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School History

Location:  611 North 14 Street

Other Names:  Lowell Annex

Named for US President William McKinley

Kansas City grew after the consolidation of 1886, and schools were erected.  One at Eleventh and Barnett, known as the Barnett School, later moved to Eleventh and Orville and was renamed Lowell.  It was 1916, however, before the first building of what was later to be McKinley School, was erected on the southeast corner of Fourteenth and Armstrong, to be followed by another the next year, 1917.  They stood across the street from Carnival Park, which occupied the site of the present Ward Athletic Field (2004).

This amusement park drew large crowds in its heyday.  It has even been said that it rivaled Coney Island in New York at that time.  Barnett, Armstrong, Fourteenth and Sixteenth were its boundaries.  The group of businessmen who built and sponsored it considered it a “great achievement,” for there were “none so fine” in any other city of the area.  Statues adorned the centers of many flower beds, and a bridge crossed a lagoon in the park.  A scenic railway furnished thrills for its riders.  For two weeks after the opening, the 18th Infantry Band played nightly concerts.

After several years of success, the park lost money and finally closed.  It was still standing, however, when the two buildings of what was then known as Lowell Annex (later McKinley) were erected.  Mrs. Stella Goodwin taught the first grade in 1916 and was joined in 1917 by Miss Esther Erickson and the second grade.  This early school of two rooms differed little from the schools of pioneer days of years before.  It was heated by round stoves in the middle of the rooms, with the coal stored in an adjoining shed.  There were no modern plumbing or drinking facilities.  Contagious diseases cost the lives of children everywhere and went unchecked during an epidemic.

World War I, 1917-18, brought many changes, especially in health practices and education.  Examiners of young men entering the armed forces found educational standards low and health and health practices poor for a nation like the United States.  At the time when McKinley School was built, great changes occurred and instead of hastily thrown together schools, modern fireproof schools were built.  Dental clinics were established and children were instructed at school in the use of a toothbrush.

The school board hired nurses to look after the health of growing children, and the Visiting Nurses Association supplied milk for underweights.  Games and exercises were introduced to build stronger bodies.  Carnival Park was dismantled and became the first athletic field for Wyandotte High School.

Patrons wanted time for religious instruction for their children.  A junior college was established and the use of visual aids introduced.  A special session of the legislature permitted the school board to issue bonds for a five-year building plan.  A tract of ground on the northeast corner of Fourteenth and Tauromee (Grandview Boulevard) was purchased for a site for a new school.  Two portables of a more modern type were built there in 1921 and the old buildings used for locker rooms at the athletic field.

Mrs. Goodwin read the poems of James Whitcomb Riley to her children and hoped that the new building would bear the name of the poet.  But when the new building was erected in 1922-23, it was named McKinley for President William McKinley.  The plans called for a one-story modern red brick school, E. Drier and Son, contractors.  It was occupied in the fall of 1923.  In October, Mrs. John Murray was elected the first PTA President.  Charter members listed in 1940 were:  Mrs. A Collins, Mrs. O A Pearson, Mrs. M L Breidenthal, Mrs. Stothers, Mrs. W. Collins, Mrs. Fred Powell, Mrs. A P Bale.

Four teachers taught grades one to five in the four new classrooms.  Miss Leona Sheppard was the first principal.  Other faculty members were Mrs. Merle Dixon, Miss Esther Erickson, and Miss May Powell.

Miss Sheppard began the beautification of the McKinley grounds by asking for the donation of plants and shrubs by patrons and children.  She originated the idea of a Memory Garden by planting a tree for each pupil and teacher who died.

By 1924 the sixth grade was added and a portable building placed on the northeast corner.  Helen Olson Kepler and Madge Morrison joined the staff.  The seventh and eighth grades went to school at Lowell.  Girls at the school formed a Camp Fire group.  Four rooms, three classrooms and an auditorium, were added to the top of the one-story building in 1927-28.

Under the direction of Mrs. Breidenthal, PTA President, plans continued for the Memorial Garden.  Committee members were Miss Sheppard, Mrs. Fred Fuchs, and Mrs. L G Trickett.  A plot 25 x 50 feet at the southwest corner of the grounds was selected and a cedar tree planted for Mary Eads, Ray Gradney, Charles Peters and Eugene Field Carver, McKinley pupils who had died.  Chadborn Sprague gave the large tree in the center of the garden in memory of his sister, Elizabeth.

The first eighth grade class graduated in the spring of 1928.  The next year, 1929, Miss Sheppard left to become intermediate supervisor in the city schools.  She was replaced by Mrs. Nelle Numbers James as principal.  Mrs. James stayed only one year and was succeeded by Miss Hazel McCallum in 1930.  A Kindergarten was added that year also.  Miss McCallum’s sudden death in 1932 brought another change in principals, Miss Pearl Rice took her place.

Depression days brought added duties to the mothers of the school and a curtailment of some of the services introduced after World War I.  On “Bundle Days” children brought clothing to be distributed to the less fortunate.  PTA members worked at the Thrift Shop at the L M Alcott School, where they mended and supplied clothing to city children.

Two pin oaks were planted in the Memory Garden on the west side of the school.  The north one was dedicated to Superintendent M E Pearson who retired in 1932, and the south tree was in memory of Miss McCallum.  Years later, in 1939, a large spruce tree was dedicated to the first principal, Miss Sheppard, who died on November 7 of that year.  Other memorials have been for Wanda Sue Dupuy, Irene Garrison and Jeannette Houston.

McKinley had a Kindergarten again in 1935 after the closing of the depression.  The children published a school paper, “The McKinley Mirror.”  Then in 1937, twenty years after her start in teaching there, Miss Esther Erickson left her second grade to become principal at Frances Willard.  Miss Hazel Kier replaced Miss Rice as principal.  Only three years passed before Miss Erickson returned in 1940 to take up the McKinley principalship when Miss Kier became supervisor after Miss Sheppard’s death.

Then came 1941 and the attack on Pearl Harbor.  World War II, as did World War I, made demands on the schools.  Parents and teachers issued ration books and collected paper and metal for the war effort.  Men of the school districts served as air wardens.  People invested their money in War Loan bonds.  Great advancements came in the control of children’s diseases.  In 1952, the mothers of the city held their first “March on Polio,” one of the childhood illnesses now practically stamped out.

In 1954, McKinley parents begin to coach their children for the spelling bees held throughout the city.  By 1955-56, the school’s seventh and eighth grades made one of the four groups in the city not served by junior high schools.  On May 11, 1956, a farewell tea was given to the three upper classes that were leaving to go to Northwest Junior High School.  McKinley, for the first time in its history, had, in the fall of 1956, seven classrooms taught by seven teachers and not a divided room among them.  The situation lasted just one year.

Three Kindergarten groups were needed in 1959, although decreased enrollment has affected other classes.  Teachers long connected with the school began to reach retirement age.  In the next few years, Miss Alma Klamm, Miss Anna Kearns, and Miss May Powell retired, followed in 1963 by Miss Erickson.  Mr. James Hammer of Lowell School became principal of McKinley also in September, 1963.  After one year he went to Central School and Miss Ruby Crary, Prescott principal, was appointed principal of McKinley also.

As in the days following the first World War, the schools again face many changes.  Integration of colored and white students has come about.  Science and the New Math are subjects that are stressed.  High school graduation is no longer an acceptable education goal; children who are capable are seeking college entrance.  New services again are added, many financed by the government, that are new to our schools.

McKinley celebrated a 50th birthday in 1966.  The years brought it to a modern building, improved curricula, and a new concept of education.  There is no comparison to the first fifty years of education beginning with old Central School in 1867 and the close of an era in 1917.

2004:  This is part of Phase IV of the 2001 KCKs Public Schools $120 million bond issue.

Students at Central and McKinley will begin the school year with new and improved facilities thanks in part to a $40,000 grant from the Lowe’s Charitable and Educational Foundation.  The money will be used to place playground equipment at both schools, with the remainder of the grant money being used to purchase books, especially books for Spanish speaking students, for the schools’ libraries.


1916 – One-room frame portable built on corner of 14th and Armstrong, an old athletic field. It contained the first grade taught by Mrs. Stella Goodwin.  This was sometimes referred to as the “No Name” School.

1917 – Second portable added. Second grade taught by Miss Esther Erickson under administration of Miss Margaret Small, principal of Lowell.

KANSAN Article – 24 February 1921 (No Name School)

1921 – Lowell Annex detached from Lowell. To 14th and Tauromee as school in its’ own right (McKinley).

Ground purchased on northeast corner of 14th and Tauromee (Grandview Blvd). Two portables built.

1922 – August:  New building erected and named McKinley in honor of President William McKinley. One-story, red brick.

1909-1925 – Rose/Peterson, Architects – Much sparer in overall design are ten primary and secondary school constructed to meet the demands of a growing population. The use of materials (brick and terra-cotta), frequent application of Classical detailing, and overall plan (which features a two-story rectangular block, three bays wide), are treated similarly in all of these schools. Differing from late nineteenth and early twentieth century design, these schools were planned to provide more light and circulation for the students and staff: Stanley (1913), Whittier II (1919-20), Chelsea II (1921-23), Roosevelt (1922), McKinley, Louisa M. Alcott, and Mark Twain (1922-1924), Major Hudson (1923-24), and Central III (1924) elementary schools and Turner High School, built in 1916-17. The elementary schools were also designed in such a way that they could, if need be, be built in stages, responding to population increases within their service areas.

1923 – School occupied. Four rooms with five grades and four teachers. First principal, Leona Sheppard. Teachers were Merle Dixon, Esther Erickson and Mary Powell.

October 2. PTA organized with Mrs. John Murray as President.

Beautification of grounds begun by Leona Sheppard. Donations of plants and shrubs by patrons. Originated idea of Memory Garden. Planted tree for each pupil or teacher who died.

1927-28 – Four rooms of top floor added.

1930 – Kindergarten established.

1932 – Two pin oaks planted on west grounds. North one dedicated to M E Pearson, retired 1932. One on south for Miss Hazel McCallum, principal, 1930-32, who died.

1939 – Leona Sheppard died. Supervisor of intermediate grades for ten years. Large spruce tree planted in Memory Garden.

1977-78 – PTA won trophy for total enrollment.

1980 – Girls basketball team won trophy.

1991 – School closed as attendance center in May, 1991. Students assigned to M E Pearson (boundary change).

Building used as Staff Development Center; computer center, science.

2004 – Due to overcrowding at M E Pearson and Whittier Elementary Schools, boundary lines are being changed and (depending upon the home address), specific students will attend Central, Grant or McKinley Elementary Schools in the fall.  Buildings at Central Elementary and McKinley Elementary are being upgraded and perimeter fences are being replaced.  This is part of Phase IV of the 2001 KCKs Public Schools $120 million bond issue.

June 2:  June 2:  Kansas City Star:  The district has been losing students, but spokesman Carroll Macke said that an influx of students in the central city forced the district to re-open Central Elementary at 8th St and Barnett Ave and McKinley Elementary at 611 N. 14 St. to reduce overcrowding at other elementary schools in the area.  Other schools such as Lindbergh on North 57th St. and Frances Willard at 34th and Orville Ave, have added modular classrooms to accommodate students.

Carnival Park – Then and Now by Margaret Landis

611 North 14th Street:  Rose and Peterson, architects.  Replacing a temporary school structure, McKinley Elementary School was designed in 1923, with an addition designed by Rose and Ridgway added in 1927.  Kansas City, Kansas Certified Local Government Program, Historical and Architectural Survery, Kerr’s Park, Arickaree, and Westheight Manor No. 5, 1990, pg. 55