By MICHAEL BUSHNELL
March 13, 2013
In 1885, Mr. Alfred Zartman, assisted by a J.W. Jenkins and a George Larkin, conducted a Sunday School class in the Oakley School, a small frame building near what is now Independence and Brighton (the approximate site of present day Thacher School). At that time, the school was a number of blocks outside the city limits of Kansas City, which then stopped at Monroe Avenue.
In 1887, when the city limits were extended to what is now Brighton Avenue, the school could no longer be used so classes met in a grove of trees just east of Elmwood Cemetery. As the small class grew, they knew they needed a more fitting space, so a rented storefront near Independence and Elmwood Avenue was secured. The small group, 12 families in all, decided their Methodist Episcopal congregation would be called Oakley M.E.Church.
By 1899, the congregation had grown exponentially and a building fund was established. In 1902, the cornerstone was laid to a new building, constructed of quarried limestone from the new North Terrace Park, platted and designed by noted Landscape Architect George Kessler. By this time, Kansas City’s Northeast neighborhood was growing in leaps and bounds, driven by the industrialization of the nearby East Bottoms and the Blue River Valley. Boy Scout Troop 21 was organized at Oakley in 1912 and for many years had one of the highest percentages of Eagle Scouts in the city.
By 1921, the church paid off its mortgage of roughly $33,000 and was debt free. Over the years, the congregation thrived and in 1952, the church undertook another capital campaign to construct an educational wing on the north side of the church. That new wing was dedicated in 1955 and true to Oakley form, within four years, it too was debt free. The congregation celebrated their diamond anniversary in 1962 and their centennial in 1987. By that time, however, Oakley’s congregation had already started to shrink in size, and in 2007, the congregation voted to close the church. The church did not stay vacant long. Oakley is now home to a burgeoning Hispanic congregation and the proud limestone building at Independence and Elmwood comes alive on Sunday mornings, just like it has for over 100 years.
This photograph is of Mrs. Carroll Wherry’s F.F.F. class at Oakley, taken on April 12, 1931, on the south lawn of the church.