The Northeast Kansas City Historical Society (NEKCHS) has been a mainstay in documenting the past of Historic Northeast Kansas City, Mo., since 2012.
“When we were founded, we became a 501c3 when we organized in 2012, and our purpose was to create an organization that focused on our past – our neighborhoods’ past – and our history,” Board President Kent Dicus said.
On one hand, neighborhood associations focus on the stabilizing neighborhoods and planning for the future. On the other, Northeast has such a rich history that Dicus and the other founders thought should be preserved.
“We knew so much about the history of our part of town that we thought, let’s document it, let’s celebrate it and create it, and promote it in a way that lets other people know that we care about where we come from and that there’s a way to preserve it,” Dicus said.
The historical society focuses on research of the history of Northeast, an often forgotten corner of Kansas City. Dicus said at their events, and through correspondence on their Facebook page, phone calls and emails, people who have since moved away reach out all the time talking about the old days or their childhood homes.
All of the NEKCHS board members either grew up in the Northeast or have been long-term residents here. Dicus previously served as the president of the Pendleton Heights Neighborhood Association and had experience organizing that neighborhood’s home tour.
The NEKCHS annual homes tour in Northeast has in recent years rotated neighborhoods to show off the variety of architecture throughout the area and make it walkable, even including the occasional church or school.
“To us, it doesn’t really matter what the style is, just because our neighborhoods have a lot of older homes that seems to be what we feature,” Dicus said. “We are about history, there’s no question about that, but even houses that were built in the 50’s are going on 70 years old, and those have histories, too.”
The event draws people from the Northeast and from throughout Kansas City, and even as far as a historic society from St. Louis. Dicus said one of the hurdles has been encouraging people to come to this part of town, despite them being uneasy about their unfamiliarity with the Northeast.
“This would’ve been our ninth year,” Dicus said. “I think we’ve had it in every neighborhood since… we believe in highlighting all different areas of Northeast.”
Dicus said the society strives to be as accurate as possible in their documentation of the area’s history, noting that history isn’t always pretty.
“We want to be able to say of what we’ve researched, ‘This is accountable and this is accurate, this is truthful. This is who lived here, this is what happened here and this is what the people did for a living, and so on,’” Dicus said.
Dicus said he thinks people in Northeast are more likely to be interested in who lived in their house before them, and even their neighborhood, especially more recognizable figures in Kansas City’s history.
“Every time we research another property, we are always learning something,” Dicus said, explaining that the society offers a research service for specific properties for a small fee.
The society’s long term goal is to have some type of physical space to use as a research center and small museum, but for now the society’s published books can be purchased on the website, nekchs.net.
Although this year’s historic homes tour has been cancelled due to COVID-19, the society is continuing its research and fundraising efforts.
Dicus spoke with the Northeast News about the society’s Fall Fundraiser. Each donation comes with two tickets to a future Homes Tour and a variety of merchandise based on the level of donation ranging from a t-shirt to a custom drawing of one’s home from local artist Seth Jones.
He imagines the pandemic has made people more nostalgic for the “good old days” and even given them more time to think about researching their home.
“We kind of realize what we had now that we’re looking back,” Dicus said. “It has made people, I believe, think, ‘I’ve always wanted to know more about my old neighborhood where I grew up.’”
With the impending opening of the newly remodeled Kansas City Museum at 3218 Gladstone Blvd., Dicus said the NEKCHS has played a role in the much anticipated neighborhood exhibits. He said museum Executive Director Anna Marie Tutera has been focused on making the museum not just a place where people go for a field trip, but a real destination – something interesting, captivating, and promoting the neighborhoods in parts of town that people may not be familiar with.
Dicus thinks the area has lost a lot of great architecture over the years, and more could always be done to preserve it. Other organizations throughout the city are also fighting to save historic buildings, Dicus said, but big businesses and universities have the upper hand.
“My own opinion is, if you’re not even open to having an appreciation for that type of perception of the area, it may not be the right neighborhood for you,” Dicus said. “It is such an old part of town, it is one that has it so deeply ingrained that people are partial because people are from here or they appreciate it. If you’re not open to wanting to learn more about other people, having a diverse belief in cultures and lifestyles, it may not be the right fit.”
Dicus said many people in Northeast have an appreciation for historic architecture and he views the area on an upswing.
“People are finally realizing that the Northeast area, although divided by a highway from downtown, and the river disconnecting us from North Kansas City, but we’re not that far away,” Dicus said. “There’s a lot of interest, and a lot to offer when people come here.”