By Michael Bushnell
By 1912, Kansas City’s parks and boulevards system had a budget of a little over $7 million per year. The Kessler-designed system of parks connected by wide, tree lined boulevards was a big hit with the citizenry.
It, however, had detractors, one of whom was a powerful landowner and enigmatic real estate developer from Independence, Mo., Colonel Thomas Swope.
Swope came to Kansas City in the mid 1850’s and began amassing huge tracts of land; land he had to pay taxes on. In June of 1896, Swope donated a 1,300 acre tract of land just outside the city limits of Kansas City proper.
The conveyance came with stipulations. Swope directed the Park Board to name the new park after him and to spend at least $5,000 per year on the park. That translates to a little over $165,000 in 2021 dollars. Additionally, it must forever be public park land.
As the City’s parks system grew, Swope became a constant opponent of new parks and boulevards, often organizing initiative petitions against new condemnations for park land. Swope would later die under mysterious circumstances under the care of J. Bennett Hyde, a Kansas City physician.
This postcard, circa 1910, was published by the Southwest News Company. The view is Benton Boulevard at 15th Street, which would later be renamed Truman Road, much to the chagrin of the former president. The view is looking north toward 12th Street. Today, I-70 bisects the view on the card. No evidence exists today that this bucolic view and the homes shown ever existed.
Benton Boulevard was one of three boulevards Park Board Chair August R. Meyer and Landscape Architect George Kessler planned in the original 1893 Parks Plan that would enhance and connect The Paseo with other residential areas of the city. The other two were Gladstone and Independence boulevards.
Benton Boulevard, named for Missouri Senator Thomas Hart Benton, has a northern terminus at its intersection with St. John Avenue, marked with a large, granite stone bearing two engraved bronze plaques dedicated to the senator’s legacy early in Missouri’s history. Senator Benton served in the US Senate from 1821, when Missouri was officially recognized as a state, until 1851.
Benton Boulevard meanders southward through a variety of parks including Concourse Park, and The Grove, then toward Brush Creek Boulevard where it turns into Swope Parkway.