of years gone by.  Kearney is definitely a blend of the old and the new.

Missouri Tourism
Clay County, MO History & Statistics
Clay County Tourism and Entertainment
Jesse James Festival

Clay County Museums, Historical Sites & Attractions

Clay County Archives and Historical Library, Inc. 210 E. Franklin, Liberty (816)781-3611

Clay County Histrorical Museum 14 N. Main, Liberty (admission) (816)792-1849

Clay County Rarks & Recreation 2619 NE 188th St., Smithville (816)532-0803

Clay County Regional Airport 13106 Rhodus Rd., Mosby (816)628-2286

Claybrook Home Jesse James Farm Road, Kearney (816)628-6065

Claycrest Golf Club Liberty (816)781-6522

Clear Creek Golf Course Kearney (816) 628-4800

Earnest Shepherd Memorial Youth Center Liberty (816)781-7733

Excelsior Springs Community Theatre Wyman Place, 108 Dunbar. Excelsior Springs (816) 630-3728

Excelsior Springs Golf Course Excelsior Springs (816) 630-3731

Excelsior Springs Hall of Waters 201 E. Broadway, Excelsior Springs (816) 630-0753

Excelsior Springs Historical Museum 101 E. Broadway, Excelsior Springs (816)630-3712

Harrah's Casino One Riverboat Drive, North Kansas City (816) 472-7777

Hidden Valley Golf Course Lawson (816) 580-7997

Hodge Park Golf Course Kansas City (816) 781-4152

Jesse James Bank Museum NE corner of Courthouse Square Liberty (admission) (816) 781-4458

Jesse James Farm & Museum Jesse James Farm Road Kearney (admission) (816)628-6065

KCTA Public Trap & Skeet Shooting Park Smithville Lake (816) 532-4427

Liberty Jail Visitors Center 216 N. Main, Liberty (816)781-3188

Home Page