Saturday, April 25, 2009

Strawberry Hill - A Photo Blog

In the late 1800s, Kansas City was entering its prime as a cowtown. Enormous stockyards and meat-packing plants were swirls of activity, and railroad lines converged in the bottoms, carrying livestock. Thousands of hard-working eastern European immigrants were drawn to the difficult jobs, and settled in the river bottoms area known as the "strawberry patch." The massive flood of 1903 forced these families to build homes on higher land - a bluff far above the Kaw (Kansas) River, and that neighborhood became known as Strawberry Hill, as it is to this day. Its children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren have scattered about the metro, but many have returned to live where their roots go down deep. Even those who continue to live in other parts of the city still think of Strawberry Hill as home, and take part in its family, cultural, and religious events.

Churches, with masses held in their native languages, were central to life on Strawberry Hill - not just for spiritual sustenance, but as a gathering place. As descendants have moved to other areas, several of the churches have closed and are boarded up. One that remains is the striking St. John the Baptist Catholic Church, perched on the highest point of the bluff above the interstate highways and the Kansas River. St. John the Baptist Church, a Croatian ethnic parish, was formed in 1900, and this building was dedicated in 1904.

Adjacent to the church is the Cruise-Scroggs Mansion, an 1887 Queen Anne which St. Johns operated as an orphanage for nearly 70 years, with a dormitory wing (the limestone building at right) added in the 1920s. In 1988, a non-profit organization purchased and renovated the home, opening it as the Strawberry Hill Museum and Cultural Center, seeking to "perpetuate and promote the Slavic heritage of this unique area." It is open to the public on Saturdays and Sundays, featuring tea or coffee and eastern European pastries from 1 to 4 on those afternoons.

View of Kansas City, Missouri, skyline as seen from St. John Park - across the street from St. John the Baptist Catholic Church and the Strawberry Hill Museum and Cultural Center.

The neighborhood has long been noted for its small, but charming and well-kept homes. Sorry to say that is no longer as true as it once was, but you still get a feel for the old days.

I enjoy this nostalgic building sign seen on the Skillet Licker Cafe. I don't know the story on it at all; would welcome additional information.
The Croatian Republic has a consulate in the Strawberry Hill neighborhood.
As mentioned earlier, I did not spend a lot of time in the area and did not take near as many images as I might have normally. I'm still in rest and recuperation mode, and just ran out of steam. There are a couple of places in the neighborhood at which I would like to eat, including the iconic Fritz' Cafe. All good for a later time.

All photos © frank thompson photos


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