The Rockhill neighborhood got its start when a young man named William Rockhill Nelson came to Kansas City in 1880 to seek his fame and fortune. He established the Kansas City Star shortly after his arrival and began to build the newspaper into a successful business. Along with his interest in news reporting, Nelson had an interest in urban development. He believed that cities should be pleasant environments for its citizens and so, when he began building in the area south of downtown just north of Brush Creek, he made sure that the boulevards were lined with trees and the houses were sturdy and with plenty of open spaces surrounding them. Several of the houses that he built are still standing today. For example, the eight houses on Pierce Street were built in 1906 by Nelson to house some of his employees at the Star. These houses are on the national register of historical places. In fact, our neighborhood was the first neighborhood in Kansas City, MO, to be listed simultaneously on the National Register, the state's list of Historic Sites and with the Kansas City Historical Society.
Nelson's estate was located on what are now the grounds of the Nelson Atkins Art Museum. His carriage house still stands today at the corner of 47th terrace and Rockhill Road. Nelson was a real estate developer before he was a journalist, so he always had that interest. The first development that he did in Kansas City is DeGoff's Way which is north of Linwood. He was a major proponent of the City Beautiful movement, preferring to use the shape of the terrain rather than a grid patterns, and used Rockhill (which is named for his mother, not our rocks) to showcase this. A major part of this movement, too, which emerged in the late 1880s, was also the emphasis on maintaining natural beauty, hence flowing lines, trees, etc. (This the physical counterpart to the Art Nouveau movement in design.) He designed and built Rockhill Road at his own expense, partly because it was the entrance into his estate on the southside. Under the terms of his will, Oak Hall was torn down and the property set aside for a museum. Nelson had long brought copies of famous paintings to Kansas City which were put on view to "educate" the masses. (This was a common gesture of the rich at the time.) Eventually, after his daughter's death, the proceeds from the sale of The Star to an employee-owned stock plan provided the money for the museum's construction.
Many of the homes and the stone walls in the Rockhill neighborhood were made from limestone which was mined from a nearby quarry. That area is now Gilham Park. If you drive by Gilham Park today, you can see how the quarry was dug right out of the side of the hill!
The Country Club Plaza was young then, there were a lot of gas stations, family owned stores, a movie house, and a grocery store. People living in Rockhill could take a "feeder bus" right down to the Plaza to do their shopping. The Plaza was a neighborhood shopping district and not the "exclusive" area that it is today.
In those days, 47th Street, now known as Cleaver II Boulevard, was a narrow street. But, in 1951, amidst protests from the neighbors, was widened to its current four lanes.
Many changes have happened to Kansas City over the years. But the neighborhood stands strong and proud of its heritage. Rockhill's history will continue to unfold in these pages. Please check back again for updates.