September 24, 2022
By Kathy Smith
September 12, could not have been a more beautiful day for the Harris Family Reunion at Harris Park. Driving through the park all of the history I have read and heard came rushing into my thoughts.
I believe Harris Park and its living history is one of the most important historic sights we have in Lee’s Summit. The story is twofold.
The Harris Family story is one of pioneer spirit and the other of preservation.
Ruben Harris and his large extended family which included William and Rhoda came to the area now known as Blue Springs in the 1820s. The State of Missouri had approved the creation of Jackson County which opened up the area to folks from Virginia, Kentucky, and Tennessee for settlement.
William and Rhoda prospered in their new home. Rhoda was noted for her ability to raise medicinal herbs in her garden which were used to heal family members and neighbors. There were no doctors in the area.
The family continued to grow but suffered the trials and tribulations of most of the early settlers including Rhoda losing an eye due to an accident.
I have admired Rhoda and her story for a long time. I think of her when I have the opportunity to meet and talk with many of the strong women in our community.
Harris Park was originally called Howard Park. It was named after the founder of our city, William B. Howard. It was part of the early vision Howard had for our city. At one time there was a race track and a spring where folks could water their horses. When Howard passed away his wife Mary, had the name changed to City Park.
City Park was eventually going to be sold off. Milton Thompson, a well-known farmer, purchased the land and created a subscription drive to save the park. Lee’s Summit citizens and Harris Family members stepped up and saved the park through their donations.
Eventually, Mayor Ralph Powell and a Harris descendent, had City Park renamed Harris Park.
For over 100 years the Harris family has been holding their family reunions at family homes and eventually at the park.
The Harris Park Community Center contains a great small museum in honor of the Harris Family.
At the reunion, I had the opportunity to speak with an engaging gentleman named Ernie Taylor. I have to admit I was eavesdropping on his conversation with his friends. I heard the name R.B. Rice which made my history heart flutter. It seems that Taylor worked as a truck driver for R. B. Rice starting in 1974. He said that R. B. Rice and Charlie Oldham who owned the other sausage company were friends and helped each other out. Back in those days, Lee’s Summit was a small community. Deals were made on handshakes and it was customary to help a business competitor out. Taylor told me that his mother, Lena Harris got him started attending the Harris reunions. He said it was a tradition that many of the Harris Family members adhered to.
It was a great day for history in Lee’s Summit and yet another opportunity for me to network with Harris Family members.