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

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

A Short Stop

No - this has nothing to do with baseball (that would be shortstop - one word). This is just a belated entry to my Kansas Journeys blogs to bring my readers up to date. My only recent trip was for a meeting in Inman, Kansas, on April 1, not a photo safari. Nonetheless, I was able to make pit stops in two of my favorite small towns - Lindsborg and Council Grove. On this posting, I'll tell of my brief visit to the former.

Lindsborg is, of course, well-known by midwestern travelers for its Swedish ambiance and charm. It is a village that embraces its cultural heritage and its love of the arts. For that reason alone, I could spend far more time in Lindsborg. Going one step further, its residents welcome and eagerly embrace visitors; it's not one of those small towns where somebody will suspiciously ask you what you're doing there. You are genuinely welcome in Lindsborg.

My visit on this occasion was merely to eat, not to do any sightseeing. I pulled into a parking spot that happened to be in front of Jim Richardson's Small World Gallery. Richardson is a famed travel photographer featured in National Geographic. This would be a good time to take a couple of minutes to see some of his work other than his familiar photos of the Flint Hills. Entering the store, I met Kathy Richardson, herself a maker of beautiful jewelry from beads collected around the world. I was pleased to learn that Jim was also present, so had the opportunity to meet him and to profess admiration for his work. Jim was very cordial and asked me about my photo interests, as well, seeing I had my Nikon over my shoulder. Those interested in learning more about the Richardsons and The Small World Gallery may do so at:

On to the quest for sustenance - what I had my eye on was The Court Yard Bakery and Cafe, which I had remembered from previous visits. It's located off the street, at the end of a passageway which also takes you to a couple of art galleries. There I met owner Dean Donaldson, who briefed me on some of the available offerings on the day's enticing menu.

I settled on a panini-style sandwich with smoked turkey, cheddar(?), tomatoes, and black olives (a nice touch, by-the-way), accompanied by what Donaldson called Bistro Fries. The potatoes had been pre-boiled and flavored then cut into fries, than warmed on a grill along with (if I remember all correctly) spinach, tomato, onion, and feta. Unusual, colorful on the plate, and very tasty.

With great reluctance, I passed on purchasing any of the Swedish bakery treats available, knowing that down the road at my meeting in Inman, there would be yummy chocolate chip cookies in great abundance.

The Court Yard Bakery and Cafe is well worth a visit, in my opinion. It is located at 125 Main Street, phone 785-227-8787.

The Court Yard Bakery & Cafe on Urbanspoon

For those unfortunates who have not yet been to Lindsborg, I am including a photo taken on an earlier trip of its well-kept and picturesque Main Street, with one of its signature Dalas (folkloric horse figures).

Main Street, Lindsborg, Kansas