January 13, 2024

The Missouri Humanities Commission (MHC) has awarded a grant of $2,500 to the Lee’s Summit History Museum in support of the John Hardin Harris exhibit. The MHC is the only statewide agency in Missouri devoted exclusively to humanities education for citizens of all ages. It has served as a state affiliate of the National Endowment for the Humanities since 1971.

Funding will be used to purchase a case to conserve and display buckskin clothing and other items that belonged to John Hardin Harris, one of Lee’s Summit’s early pioneers. He was born in 1832 in Independence, the eighth of 15 children of William and Rhoda Harris, who came to the local area by wagon train from Virginia in 1830. William Harris was one of the first non-native settlers in the Independence-Blue Springs area.

Harris was originally a farmer in Jackson County but during the Civil War moved his family west, settling near Denver. He stayed in Colorado for about two years and moved back to Jackson Co. in 1865.Upon returning to Missouri, Harris bought land near Lee’s Summit and became a prosperous local citizen through extensive farming and real estate. He was a pioneer stock breeder in Missouri producing hogs, cattle, sheep and prize-winning mules. In 1897 he established a park stocked with wild deer, creating a well-known tourist attraction in the area that later became Harris Park. He died in 1918 at age 86 and is buried in the Lee’s Summit Historical Cemetery.

Many of the 15 Harris children, including John, settled in the Lee’s Summit area, marrying into other pioneer families. The prolific number of descendants of the Harris family, many of which still live in Lee’s Summit and the surrounding area, have also had significant impacts on the community. Many of the familiar names in Lee’s Summit today in street names, businesses, parks and residents – Strother, Howard, Langsford, Leinweber, Powell, Shrout, Fristoe, Brownfield and many more – can be traced back to the Harris family.

An additional grant from Freedom’s Frontier National Heritage Area will be used in conjunction with the Missouri Humanities Grant to complete this new exhibit. The exhibit is scheduled to be complete in April.