Cave Mystery
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Do you know about the cave located in Roanoke Park in Kansas City, Missouri?

The cave is located near the tennis courts and has been sealed off with a stone wall.  There is very little reference information available about the history of the cave, its size or when it was sealed.

According to people that lived in the area in the 1940-1950 timeframe, there were some children lost in the cave and these events were recorded in the Kansas City Star/Times (however these articles have not yet been located and there is no authoritative confirmation that these events occurred).  It is thought that the cave was sealed off by around 1957.

If you have information on the Roanoke Park Cave, please email us at webmaster@roanokekc.org.

See the information below for detail on the known cave history.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Cave Location

 

Cave History Research Contacts

State of Missouri: The State of Missouri - Division of Geology and Land Survey keeps track of caves in the state and does have record that a cave exists in Roanoke Park.  However they currently have no information related to the cave other than its physical GPS coordinates.  According to geologist Jeffrey Crews with the Missouri Department of Natural Resources (www.dnr.mo.gov), official records simply refer to the cave as Roanoke Park Cave.

Kansas City Public Library/Kansas City Star: Jeremy Drouin is a Special Collections Librarian with the Missouri Valley Room of the Kansas City Public Library (www.kclibrary.org) and has researched available archives related to Roanoke Park.  Jeremy has been extremely helpful in locating documentation on the cave. Jeremy acknowledged that Kansas City Star/Times articles may exist that shed light on the history of the cave.  However, any articles prior to 1991 are in most cases only accessible via microfiche at the Library or Kansas City Star offices.  Without a specific date range, searching microfiche articles is a significant effort.  Jeremy has offered to do additional research related to newspaper articles if a more specific date range of events can be determined.

Kansas City Parks and Recreation:  Ann McFerrin is a Boulevard Archivist with the Kansas City Parks and Recreation department.  Ann has investigated the archives from the department and has not found any specific information related to the cave.  Like the KC Star, the departments records in many cases only exist in the form of microfiche and researching these microfiche records is very time consuming.  Ann has offered to make the microfiche available for investigation related to the cave for anyone that can devote the time to this.  Ann also has offered to look into the microfiche for further information on the departments records if a more specific timeline of events related to the cave can be found.

The Kansas City Area Grotto (KCAG):  The KCAG (www.kcgrotto.org) has reached out to members and assisted in contacting State Offices related to the cave.  At this time the KCAG has not been able to obtain any specific information related to the cave.  The KCAG is established for the purposes of exploring and conserving the caves in this region of the the country.  The KCAG has suggested that once more is known about the cave there could be consideration given to opening it for exploration and possibly resealing it in a way that would allow the cave to be a natural resource to the area again.

 

First Person - Living History Accounts

The Eubank Family: The Eubank family lived in the area back in the 1940-1950 timeframe and remembered that the cave was open up until about 1957.  Their web page link below describes the area and has some pictures of Roanoke Park and the cave entrance.

http://www.eubank-web.com/William/Early/rpark.htm

John B.: John is still a resident of the Kansas City area and lived near Roanoke Park in the 1940s. On September 7, 2008 John provided the following account of his experiences in Roanoke Park.

"Until being drafted into the United States Army in 1950, I resided at 819 W. 39th St. in Kansas City. During my youth, I spent a great deal of time in Roanoke Park, playing tennis on the two courts and hiking in the surrounding hills.

The cave entrance during the 1940's was sealed. However, in either 1946 or 1947, vandals tore down the entrance barrier. The Kansas City Park Board was contacted and on a summer day a crew arrived to reseal the entrance. Several of us were there playing tennis, and were allowed to enter the front part of the cave before it was resealed. As I recall, it was a large bowl-like cavern with a small opening at the rear that I assumed continued under the street above. There was considerable dampness in the cave.

The Westport High School annual of 1946 contains an article concerning historic sites near the school. The article indicates that Cave Springs near 38th and Charlotte (now the Notre Dame de Sion grounds) "originally extended far under the city and connected with an opening in Roanoke Park near the Van Horne School."

The article further notes that "the passageway was closed many years ago by cave-ins." The article in the school publication does not list an author. However, the source cited for the historical information concerning Cave Springs was Mrs. Ada G. MacLaughlin, who prepared a list of designated historical landmarks for the school annual of 1923. Mrs. MacLaughlin was a former history teacher, and a chairman of the Committee on Markers of the Kansas City Centennial Association. It appears that there was a belief that a cave network or passageway extended from Gilham Park to Roanoke Park. "

 

Documented Roanoke Cave History

March 25, 1946 - Westport High School Crier

Missouri Valley Special Collections, Kansas City Public Library, Kansas City, Missouri

 

May 16, 1970 - Kansas City Star (Postcard picture/article written by Mrs. Sam (Mildred) Ray)

Missouri Valley Special Collections, Kansas City Public Library, Kansas City, Missouri

"Cozy Nook in Roanoke Park" is the caption on this 1909 postcard lithographed in color in Germany. The location, which was the entrance to the park, was west of Summit street, between Thirty-fifth street and Valentine road, near Madison.

Today a photographer standing in the same position would find the scene much the same, except horse-drawn vehicles are missing, the motor cars are of a later vintage and Summit street in the background, formerly used by the Roanoke street-car line, now carries six lanes of motor traffic of the Southwest Trafficway. It is not "cozy" at rush hours, when the stream of homeward-bound vehicles passes within a few feet of this spot at Valentine road.

Roanoke park is a 36.04-acre preservation of wooded ravines lined with rugged cliffs, in the heart of an area filled with picturesque stone homes built into the rugged bluffs. A large cave, called the Jesse James cave, located near the tennis courts was sealed years ago. The Westport-Roanoke Community center is operated by the park board.

Norman school, shown in the background at right, considered to be one of the most beautiful school plants in the city, replaced a small frame school built for 1st- and 2nd grade children in 1901. The west wing, which is shown on the post card, was occupied November 5, 1906, and eight years later the east wing was finished. A large playground sloped away to Thirty-sixth street where there once was a deep ravine.

Norman school was named for Joseph L. Norman, pioneer abstractor and president of the Board of Education. Norman had traversed the area as a Union soldier on his way to the Battle of Westport. He had later taught school in a school a little south of the new building. After his term as president of the board expired, they named the school in his honor.

Kansas City Star May 16, 1970

 

June 6, 1986 - Kansas City Star (Postcard picture/article written by Mrs. Sam (Mildred) Ray)

Missouri Valley Special Collections, Kansas City Public Library, Kansas City, Missouri

"Park Drive West from Summit St.," a 1909 postcard published in color in Germany by the Elite Postcard Co., pictures residences, a prancing team of white horses with driver and carriage and one open air roadster.

"Park Drive" referred to the drive through Roanoke Park, a 36-acre park in the western section of the city, entirely acquired by deeds of gift in 1902, '06, and '09 from the South Highlands Land and Improvement Co. and others who had caught the spirit of conserving nature's beauty and appreciated the resulting enhancement in value of nearby property.

According to the park board report of 1907, "This property should be held as a bit of wilderness, which is now its charm, and which would be entirely lost if attempts were made to finely finish any part of this valley...In the old quarry west of Roanoke Ave. and north of 38th St., the very fine spring there should be developed; a pool and a modest water garden."

No mention was made of the tall dark cave under the street, where Jesse James, the outlaw, reportedly hid away for weeks.

Today the cave is closed and the spring capped. Built in the rugged park setting of ravines and limestone crag are a wading pool, tennis courts, baseball diamond, comfort station, the Westport Roanoke Community Center and several miles of roadway through the wooded forest.

Large residences, many of the native stone, prevail in the Roanoke district today, and seem to blend naturally into the scene. The late George E. Tucker's stone castle, with turret and red-tiled roof, on the high cliff at 35 E. Karnes, is typical.

The postcard was mailed from Kansas City in October 1909 by Albert Kuony of Omaha, Neb.

Kansas City Times June 6, 1986

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