Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Plan for parks beat town off drawing board

When driving through Rich Hill on Walnut Street or A Highway you will pass two parks. This blog explains how Rich Hill developed along with the parks.
Rich Hill Missouri Grew around landscaping. this article was written by Don Bradley. The article was published on February 16, 1987 in the Kansas City Star.

Rich Hill, Mo.-In the be­ginning, the town's parks had no trees. At first, in fact, the parks had no town.
Welcome to Rich Hill, a town of 1,600 residents in southern Bates County that was born with the discovery of coal in 1880.
Today, long after the last of the coal was taken from the mines, the heart of the town, a distinctive park and parkway system, still beats for a new generation of residents and a new economic reality.
When the rich veins of coal brought the town to life, a town company made up of railroad and coal businessmen was formed to prepare for the ex­pected thousands of people the coal would soon attract.
But these leaders had a vision different from that of most town founders.
"It was a unique plan in that the parks would come first," said Mary Griffin, a Rich Hill historian and teacher in its school system for 38 years. "Usually the park would come later in a town's development. But this way, Rich Hill was allowed to grow around the parks."
The founders hired B.B. Sin­gleton, a railroad surveyor, to plot the land for the new town and to make their vision real.
So Singleton walked out onto the grasslands of western Mis­souri, with nary a tree in sight, and laid out two parks: one round the other square. He then connected the two by plotting off a parkway.
The town would come later.
"What the founding fathers in Rich Hill did was to give the community some initial appeal," said Pete Loughlin, a landscape architect for the Kansas City Parks and Recreation Department. "The parks served as an anchor for the growth of the community."
About the same time, 75 miles to the north, newcomers to another city were greeted differently.'
"In Kansas City in the early days, people used to come to
town and the first thing they saw when they got off the train was the West Bottoms," Loughlin said. "Back then, that area was not a pretty sight. There were junk piles, and the bluffs were covered with clapboard shacks."
He said this prompted the city to hire George Kessler, a well-known landscape archi­tect, to design such streets as the Paseo and Armour and Gladstone boulevards.
According to Griffin, the Rich Hill company's original vision was beautiful parks with exotic flower beds and the tree-lined parkway. The street system would radiate out from the parks and the parkway, called Park Avenue.
initially the plan had its problems.
The native grasses were cleared and replaced with blue-grass. Hundreds of soft maple trees were planted but later were replaced with native trees taken from the banks of the nearby Osage River.
But cattle and horses roamed freely about the town, trampling the foliage and discouraging visitors to the two parks, originally named Park Place and Prospect Park.
The solution: board fences to enclose the parks, with turn­stiles at the entrances.
A short time later the fences and turnstiles came down, after the town passed an ordinance to keep the livestock off the streets.
Next came brick sidewalks through the center of each park and, a few years later, a band­stand in Park Place.
The population of Rich Hill peaked around 5,000 about the turn of the century. It was gain­ing a reputation as a "fast town," with saloons and dance halls lining Park Avenue to ca­ter to the miners.
"You had to be pretty rugged to go down in the mines," said Arthur Lee Smith, 75, who has lived in or near Rich Hill all his life and whose father and sever­al uncles operated the Red Star mine south of town.
"And the miners were just as rugged on Saturday night. They would get their paychecks and off to town they'd go. It was a wild old time," he said.
But the wild times were short-lived. Clovis Sivils, 77, re­members a turning point.
Sivils, who served as Bates County sheriff from 1958 to 1968 and then spent one term in the Missouri House of Repre­sentatives, was about 10 years old when Prohibition forced the saloon doors to close in 1920.
"I was just a kid, but I went to town that night," Sivils said.
"They were drinking all over town and fighting in the streets."
Gradually the mines dried up, most of the miners disappeared and the residents turned to agri­culture for their living. Now even that livelihood is threaten­ing to betray Rich Hill as the farmers struggle to make ends meet.
Through it all, however, the parks and parkway have remained constants.
The two parks are filled with trees, shelter houses and play­ground equipment. Park Ave­nue continues to carry traffic through the downtown commer­cial district.
Every Fourth of July thousands of people from throughout the area gather in Park Place, the round park on the west side of town, for pic­nics, music, a baby pageant and the annual parade.
And though Rich Hill may be a town with more history than future, the Residents are not ready to board-up the windows and turn out the lights.
"I don't know what's going to happen to the old town," Smith said. "We had the mines, then we had the farming. And that's not going so good anymore. But maybe something else will come along."

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