Sunset Hill Homes Association


The gently curving streets, wide lawns and spacious houses that are characteristic of Sunset Hill were part of a carefully planned development by two Kansas City real estate firms, the Ward Investment Company and the J.C. Nichols Company. Deed restrictions were in force from the start to regulate the size, cost and use of the properties. And the natural beauty of the Brush Creek valley and the hill above it provided the area with its name, Sunset Hill. Despite the placid nature of the area, its history was at times turbulent and bloody. It was the site of a major Civil War battle and even earlier figured in the wholesale relocation of the Mormons from Jackson County.

Sunset Hill is part of a 2,000 acre tract of land which the Church of Latter Day Saints acquired when the federal government resettled the Kansa and Osage tribes from their native lands in 1825. In 1831 followers of Joseph Smith, who founded what became known as the Mormon Church, began moving into Western Missouri to establish their “New Zion” in fulfillment of Smith’s vision that the American Indians were descended from the lost tribes of Israel. Edward Partridge, a church bishop, was the first patentee of the 2,000 acres, held in at least 15 separate parcels. The property stretched from Independence, Missouri westward to the Missouri border, and included parts of present day Kansas City. The group’s presence did not last long, however. The closed nature of their society, increasing economic and political power and dealings with Indian nations brought civil unrest. In 1833 the Latter Day Saints fled to Clay and, later, Caldwell counties. Their property in Jackson County was confiscated or appropriated. The conflict continued and, in 1838, Missouri Governor Lilburn Boggs issued an order calling for the removal or extermination of Mormons in the state.

The Mormons hired a number of attorneys to seek fair compensation for their lands and they conveyed about 1,000 acres of their Jackson County holdings in 1838 to pay off legal services totaling about $5,000.

One of the attorneys was Alexander W. Doniphan whose fee included the site of what would later become the Ward homestead. In 1858, William W. Bent acquired 220 acres for Doniphan and with his wife moved to the property in 1860. Mr. Bent was the owner of a well-known western trading company and one of the first settlers of Colorado. Local history has it that Bent’s wife, Yellow Woman, scandalized Westport society by refusing to live in the house and pitched a tent on the lawn instead.

Part of the Battle of Westport was waged across Bent’s farm on Oct. 23, 1864, which ended with the Union forces defeating the Confederates and stopping a Southern advance into Northern territory.

Mr. Bent died in 1868 and his friend Seth Ward acquired the property, eventually adding to it until it encompassed more than 400 acres above the Brush Creek Valley. Ward was an early frontiersman and businessman who first came to the area in the 1840’s. He made his fortune as the government supply officer at Fort Lasaramie, Wyoming, on the Oregon-California Trail, then returned to Westport in 1860 and married the daughter of one of the town’s most prominent families.

The present day residential area was carved out of the 440 acres of land which belonged to the Ward Homestead. Seth Ward’s sons, Hugh and John, foresaw the southward expansion of the city, and, with developer J. C. Nichols, created the Sunset Hill residential area out of their father’s farm.

Mr. Nichols and the Ward family developed Sunset Hill using the uneven hilly contours to full advantage for the views. J. C. Nichols persuaded the Ward family to market the land as part of one larger plan that included a golf course as the eastern border and winding roads to connect the district.

In 1897 the east pasture of the Ward farm became the Kansas City Country Club’s first golf course . Later, 80 acres of land on the eastern border was purchased from the Wards by the Loose family. In 1926, the widow of Jacob L. Loose donated the property to the city. The park, known as Loose Park, created a natural boundary to open spaces, gardens and a lake.

In 1909, Mr. Nichols and Hugh Ward planned the beginning of Ward Parkway using 90 acres of land donated by Mr. Ward to the city at a time when Kansas City was first struggling to develop a system of parks and boulevards. The great, double roadway, 500 feet wide in some places, cuts through the western edge of the development. Seth Ward died in 1903 and his sons and then Hugh’s widow, Vassie James Ward Hill, carried on the Ward Investment Company. The J. C. Nichols Company and the Ward Investment Company continued to develop home sites in the surrounding area known as the Country Club District which was developed by Mr. Nichols. The Ward Investment Company was dissolved in 1941 but the J. C. Nichols Company continues today.


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