The Kearney Police Department is made up of 13
full-time and 3 part-time officers.
HISTORY OF KEARNEY,
Kearney, located in Clay County, Missouri is
approximately 15 miles northeast of Kansas City, Missouri. State Highway
33 runs through from the North to the South and State Highway 92 runs from
East to West and 1-35 runs near the western boundary.
What is now the Southeastern portion of the town of
Kearney was originally called Centerville, and was laid out by David T.
Duncan and W.R. Cave in the spring of 1856. Duncan lived on and owned the
South half of the site of Centerville. Cave purchased the North half from
his father, Uriel Cave, the original owner. The first houses were built by
Adam Pence and W.R. Cave, and theirs were the first families In the
Barney Spencer, a Kentuckian, owned the first store in
Centerville, which was conducted for time some in the beginning by his
brother-in-law, Sam Trabue. The second store was owned and run by John
Wade, of Ohio. These stores were established in the spring of 1857. John
Gilboe had the third store. A school house was built in about 1858 by W.R.
Upon the outbreak of the Civil War, Centerville contained
about 20 families, but when it closed there were only two or three. During
the war only two houses were destroyed, however, and these were burned by
the Federals-- Ford's and Jeanison's men. They were owned by John Corum
and John Gilboe, but at the time they were burned, Dr. Cravens lived in
Corum?s house, and W.R. Cave had a small grocery in Gilboe?s building. The
Federals claim that they did the burning in retaliation of Mr. Bond by the
The murder of John Julius, an old man and a reputable
citizen, by Lysander Talbott, shortly after the war, was the only tragedy
of note that ever occurred in Centerville. The killing was wholly
unprovoked. Talbott was on the "warpath" and "wanted to kill somebody". He
was arrested, indicted, took a change of venue to Clinton County, escaped
from jail, went to Texas, and was killed himself in a fight.
April 12, 1869, Alfred Pyle shot and killed Charles
Smith, in a difficulty in Kearney, but Esquire Corbin acquitted Pyle on
the ground that he had acted in self-defense, and he was never afterwards
The town of Kearney was laid out by John Lawence in the
Spring of 1867, upon the building of the Hannibal and St. Joseph Railroad
(now the Burlington Northern Sante Fe). The railroad was the first direct
route to Chicago from utilizing the first bridge across the Missouri River
at Kansas City. The first house was built by George H. Plitt on the
Southwest corner of Washington Avenue and Railroad Street, fronting the
depot on the East. Plitt originally used it as a storeroom and it was
later used as a hotel called the Oklahoma House. The building was erected
before the railroad depot. Plitt was proprietor of a lumber yard, and the
leading spirit of the place for sometime. Perhaps James Hightower had the
This town was named by John Lawrence for Kearney,
Nebraska. It is understood that Lawrence was at one time a resident of
Kearney, Nebraska before he came to Clay County. There is a second theory
that the town was named after the Chief Engineer of the railroad. Soon
after its establishment, the village began to grow very rapidly. Stores
and shops of all kinds were built, and in a little time Kearney and
Centerville were practically united.
Kearney was incorporated "as a town or village" by the
County Court, April 5, 1869. The first board of trustees was composed of
George H. Plitt, Peter Rhinehart, R.B. Elliott, D.T. Dunkin and George
Harris. As the location of the town is very attractive, the town itself
presents a handsome appearance. Washington Street is still the principle
street and is well lined with stores and businesses.
The first newspaper was a five-column sheet, called the
Clipper, and was established by Thomas H. Frame, in July 1883.
The first church was the Missionary Baptist, which was
called Mount Olive. This church was started when a group of consecrated
pioneers met at the home of John S. Major on Saturday, Christmas Day,
1856. Meetings were held in the Major's home until June, 1857, then in a
school house in Centerville (now South part of Kearney). It was decided to
build a building on a lot in the Northwest corner of Uriel Cave's farm.
This site is now a part of Mr. Olivet Cemetery. The building plans were
begun in 1857, but were not finished until after the Civil War. In 1872,
three years after Kearney was incorporated the name of the church was
changed to First Baptist Church of Kearney. In June, 1900, the church was
badly damaged by a tornado. A new building was completed in 1902.That
building was razed and replaced with a newer building, which has been
again expanded, and the church is still active and located at the same
Kearney has always been a great place for "nicknames".
Northeast Kearney was long called East Tennessee after some ancient
Tennessee people who lived there. Battle Row was the name given to a
certain section of the town here in rougher pioneer's time. Beer Creek was
given its name because women razed a certain liquor store and dumped the
liquor into the creek. The phrase "down in Guinea" refers to an old water
hole just north of 92 Highway and west of the railroad, where the boys, 75
years ago, used to go swimming. Little Italy is the name by which many
people referred to the part of town down by the depot. Some of the people
in the North part of town referred to their neighborhood as the North end,
apparently the North end of Kansas City.
Prospect Street was once called Ridge Street. For 100
years it has been called by other names such as High Street, Pious Ridge,
Holy Ridge, Hallelujah Avenue and Christian Ridge; probably because there
were once two churches on this street, Kearney Christian Church and the
old Central Presbyterian Church of Kearney, which was a Presbyterian
Church for 12 or 13 years and the Methodist Church for 12 or 13 years.
The Methodist Church later built a new building on
Jefferson Street. Jefferson Street was once called Water Street. Grove
Street was once called Delaware Street and later Cottonwood Avenue.
Lawrence Street was called Church Street although no one ever knew of a
church on the street.
To the northeast of Kearney is found a farm that plays an
interesting part in the history of the Kearney area as well as other parts
of the country. On January 10, 1843, Alexander Franklin James was born on
a farm three miles Northeast of Kearney. He died on the James farm on
February 18, 1915. His body was cremated in St. Louis. Mrs. Frank James
died July 6, 1944 at Excelsior Springs, Missouri. Her body was cremated in
Kansas City. Their ashes are buried in a cemetery in Hill Park, 23rd
Street and Rock Creek Road in Kansas City, Mo.
Mrs. Frank James' mother was a Hill and Hill Park was
once the property of the Hill family. Jesse Woodson James was born
September 5, 1847 on the James Farm and was killed by Robert Ford, a
member of his own gang at 1318 Lafayette Street, St. Joseph, Missouri, on
April 3, 1882. His body was brought back to Kearney by train and his
funeral was held at the old Baptist Church in Mr. Olivet Cemetery. His
body was originally buried in the Southwest corner of the yard at the
In 1902, the remains of the body were moved to Kearney
and reburied in Mr. Olivet Cemetery. The father of the James boys was Rev.
Robert James and their mother was Zerelda Cole. After the death of Rev.
James, Zerelda married an elderly man named Sims. He died and she later
married Dr. Ruben Samuels. Miss Zerelda Cole was born in 1825 and died in
Frank and Jesse also had a full sister, Susan, who
married a Mr. Palmer. Frank and Jesse were members of the infamous gang
called "The James Gang". This gang consisted of about 28-30 members. It
operated from February 13, 1866 to April 3, 1882, a period of 16 years. It
was finally forced to discontinue its activities. Frank and Jesse had been
in the Civil War on the Southern side and some of the other members of the
gang had also followed the Southern side.
As the years went by, some of the first members of the
gang died or were captured and sent to prison. At least five members of
the gang, Frank, Jesse, Ed and Clell Miller and James Cummings, were from
Kearney. Jesse James was a member of Mr. Olive Baptist Church and was a
member of the choir. It is noted in the minutes of the church an incident,
where "a group of brethren have been asked to talk with Mr. James about
Jesse James, his wife, Miss Zerelda Sims, his first
cousin; his mother, Mrs. Zerelda Samuels; his step-father, Dr. Ruben
Samuels; and his little half-brother, Archie Payton Samuels, are buried in
the left half of a lot in the West end of Mr. Olivet Cemetery.
The original James farm was 275 acres but now has only 40
acres. The original house is still standing and is open to the public.
Many people from an over the United States and Canada and from foreign
countries come each year to see the grave of Jesse James and to visit the
farm. Also East of Kearney, is Watkins Mill State Park. This park contains
the first woolen mill West of the Mississippi. It started about the time
of the Civil War and continued to operate until about 1882.
Today, Kearney continues to grow and become an even
better place to work and live. Many new subdivisions have been built. Some
of these are Bogart Addition, Second Addition, Pence Addition, Cuthbertson
Addition, Arnold's Addition, Porter's Addition, Kearney Manor and
Southbrook. This development is part of a former feedlot owned by the
Greenfield Brothers where thousands of cattle were fed through the years.
The railroad has played a great part in the development
of Kearney. In years past, as many as fifty to sixty trains a day came
through Kearney on their way to the markets in Chicago and Kansas City. It
is through the railroad that the Kearney Water Department was first
purchased for $1.00 a year for their main lines from the wells and about
$1.00 a year for the tower.
LAST UPDATED 4-13-2009