June 20, 2014

ROBERT VAN HORN: Father of Kansas City

The place where Van Horn High School sits today was at one time a large home called “Honeywood,” built by Col. Robert Van Horn for his wife, Adela, at a place that was then called Evanston Station.

   If there any one man who could be called “The Father of Kansas City,” that man’s name would be Col. Robert Van Horn.

   In the early days of Kansas City history, no man or woman did more to build Kansas City into the major metropolis it would become than Mayor, Colonel, Congressman, and newspaper publisher Robert T. Van Horn. 

   As Mayor during the Civil War he brought troops from Leavenworth to secure Kansas City and protect the town from Quantrill’s Raiders and Confederate troops.

   He commanded a regiment of Volunteers and attained the military rank of Lieutenant Colonel serving in the Twenty-Fifth Missouri Volunteer Infantry.

   While serving as United States Congressman, he brought the first railroad and the first bridge to span the Missouri River to Kansas City, ending the hopes that St. Joseph and Leavenworth had of being the great railroad hub and metropolis that Kansas City would become. 

   Besides serving in uniform and in Congress, he served the city as postmaster, alderman, and state senator.

   From the time he arrived in Kansas City in 1855, his ambition was to build the river outpost on the bluffs into one of the most important cities in America.  He bought the local newspaper, “The Enterprise,” and changed the name to the Western Journal of Commerce.  As an editor he used his optimism and printing press to convince the world of the greatness of the City of Kansas.  He spread the newspaper boosting Kansas City far and wide, with subscribers in states all around the country. Van Horn’s newspaper would eventually be called, “The Kansas City Journal,” and would be Kansas City’s most trusted newspaper for more than the next half-century. 

   Robert Thompson Van Horn was born in East Mahonig, Pennsylvania, on May 19, 1834, and was only able to attend school when the weather did not permit farm work. At the age of 15 he became an apprentice at the Indiana County (PA) Register. After wandering around New York, Indiana, and Ohio as a “travelling typesetter” for a dozen years, he settled down in Meigs County, Ohio, where he studied law and married Miss Adela Honeywood Cooley in 1848.  He was 31 years old when he brought his wife and children to Kansas City.

   The Van Horn family had four sons, Caleb, Charles, Robert, and Dick.  Dick Van Horn was their only child not to precede them in death.

   Adela Van Horn passed away at Honeywood on July 24, 1910.  Robert Van Horn continued to live to the age of 91, passing away on January 3, 1915.

 Learn more about the life of Col. Robert Van Horn in our book “Vintage Kansas City Stories,” available at Amazon.com.

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