The name of this school was the John K. Stark School. The Board of Education decided in 1927 that they would build a new school in the district because all the other schools were getting crowded. So the Board bought a piece of land on top of a hill. And this land had once belonged to Dr. John King Stark, who had purchased it in 1872 for his farm. The first thing built on the land was a log cabin, and it was located about where the back door of the school is today.
Dr. Stark was born on April 21, 1828, in Springfield, KY. He had a famous Stark relative who was a lieutenant in Connecticut during the Revolutionary War, and his parents were pioneer settlers in Kentucky. Dr. Stark learned to be a dentist by studying with somebody who was already a dentist. This is the way people got a medical education in those days, since there weren't any medical schools. In 1849, Dr. Stark moved to Independence, MO and started being a dentist there. He was the first dentist ever to settle so far west.
In 1862, when the Civil War was just getting started, a group called Jennison's Band came to town and arrested Dr. Stark as a Southern sympathizer, which he was. But some of his friends got him out of jail, and Dr. Stark, his wife, and their two children left Independence right away, that very same night. They went to St. Louis, then to New York, and then they sailed to Havana on a U.S. mail packet. After that, they went on a blockade runner boat to Mobile, Alabama. They stayed there for a while, and then they went to Mexico, where Dr. Stark made a set of vulcanized rubber dental plates for the governor of Chihuahua. These were the first dental plates of this type ever made in Mexico, and the governor paid $500 for them.
After the war, the Starks went back to St. Louis, where Mrs. Vestine Stark died. Later, Dr. Stark returned to Kansas City. He married a woman named Ellen, and they had a son. By 1879, Dr. Stark's oldest son was also a dentist, and the two had a practice together. The older Dr. Stark was one of the founders of the Dental Department of the Kansas City Medical College, and he was also the first dean of its faculty.
Dr. Stark liked to hunt and fish and ride horses. He probably had that farm because he needed a place to keep his horses. I think it would be hard to find time to be a farmer and also be a dentist, but things were different back in those days, so maybe he really did do some farming. Everybody seemed to like Dr. Stark, and when he died on January 25, 1895, they said what a kind, courteous, generous, helpful, and honorable man he was.
Okay, so now that we know what a good man Dr. Stark was, we can understand why the Board of Education decided to name the new school after him. When the cornerstone of the school was laid, on July 22, 1930, Dr. Stark's daughter, Mrs. Maud Guinotte, put the first trowel of cement on the stone. The Kansas City Times said, "The setting for the school is regarded by school officials as one of the best in Jackson County. It is on one of the highest spots in the vicinity and commands an excellent view of all four directions." The school opened in September 1930, with only two rooms ready to be used.
The children who lived in the east part of the new district had trouble getting to school because of Rock Creek, which they had to cross. So the Board of Education asked the Jackson County Court if one of the streets could be cut through and if a footbridge could be built across the creek. But the people who lived over there in the eastern area told the Court they didn't want a bridge because they wanted to keep sending their kids to the same schools they had always sent them to.
In those days, the Presiding Judge of the County Court was a man named Harry S Truman. Maybe you have heard of him. Anyway, Judge Truman reported to the school board that "the proposed bridge had met with opposition, and that in addition there was not sufficient money in the bridge fund to build a substantial bridge." So the John K. Stark School ended up not having as many students as the Board planned for it to have. Which meant that only the first unit of the school was ever built, which cost $70,000, and the rest of the $325,000 that was meant to pay for the school building was never spent.
I found a list of school principals from 1930 to 1966, but I don't know if that is when the school closed or not. After the John K. Stark school stopped being a public school, the building was sold and got used for several years by a private school called the Tri-City Christian School.
|Inside the Stark School. Photo by Corey Cassaw|
Then the school sat there being empty for a long time. In February, 2010, the Inter City Fire Protection District thought about making the building into an administrative and training center. They were going to use the 3-story part of the building and ask some community groups to remodel other areas for meetings, recreation, and maybe senior citizen housing. The architect said it would take at least $4.4 million to restore the building.
In the end, the Fire Protection District decided not to buy the school because if it turned out the building couldn't be saved, the sale of the land by itself wouldn't cover the cost of the demolition. And that is why the school is still sitting there, looking sad and lonely and abandoned.