A Brief History from “A Walking Tour of Historic Parkville”
Colonel George S. Park
Both Parkville and Park University bear the name of Colonel George S. Park, veteran of the Texas War of Independence, land speculator, and entrepreneur. Colonel Park purchased the site of Parkville and a riverboat landing from the English brothers in 1838, filed the first plat of the town in 1844, and by 1850 had built warehouses and a large stone hotel. In 1853, he established one of Platte County’s earliest newspapers, “The Industrial Luminary.”
Boats and the Missouri River
The Native Americans, French fur traders, and Lewis and Clark all recognized the importance of the Missouri River. Flatboats, keelboats, and finally powerful steamboats opened the West to a flood of hopeful pioneers in search of land, adventure, or gold and silver. Steamboats first ventured onto the Missouri in 1819, and in time were carrying cargo and passengers all the way to Fort Benton, Montana, almost 3,000 miles from St. Louis. To experience a piece of Parkville’s history and relive an adventure from our past, visit the Steamboat Arabia.
Originally a thriving river port for hemp and other products, Parkville grew faster than Kansas City, which was then 10 miles southeast. The Missouri River was much closer to town in those days, not far from the present railroad tracks. Indians, trappers, traders, and farmers flocked to Parkville and filled its streets with the bustle of healthy commerce.
The boom ended and Parkville suffered near economic collapse when the bitterness between pro-slavery forces and free soil advocates in both Missouri and the Kansas Territory escalated into warfare. Violence was common, and Col. Park’s newspaper gained national attention when, in 1855, a pro-slavery mob reacted to his abolitionist editorials by throwing his printing press into the river. The end of the Civil War had little effect on the political bitterness which enveloped the town, and significant commerce ceased
Park College (now Park University)
Parkville’s fortunes began to change in 1875 when Colonel Park and Dr. John A. McAfee collaborated to establish Park College. Colonel Park donated property and Dr. McAfee arrived with 17 students and a vision of providing education for any young man or woman willing to work. The old stone hotel became the first home of a college which rapidly expanded as more and more students took advantage of the school’s unique work/study program.
Literally built by students, Mackay Hall, completed in 1893, and the Scott Observatory, constructed in 1896, still overlook the campus and the town. The business of serving the students and faculty helped revive Parkville’s economy, and the strong relationship between “town and gown” still exists today.
Remaining Historic Buildings
Few of Parkville’s earliest buildings remain. Notable among the historic homes are the Kahm house, circa 1860, located at Fourth and Main Streets, and Col. Park’s original 1840 home on the college campus. Other historic buildings have been converted for various uses. The 1889 train depot served for years as the City Hall, and the 1918 Park College Power Plant on Main Street was renovated for commercial use.