Harrisonville's past continues to influence our future. Our historical roots are the foundation of a city that today is poised for growth. Originally home to the Native tribes of Kansas, Dhegiha and Osage, settlers from Tennessee, Kentucky and Virginia arrived here in the 1830s. They were attracted to the rich bottomland, streams and rivers in what was then called Van Buren County.
The town of Harrisonville was established in 1837 and named in honor of Albert G. Harrison, one of the first two U.S. Congressional representatives from our state. The town began to take shape as the land was surveyed and plotted into lots and blocks. Lots were sold right on the square -$20 for those facing the square and $10 for those that did not. Homes and businesses began to appear. The first public school was established in 1839, demonstrating the importance of education to our early settlers.
Colonel H.W. Younger, father of the infamous Cole Younger, was elected mayor in 1859. By the onset of the Civil War, the population of Harrisonville had grown to 675.
As a border state situated between the North and South, Missouri suffered greatly in the Civil War. The divided loyalties of Missourians is evidenced by the fact that 100,000 men enlisted in the Federal forces and over 50,000 joined the rebels. The term “brother against brother” was never more true than in Cass County. Due to those southern roots of many of our residents, Confederate troops were able to take refuge in the area. Our close proximity to the Union state of Kansas made us the site of numerous border skirmishes. William Quantrill, southern sympathizer and infamous leader of the rebels, used Cass County as a base to launch his guerilla raids. Border skirmishes along the state line increased until Quantrill led the bloody assault on Lawrence, Kansas on August 21, 1863.
Retaliation was swift. In an effort to cut Quantrill off from his supporters, the government issued the infamous Order No. 11 on August 25. The order forced all persons in Cass County living more than one mile from Harrisonville or Pleasant Hill to vacate their homes within 15 days. Grain, hay and food supplies were confiscated by Union troops. Homes and outbuildings were burned to the ground.
Order No. 11 did not stop rebel activities in our area, but it certainly left damage. Its effects live on today as there are virtually no homes outside our city dating back before the war. One exception is the Sharp-Hopper Log Cabin. Originally located in a densely wooded area, it was simply missed by the Union troops. Volunteers moved the cabin to its present home just off the Square to preserve and honor our past.
Harrisonville was slow to recover from the war. Municipal rule was not completely reestablished until 1867 when elections were finally called. While we were struggling, our neighbors in Pleasant Hill were experiencing a boom with the arrival of the Pacific Railroad. The rivalry between our towns became intense. Pleasant Hill residents tried to usurp our role as the county seat by lobbying the Missouri House to create a new county. We lobbied back just as hard, and persuaded the state Senate to reject the proposal. Finally, by 1870s, the railroads arrived in Harrisonville and we were growing again.
Five churches and close to 20 businesses were erected by the mid 1870s when our population surpassed 1,000. The Cass County Democrat-Missourian, still our hometown newspaper, was started in 1881. The Kansas City & Southern Route arrived in 1885. That same year, a vein of brick clay was discovered, which led to a brick and tile factory. Quickly, a good deal of the wooden business buildings were replaced by the more prestigious brick structures, many of which are still standing.
The three-story yellow brick Cass County Courthouse was designed by the prominent architect W.C. Root, erected in 1897, and proudly stands in the center of town.
Following the Civil War, an African-American community developed in Harrisonville. Working mainly as laborers, by the 1880s these residents had established a two-room school on Elm Street. When this school burned, classes were held in a private residence until a new brick building, Prince Whipple School, was constructed at the corner of Elm Street and King Avenue.
In 1954, the U.S. Supreme Court outlawed segregation in public schools. In the face of massive resistance, most communities, including those in Kansas City, did not integrate schools until the late '50s and '60s.
An exception was the Harrisonville School District. On July 26, 1954, our school board voted unanimously to comply with the law of the land.
For more information, visit the Cass County Historical Society website.
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