when William B. Howard founded the Town of Strother by filing a plat containing the 11 blocks that currently encompass the downtown business district. At the time of incorporation, the population count stood at one hundred people. In November of 1868, the name was changed and the area incorporated as the “Town of Lee’s Summit”. Although the “Summit” portion of the name was obviously based on the fact the town’s elevation is the highest point on the railroad between Kansas City and St. Louis, there are numerous opinions and theories on the origin of “Lee”.
According to one theory, the town was named after Civil War General Robert E. Lee, since incorporation took place shortly after the war and the majority of citizens migrated from the Southern states. However, another version suggests the town was named after a prominent early settler, Dr. Pleasant Lea. The discrepancy in the spelling of “Lea” has been attributed to railroad sign painters.
The history of Lee’s Summit abounds with the tragedies and triumphs of courageous people who have never failed in their dream of creating a city that will continually progress and prosper. Most importantly, Lee’s Summit is comprised of dedicated people who never lose touch with the basic values that make a community livable. Lee’s Summit has lived up to the dreams of its forefathers.
Pioneers who settled here before the Civil War were forced from their homes in 1863 by Order No. 11. They returned to burned and ravaged homes and lands, but the stalwart Missourians were determined to rebuild. With the coming of the railroad, Lee’s Summit became a major rail head for shipping livestock and crops. From 1865 to 1914, there were constantly “New Beginnings,” with electricity, cars, telephones, indoor plumbing, etc.
Lee’s Summit’s most infamous citizen was Cole Younger, called “The Last of the Great Outlaws” by author Homer Croy. According to history, soldiers drove Younger to a life outside the law after his father’s murder and subsequent robbery. While Union forces were enforcing Order #11, the command issued in 1862 ostensibly to burn homes belonging to those with Southern ties, Younger and his brothers were credited with saving some of the original homes within Lee’s Summit, the most prominent of which belonged to William B. Howard. Order #11 helped to unify the transplanted southern population in Missouri and compelled Younger to join the Confederate guerrilla band known as Quantrill’s Raiders. Cole Younger was arrested after an attempted bank robbery in Northfield, Minnesota. Following 25 years of imprisonment for his crimes, Cole Younger was paroled in 1901. Three years later, Younger returned to Lee’s Summit where he lived as a model citizen until his death in 1916. His grave is located in the Lee’s Summit Historic Cemetery.
The Truly 150 Committee has organized a year’s worth of celebratory events to mark Lee’s Summit’s milestone. In addition to annual community events, the Committee has planned several Truly 150 signature events specifically orchestrated to celebrate Lee’s Summit’s birthday. The next special event will be held on May 16!
Opening of the Centennial Time Capsule: May 16 10:30 a.m. in City Hall Plaza, 220 SE Green St. Free event; more information at LSpw.net. A time capsule was buried in 1965 as part of Lee’s Summit’s Centennial (100th) birthday celebration, and its contents will be revealed at its opening during the City of Lee’s Summit’s Big Truck & Equipment Show in front of City Hall. Rumor has it the opening will be a hairy situation! In addition, kids of all ages can climb up into the driver’s seat of some of the City’s biggest pieces of equipment. The Art & Artifacts Fair also will take place in the City Hall lobby and a historically-themed bike ride will take place from City Hall to the new Lee’s Summit History Museum, both in celebration of Historic Preservation Month.
Did you know that Lee’s Summit hosted the Jackson County Fair for many years? The fair was held in Harris Park, and people from all over Jackson County and beyond traveled to Lee’s Summit to exhibit prize-winning livestock, enter homemade items and goods for judging and to celebrate their agricultural roots.
The Truly 150 Committee wants to take you back to that era with an old-fashioned County Fair event at Paradise Park, and the whole community is invited. There will be live musicians, a petting zoo, a baby contest, and much more. The event will also feature “Toby Shows,” which were traveling rural American theatre shows that were popular in the early twentieth century and featured vaudeville-type melodramas.
July 25: Party in the Park
Celebrating our 150th birthday at Summit Waves in a resort themed paradise.
August 1: Celebrate 150! Parade and Event
Enjoy an historic-themed parade in Downtown Lee’s Summit dedicated to the Sesquicentennial celebration, followed by a community event at Lee’s Summit High School. The event will feature a variety of local organizations and performances, including music, dance, choral and more.
You can show your support for Lee’s Summit’s 150th birthday by donating at Truly150.com, stocking up on memorabilia available at Lee’s Summit Hy-Vee East and Lee’s Summit Hy-Vee West, and soon at the new Lee’s Summit History Museum, 220 SW Main St.
For more information, and to sign up for the Truly 150 newsletter or volunteer, visit Truly150.com. A lot of buzz about the Truly 150 efforts is occurring on social media sites, too. See what others are sharing, share your own memories, and join in the discussion by following Truly 150 on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest and Instagram.