The original Rockhill Neighborhood was developed by William Rockhill Nelson in the early 1900's. Born in Indiana in 1841, Nelson attended Notre Dame College graduating with a law degree. After practicing law for a few years, he became a building contractor and then began publishing newspapers. In 1880, Nelson came to Kansas City and bought first the Kansas City Star and then the Times. He increased the papers' circulation from 10,000 in 1883 to 300,000 daily papers in 1911. Nelson was known to rant against corrupt politicians in his editorials. He supported the development of boulevards and parks as Kansas City was growing from Cow Town to urban city.
Between the years of 1904 and 1914, William Rockhill Nelson caused a number of houses to be built around his Oak Hill estate (present day Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art). The subdivision was known as the Rockhill Neighborhood, now on the National Register of Historic Places. At the time, Kansas City was growing rapidly so there was a need for housing. Nelson could have built a bunch of cheap houses but instead chose to build quality constructed homes. The limestone quarry at the perimeter of his property was the source for the foundations. He also bought premium lumber material for the houses and employed gifted craftsmen to build the houses.
All were single family homes - some larger houses for sale and some smaller houses for rentals. Nelson rented the houses to his numerous employees at a fair price. There are still eight houses on Pierce Avenue which were built in 1910. These would have been rental units. They are approximately 1600 square feet each and though they all look similar, they are each unique. Each home Nelson had built has a limestone wall around it. Walking along these walled yards with their multitude of flowers in bloom reminds me of walking along the streets of my Grandparents' house in Dublin Ireland.
The small brick house on the corner of Rockhill Rd and 47th Ter is said to have been built for Nelson's groundskeeper - lucky gardener!. A solid limestone foundation, several feet thick, supports this house - just like all the houses Nelson built.
One of the homes on 47th Street was built for his daughter. The houses on 47th Street are a bit grander than those on Pierce and 47th Terrace. The homes on 47th St, now Emanuel Cleaver II Boulevard, are all 2 or 3 story homes with more architectural detail than the smaller homes. They all face north, towards the Nelson. All of the homes on Pierce and 47th Terrace are on the north side of the street. No houses were built on the south side of the street so that the residents, whether buying or renting, would have room and views. It is still a pleasure to walk along the sidewalks of this neighborhood with the tall trees for shade and flowers in front and behind the cute old homes.
William Rockhill Nelson made his vision of neighborhood into reality and inspired J.C. Nichols to develop the Country Club District in a similar, if grander, manner. At one time Nelson held around 200+ acres. Other subdivisions bearing his name include Rockhill Place, Rockhill Park, Rodkhill Ridge, Rockhill Park Extension, and Rockhill Heights. You will notice the use of limestone and architectural details in all of the houses in Rockhill Neighborhoods. The homes along Pierce and 47th Terrace were renamed to the subdivision Rockhill Amended Plat after his death. UMKC, the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art, The Stowers Institute, Midwest Research Center and Volker Park all now occupy land once owned by this Kansas City visionary.
William Rockhill Nelson was not just a proponent of boulevards, he paid for Rockhill Rd to be built the way he envisioned it. It was originally a wide thoroughfare with a median in the middle. The median had a streetcar track with sidewalks along both sides lined with trees. His estate, Oak Hill, was on the site of the present day Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art. His will specified that upon the death of his daughter, Laura Nelson Kirkwood, the estate would be placed in trust to be administered for the public benefit of Kansas City. Nelson died in 1914, his wife Ida died in 1921, and Laura died in 1926. Laura's husband, Irwin administered the estate in his wife's name until her death. At that time the house was razed and the Nelson Art Gallery was built.
Maria Morton 816.560.3758 Prudential Kansas City Realty
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