Prepared by
Cydney Millstein
Architectural and Art Historical Research, Kansas City, Missouri
Kansas City, Kansas City Planning Division




The subdivision of Westheight Manor has long been recognized in Kansas City, Kansas as an area of particular attractiveness and significance. This regard was emphasized when the central portion of the area was entered on the National Register of Historic Places on March 26, 1975. At the time, it was only the second historic district in the State of Kansas to be so designated.

The first mention of the area that is now Westheight was in the Spring of 1844. The Wyandot Indians were newly arrived from Ohio, and in January at the urging of the Rev. Ewquire Grey Eyes they began building a small log Methodist church near what is now 22nd and Washington Boulevard. Because of its distance from the Wyandot settlement, this church became known as the Church in the Wilderness. It was the first public structure to be erected by the Wyandots in their new home. It was replaced by a brick building at 10th and Walker in 1847, after which the log structure soon disappeared.

By terms of the Treaty of 1855, the Wyandots yielded tribal status and the lands of the Wyandott Purchase were allotted to the individual members of the tribe. In the Wyandot allotments, the Westheight area was owned by three individuals: John Sarahess east of 22nd, Jacob Whitecrow west of 22nd, and John Bearskin north of Oakland and Freeman. Patents to the titles for the various Wyandot allotments were not issued until between January 19, 1860 and December 4, 1861, well after property sales to new settlers had begun. As the Westheight area was still at some distance from the center of settlement, it remained in the hands of its Wyandot owners until Hanford N. Kerr began assembling property for a farm toward the end of the Civil War.


Hanford Newell Kerr was born September 9, 1820, in Miami County, Ohio, the son of James and Sarah (Thompson) Kerr. His future wife, Sarah Ann Morris, was also a native of Miami County and was born in February, 1821. They were married on December 31, 1840, and for the next ten years farmed on rented land. They were eventually able to purchase 242 acres.

The Kerrs raised six children: Sarah Ann, James Wayne (born 1848), Laura L., Corydon Weed (born 1857), Emma, and Hanford Lester (born 1860). One daughter, Abigail, died at the age of eight years, while an eighth child died in infancy.

In about 1854, H. N. Kerr contracted measles, which so affected his health that his doctors recommended that he move west. The farm in Ohio was sold for $1,000, and Kerr journeyed to Illinois looking for a suitable site to settle. He purchased land near Bloomington, Illinois, and moved his family there on March 5, 1855. In 1859 the family moved again, to Wyandotte County, Kansas. Not yet sure that they would permanently settle in Kansas, Kerr farmed and raised cattle on rented land in Johnson County. It was there that the youngest son, H. L. Kerr, was born.

On April 4, 1864, Kerr purchased 105 acres in Wyandotte County from Jacob Whitecrow, a Wyandot, for just 33 and 1/3 dollars in gold. With this beginning, he bought, sold, and traded land until by 1887 the Kerr estate consisted of 380 acres. The 1870 map of Wyandotte County labels the Kerr farm as "Walnut Grove," but it is not known if this simply describes a physical feature of the property, its formal name, or both. The Kerrs built a large house near the present 2100 Washington Boulevard, with dairy barns in the vicinity of Westheight Manor Park and a vineyard on the slopes to the south of the house. At its greatest extent, the property stretched from Armstrong Avenue on the south to Wood Avenue on the north, and from 16th Street to 26th.

Kerr soon became a prominent citizen of the county and was active in Democratic politics. Despite the overwhelmingly Republican nature of the county and state, he was eventually elected to one term in the Kansas State Legislature. Together with three other men he organized the First National Bank, one of the first banks in the county. When the bank failed in the Panic of 1873, Kerr personally made sure that all of its financial obligations were met. And in a major act of philanthropy, he gave $60,000 for the eventual establishment of a college in the area, presumably Kansas City University.

By the 1880s, the Kerr children had become active in the life of Wyandotte County. Sarah Ann married T. W. Combs, a fruit farmer whose land adjoined the Kerr farm on the south. (Kerr purchased the intervening Sarahess property in 1887.) James raised fruit on a 132 acre farm, but died in 1899, leaving a wife and five children. Laura married James Miller, another farmer. C. W. Kerr attended a business college in Kansas City, Missouri, farmed briefly, then spent two years in the commission business in Denver, Colorado. He then returned to Kansas City and entered the real estate business. Emma married David Taylor, who like most of the family was a farmer. In 1889, H. N. Kerr built a large house in the Queen Anne style for the young couple which still stands at the present 2014 Washington Boulevard.

The Kerr's youngest son, Hanford L. Kerr, married Nettie M. Cash on November 30, 1883, when he was only 23 years of age. By 1887, the couple had built the house that still stands at 2310 Washington Boulevard, in the center of the Kerr estate. The house is popularly known as the Sarah Kerr house, and it would seem that the elder Kerrs did live there, but it was actually the home of the younger Hanford Kerr and his wife. The 1887 Wyandotte County Atlas shows the main house still standing to the east of H. L. and Nettie's. This was presumably demolished about 1896. On January 13 of that year, Hanford N. and Sarah Kerr conveyed 29 acres to their son, in consideration for the $11,000 he had already expended on improvements and, "that the grantee Hanford L. Kerr shall support and maintain the said Sarah Kerr and Hanford N. Kerr during their natural lives..." H. L. Kerr farmed on the family estate, raising fruit and grapes, but he also followed his elder brother C. W. into the real estate business, the two of them sometimes collaborating on projects.

By 1887, when the present city of Kansas City, Kansas, was newly formed, the Kerr farm had reached its greatest extent. However, the northwest corner of the farm was now given over to Chelsea Park. This was a private recreational development west of 22nd Street in the area of Jersey Creek, and in later years some people have confused it with the Westheight Manor Park to the east. Chelsea Park was developed by Col. David W. Edgerton in 1887 as a terminus of his rapid transit line, the Inter-State Consolidated Rapid Transit Railway. Initially, at least, the land was apparently leased rather than sold by the Kerrs. H. N. Kerr gave ten acres to Col. Edgerton's company for the transit line, and donated and built the baseball grandstand in the park.

The line itself came from the east down what is now Parallel Parkway and Glendale Avenue, the cars pulled by small "dummy" steam engines. Other branches of the line, all leading to the old Union Station, were the cable road up what is now Central Avenue, and a second cable line which went through the famous tunnel in Quality Hill. In 1893, the line was converted to electric trolleys and the northern branch became known as the Brighton Hill and Chelsea Park Electric Railway. The manager and chief engineer of the line was Robert Gillham, whose Chelsea Park Land Co. owned all the land north of Chelsea Avenue (now Wood), and who platted the first subdividion in the area, Chelsea Place, in 1887-89. Inter-State was bought out by the aggressively expanding Metropolitan Street Railway Company in 1894, and the park was closed some time thereafter. The only trace of its presence that remains may be a low iron fence between stone piers at the northwest corner of 22nd and Freeman.

Other than Chelsea Park, the only part of the Kerr estate to be disposed of in the boom years of the late 1880s was the portion lying to the east of 18th Street, which was divided into five equal parcels and given to five of the Kerrs' children (for some reason omitting Laura). The boundaries of the farm then remained stable until after 1900. Then on October 23, 1901, C. W. and H. L. Kerr and their wives platted the portion of the estate lying between Chelsea Park and Wood Avenue as the subdividion of Wallbrook. This was followed within a year or two by the platting of the former Chelsea Park (the exact date is not legible on the plat). This new subdividion, called Chelsea, was platted by J. Deniston Lyon and his wife Mable B. Lyon, so at some point H. N. Kerr must have sold the property outright.

The portion of the Kerr farm lying south of State Avenue was the next to be platted and developed. Called Kerr's Park, the plat was filed in the names of Sarah and H. N. Kerr, Corydon W. and Katherine O. Kerr, and Hanford L. and Nettie Kerr, on May 22, 1905. (Sarah Kerr's signature was her mark, so that in her long life she apparently never learned to read or write.) On August 15, 1905, just three months later, Sarah Ann (Morris) Kerr died at the age of 84.

Other family properties were also platted in these years. On May 7, 1908, Corydon W. Kerr and his wife, Katherine Oler Kerr, platted their tract northeast of 18th and State as Kerwood. And on April 4, 1910, the Combs' farm south of Kerr's Park was platted by Sarah Ann Combs and her husband, T. W. Combs. This new subdivision was named Arickaree.

Hanford N. Kerr lived on with H. L. and Nettie Kerr in the big house in the center of the estate, while all around, Kansas City, Kansas was growing. The city limits for many years had remained fixed where they were set in 1886, at 18th Street. Then, in 1909, the City took in a substantial amount of new property, completely surrounding the Kerr family's holdings but for some reason leaving them untouched, like the hole in a doughnut. Hanford Newell Kerr died at the age of 88, on February 17, 1909, with a front page obituary in the Kansas City Gazette ; he was buried in Quindaro Cemetery. The Kerr estate and related properties were annexed the following year.

Following H. N. Kerr's death, the estate was broken up, with portions going to his four surviving children and various areas soon being sold off. H. L. Kerr retained title to the 29 acres centered around his house, in the area that eventually became Westheight Manor No. 2. Much of the rest of the estate became the property of J. O. Fife and his son-in-law, Jesse A. Hoel. The last reduction prior to the development of Westheight came on April 16, 1915, when Hanford L. and Nettie Kerr platted Chelsea Annex from the portion of their property north of Everett, west of 22nd Street, and south of Chelsea Addition (the old Chelsea Park). The stage was now set for the development of Westheight Manor, beginning just four months later, but Westheight was not a project of the Kerr family. Rather it was the dream of an ambitious young real estate salesman named Jesse A. Hoel.

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