Beyond Our Borders
1:56 pm
Thu June 26, 2014

Cliff Drive Began With Aristocratic Kansas City Family

This 1903 photo shows a portion of Cliff Drive near an overhang.
This 1903 photo shows a portion of Cliff Drive near an overhang.
Credit Missouri Valley Special Collections, Kansas City Public Library / Kansas City, Mo.

Cliff Drive in Kansas City, Mo., hugs the limestone bluffs that separate the stately turn-of-the-century mansions in the Historic Northeast neighborhood from the industry and train tracks of the Missouri River bottoms.

The road was purchased from the estate of Reverend Nathan Scarritt around 1900.

Scarritt and his family were early settlers in Illinois, and moved to Missouri in the mid-1820s as pioneers.

Nathan Scarritt became a Methodist minister, preaching to the Kickapoo, Shawnee, Wyandot and Delaware Indians. He established churches among the burgeoning communities of white settlers, and helped found the first high school in Westport, where he served as principal.

Concerned about confrontations over slavery known as Bleeding Kansas and the spreading Civil War, Scarritt moved his family of nine children to the bluffs of the Missouri River. There he established a prosperous farm and built a large home, the first of many in the majestic neighborhoods that would prosper along Cliff Drive.

Cliff Drive runs through property purchased from Reverend Nathan Scarritt, a wealthy farmer and businessman in the late 19th century.
Cliff Drive runs through property purchased from Reverend Nathan Scarritt, a wealthy farmer and businessman in the late 19th century.
Credit courtesy photo / Kansas City Public Library

Scarritt invested in property in and around the green space along the bluffs and farther south in what would become downtown Kansas City. 

Many of his children extended the family's economic influence in Kansas City; the historic Scarritt Building still stands at 818 Grand.

In the early years, the drive was closed to automobiles because the  noisy early cars were thought to frighten the horses carrying buggies and ponies carrying children, according to a booklet written by Fred Gabelman in 1941.

Today, Cliff Drive is the only state-designated scenic byway in an urban area.

The  4.5 mile paved road extends from Paseo north of Independence Avenue east to Indian Mound on Gladstone and Belmont Boulevards. On weekends, Cliff Drive is gated off to cars for hikers and bikers. Rock climbers scale the limestone bluffs.

Neighborhood activists are hoping to cleanup and beautify the expanse of deciduous forests and wildflowers in Kessler Park and other smaller parks for additional recreational activities.

This look at Kansas City's east side is part of KCUR's months-long examination of how geographic borders affect our daily lives in Kansas City. KCUR will go Beyond Our Borders and spark a community conversation through social outreach and innovative journalism.

We will share the history of these lines, how the borders affect the current Kansas City experience and what's being done to bridge or dissolve them. Be a source for Beyond Our Borders: Share your perspective and experiences east of Troost with KCUR.