Thacher school bricks repurposed into Indian Mound neighborhood markers

Elizabeth Orosco
Northeast News

Five years have passed since giant backhoes reduced Thacher Elementary, a 115-year-old school building, to a pile of rubble.  

Today, over a decade since the school was shuttered, remnants of the building are being given new life and repurposed into neighborhood markers over a half-mile stretch from the site of the former school. 
Three Indian Mound neighborhood pillars, using bricks from the old school, will be placed along Independence Avenue at Jackson, Van Brunt, and Hardesty. 

A larger neighborhood sign made up of bricks and one of Thacher’s three arches, has been constructed at Wilson Road. 

Thacher, formerly located in the Indian Mound neighborhood at the northwest corner of Independence Avenue and Quincy Avenue, was built in 1900 and designed by architect Charles Ashley Smith (1867 – 1948). 
Smith, a prolific Kansas City architect, was a Northeast resident who designed his home at 810 Benton Boulevard.

He is responsible for designing more than 50 Kansas City Public schools including Northeast High School, Woodland School (711 Woodland), and Attucks Elementary School (18th and Woodland).

He also designed the Fine Arts building on the UMKC Campus, the Unity Temple at 47th and Jefferson, the YMCA Building at 18th and Paseo, the Kansas City Club at 12th and Baltimore, the Firestone Building at 2001 Grand, and the three Heim Brothers’ homes on Benton Boulevard. 

Thacher school

Thacher Elementary School was named after Major Luin Kennedy Thacher (1837 – 1894), an early member of the school board who immigrated to the Kansas City area in the mid-1850s.

Luin Thacher, a school teacher in Kentucky before the Civil War, served on the Kansas City Board of Education from 1890 to 1894. 

He was an officer in the 9th Kansas Cavalry during the Civil War and was wounded near the Osage River in 1863. 

Thacher lived at 1035 Pennsylvania Avenue and passed away in 1894. He is buried in Elmwood Cemetery (Block C, Lot 151). 

After serving the Northeast Kansas City community for 109 years, the school was closed in 2009 as part of former KCPS Superintendent John Covington’s Right Sizing Plan. 

The board voted 5-4 in March 2010 to move forward with the plan, which prompted the closure of 26 schools and cut a third of the district’s workforce.

After the decision, a group of community activists alongside Thacher alumni worked tirelessly over the following four years to save the school from demolition, offering up ideas for alternate uses, including a community center.

On February 25, 2015, the Kansas City Public Schools School Board approved the demolition of Thacher Elementary with the purpose of creating athletic fields for Northeast Middle School.

By Spring 2015, the building was completely razed. 

In an effort to save what was left of the school, the Indian Mound Neighborhood Association secured five dump truck loads of brick, limestone, and archways from the school and stored them in various locations for future use. 

“We salvaged some of the material because I figured that material should stay in the Northeast,” said Indian Mound President Manny Abarca IV, who had been an active member in the “Save Thacher” community group. “Although the building was torn down, we were very much strategically trying to maintain some presence of the school and what it used to look like.” 

Over the years, pieces of the school have been reused in various projects around the Northeast.

As part of the Independence Avenue Community Improvement District’s Beautification Plan, the Northeast Kansas City Chamber of Commerce installed tulip planters at Wilson Road, in front of Price Chopper, and a Peace Plaza at Hardesty and Independence, that are made up of material from the school building. 

The Indian Mound neighborhood then submitted a Public Improvements Advisory Committee (PIAC) request for funds “to see this material reused in Indian Mound to commemorate the school where Northeast residents of the 20th century educated their children, and improve the landscape in Indian Mound.”

With the help of Historic Kansas City board member Michael Jantsch of Jantsch Architects, renderings were drawn of potential neighborhood markers.

In March 2016, the neighborhood received a letter stating that of the 1,351 requests submitted that year, this project was chosen to be funded $150,000. 

This month, the neighbors and community activists who had fought to keep the school a part of the Northeast landscape are finally witnessing the old bricks, once again, serve Historic Northeast.

Former Kansas City School Board member Patricia Kurtz was instrumental in the initial saving of Thacher back in 1995. 

Kurtz’ husband John was the lead attorney in 1989 in the effort to save old Paseo high school. 

“I was sad to see Thacher torn down. It was a landmark school,” she said. “I’m glad to have bits and pieces of it still in Northeast as pieces of memory in Indian Mound. I wish people would value history and historic buildings more than they do”

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