When the pioneer couple arrived in their wagon they found a place of great beauty just as nature had left it. There was a series of fresh water springs, open valley, and rolling fertile land for cultivating and grazing, plus a good stand of timber. While others had camped around the springs on the edge of the prairie it wasn’t until 1832 that William and Rhoda Harris arrived from Henry County, Virginia with their two children becoming the first people to settle there. He was fond of hunting and to a certain extent involved in preaching. She was one of those pioneer women who were on call night and day as a practical nurse and mid-wife, bringing newborn babies into the world. Mrs. Harris tended an herb garden and was the neighborhood pharmacist. The Harris’s had eleven more children after they settled in.
In 1845, their infant son, Lewis died and was the first child buried in the Blue Springs Cemetery. When Mr. Harris died he was the first adult buried there. Of those 13 children, there was only one girl, Nancy. She became the grandmother of Rufus Burris, a well known Independence attorney, and was an attorney for Harry Truman.
In 1838 Franklin Smith Jr. opened the first store and post office and called it Blue Springs. A small community soon grew up around the edge of the spring near the present intersection of Woods Chapel Road and Walnut.
Some of the early settlers around the spring were Joel Clark, Jeremiah Wood, Jacob Gregg, William Burris, Morgan Walker, Joab Powell and Nathan Russell. In 1850 T.J. Horn built a mill to grind wheat and corn utilizing water from the spring.
Following the Civil War, the completion of the Chicago and Alton Railroad changed the face of the small community forever. Since Blue Springs was located in a valley, the railroad refused to locate a depot in town. The tracks, running east and west were on a grade as it came through town. It would have been impossible for the old eastbound steam locomotives to start up from a dead stand still on the hill so they built the depot a mile and a quarter out of town, upon top of the hill.
The community had been suffering hard times since the panic of 1873 and was just beginning to pull out of the depression when Shannon K. Knox foresaw good times ahead with the construction of the railroad. In 1878 Knox purchased 100 acres around the train depot and divided 60 acres of it into town lots. He and his brother in law, James Parr built a general store on the south side of Main Street selling general merchandise and town lots. Blue Springs simply picked up and moved the town to the top of the hill.
By the time the railroad was completed they had built a “New Blue Springs.” A dedication ceremony was held for the depot and 500 people showed up for the speeches and all the good food and music. The Kansas City Journal called it the grandest affair in Sni-a-Bar Township. In 1880 the people petitioned the county court to appoint a board of trustees, and John Webb was appointed the first mayor. By 1881 there was a flourmill processing 80 barrels a day and there were ten stores along Main Street.
The prosperous but sleepy farm town exploded with the construction of Interstate 70 in the mid 1960’s and became a choice bedroom community with the construction of thousands of affordable homes. You might say Blue Springs has had three separate lives, a pioneer community, a farm town and presently a suburb.
Reference: Jackson County Pioneers, Pearl Wilcox
-- To reach Ted W. Stillwell e-mail Ted@blueandgrey.com or call him at 816-896-3592.