Raytown began as a Santa Fe Trail stop just eight miles south of Independence, and is probably the second oldest town in Jackson County. Prior to the 1820’s when Pioneers began to settle in the area, it was a part of the land possessed by the Osage Indians. After the Indians left this area, Jackson County was organized in December of 1826. The county was named after Andrew Jackson, who later became the seventh President of the United States. General Jackson had become nationally famous as a hero in the War of 1812, he symbolized American strength.
The opening of the Santa Fe Trail increased the number of people coming into the area, as this was the final “jumping off” point for settlers and adventurers heading west. Cattle, oxen, fruits and vegetables were purchased from the farmers already in the area. Soon blacksmiths, wagon makers and iron workers were coming from the east to add their much needed skills to the growing number of wagon trains. As more and more travelers pushed westward along the Santa Fe and Oregon trails, pioneers, predominately from Kentucky and Virginia, began to settle in numbers. They discovered an area of high wooded ridges that reminded them of the shrouded Blue Ridge Mountains of their former homes. They named the land Blue Ridge, and the adjoining streams, the Big Blue and Little Blue Rivers.
Several tradesmen set up businesses along the trail. William Ray, born in Butler County, Ohio, in 1808 was a blacksmith who moved to Jackson County around 1848 and established his shop right on the Santa Fe Trail. Ray’s blacksmith shop was located at a crossroads, where the Santa Fe Trail was crossed by other important trails, and became known as a center of trails, a meeting place, and a starting and leaving point. Ray’s shop became a landmark for this area. He had a thriving business repairing wagons before settlers headed out onto the trails. Raytown was known as the “Lost Township” for about 20 years. When Jackson County had been surveyed in 1826, a surveyor had said this land with tough prairie grass and no trees was “no good” and not worth measuring. However, the farmers disagreed with him.
By 1850, William Ray’s blacksmith shop was well established on what is now the intersection of 63rd & Raytown Road. He purchased the seven acres of land for $72.16. At this time, the citizens of the area began clamoring for more and better roads to Kansas City and Independence where the major markets for their goods existed. In 1860, commissioners were appointed and consequently laid out and approved what is now Raytown Road. William Ray’s shop, therefore, became a geographic landmark and is mentioned twenty-seven times in the next fourteen months of county court proceedings. William Ray himself appears to have been something of a landmark also, for by 1854, his neighbors were referring to the town as “Ray’s Town,” and eventually, “Raytown.” Henry Ray describes his grandfather as a “quiet person with dark hair and blue eyes, stocky build, and a little over medium height.” William Ray and his family moved to Oregon in 1853 to be with his married children. He died on August 18, 1874. A marker today stands on the site of his blacksmith shop in his memory.
In March of 1872, two villages – Raytown and Little Blue, were organized into Brooking Township. Brooking Township was named in memory of a Jackson County court judge, Honorable Alvan Brooking (1796-1857). He had purchased 800 acres of land in 1839 for $500. (This area is approximately between 47th and 59th streets from Raytown Rd. to Blue Ridge Boulevard.) The land eventually was donated and helped form the Round Grove School and the West Fork Baptist Church. JJ Robinson, a Raytown preacher and one of Jackson County’s most respected citizens at the time, wrote the following: “This is the name of a new township formed out of territory heretofore included in Blue and Washington townships. It is the center of Jackson County and embraces a large portion of the county’s finest land. It is a good farming country, having good land, good water and good timber, three qualities not often found near each other.” Records show that Raytown had one store and saddlers’ shop, one blacksmith shop, a doctor’s office, a post office, a schoolhouse, one meeting house, and a Masonic hall at the time.
Farmers in the area sold corn and pork and other supplies to the travelers, and many offered their land as a resting stop. One of the favorite campsites belonged to Archibald Rice and his wife, Sally, who also had volunteered comfort and care for the ill during the cholera plague. The Rice farm house and a slave cabin were among the few buildings left standing during Quantrill’s Civil War raids, and are preserved to this day in the City of Raytown. Another favorite camping spot was the Jesse Barnes farm, also known as Cave Springs.
Jackson County land was eagerly sought and large plantations were developed along the trails. During the Civil War period, “Order No. 11” caused civilians to leave their homes and abandon their farms, bringing civilization to a standstill for six years. Following the war many years of recovery were needed to heal the wounds of the land and the people.
From 1877 to the 1920-30’s, the principal occupations were grain farming, cattle raising, and dairying. Raytown was still a community of farmers and businesses in 1900. The farmers’ main crops were corn, oats, hay, tobacco, and hemp. Then the large farms became small truck farms with roadside produce stands, and subdivisions became popular for the Kansas City employed. Many businesses were on Raytown Road at this time: S.G. Robinson General Store (6252 Raytown Road), J.J. Robinson Blacksmith Shop (6224 Raytown Road), William Jennings Building, a general store (6211 Raytown Road), and William Hall Grist Mill, later known as Raytown Feed and Fuel. The town also had a doctor’s office here. Frank Nile built a stable on 25 acres of land near 63rd and Laurel to house seven horses and a half-mile race track. Two churches were in the center of Raytown, the Raytown Christian Church and the Second Baptist Church. One exciting thing in Raytown in 1900 was the establishment of a rural mail route. Before 1871, area farmers shopping in Independence brought letters back with them. This mail was then deposited in a box fastened to a pole near William Ray’s Blacksmith shop. In 1871, United States mail delivery became official in Raytown. Reverend J.J. Robinson became the first postmaster, and space was provided for a post office in his general store.
Raytown did not grow much until the railroad was constructed in 1903. Trains were considered safer and had the advantage of moving far more quickly than wagons. The Rock Island Railroad Depot was moved from 72nd and Woodson to just east of the old wooden bridge at 64th and Railroad Street in 1913. After many unsuccessful attempts to make it a historical landmark, the building was torn down in the late 1980’s.
Air travel began in Raytown on a 1500 foot runway in 1922. It was near the southeast corner of Gregory Blvd. and Blue Ridge Blvd. on 156 acres of land just east of Cave Spring. The US Army took over the airport immediately after its construction. They called it Richard’s Flying Field in honor of Lt. John F. Richards II, the first Kansas City officer to die while in the Army flying service. An average of thirty planes a month landed in Raytown from 1922-1924. By 1925, several hundred planes stopped there each month.
A 1926 Chamber of Commerce bulletin claimed that “airplanes from every section of the United States come to Richards Field to refuel before continental flights…it is used as an airplane training school for civilians and Army flyers.”
The airmail contract was given to them in 1926, but was transferred to the KC Municipal Airport when it opened in 1927. Commercial Airways later leased the airport as a training center. Charles Lindbergh received some of his early training at Richards Field. In 1949, they renamed the field Ong Airport after its owner, William Ong. After the airport was used for instruction of Army, Navy, and Marine Corps pilots during World War II, the planes were used to dust crops. This ended in 1952 when the airfield was subdivided into more than 405 lots for homes, now known as the “Gregory Heights” subdivision.
Raytown had 450 citizens, good paved roads, and was a host to many tourists by 1926. Residents found recreation at Wildwood Lakes, Cave Springs, Nile’s racetrack, and Sunday afternoon pleasure watching airport stunt shows at Richard’s Flying Field. Airmail planes stopped for service at the airport, and with the increased demand for new housing, schools, and churches – Raytown was growing.
By the late 1940’s, people had been calling this area Raytown for almost a hundred years. But no steps had been taken to legally make it a city. Kansas City was beginning to add more territory by annexing surrounding towns which could be accomplished with a majority vote from KC residents. Raytown residents would have no voice in the matter. Citizens living in Raytown took much pride in their community and started signing petitions to remain a distinct place separate from Kansas City.
After a public hearing was held, Raytown was incorporated as a city on July 17, 1950; the citizens wished to escape the annexation to Kansas City and to have a small self-governed town. The area covered two square miles and consisted of 1,000 people. Homeowners in areas around the new city petitioned to be included. By 1961, Raytown covered more than ten square miles and had approximately 3,000 residents.
Raytown had nowhere to conduct the city’s business after incorporation and many peoples homes and basements were used for city business. In 1975 the new Raytown City Hall was built at 10000 East 59th Street. By that time, approximately 33,000 people called Raytown their home
Our community has changed from what it was in the past—from southern farmers to commuters; from plantations to housing developments; from large young families to senior citizens, and all these have had a special place in our history.
The Raytown Historical Society,
Raytown Missouri USA, Raytown, MO:1999.
Spradley, Mary Jane,
Raytown, Missouri-A Glimpse at Its Past, Raytown, MO: 1999.