Published December 28th, 2020 at 6:00 AM
Kansas City has a rich history dating back to the early-1800s when the city was founded. You can find a piece of history in just about every corner of the city, which could leave you wondering – what historical significance does my pocket of the city have?
One of our readers (who prefers to remain anonymous) turned to us to answer just that.
Their question was: “Can you provide more information about the history of the Charlotte family? I just bought a house on the street, and I’d love to know more about the street name’s origin.”
With some digging into one of Kansas City’s first families, Charlotte street’s royal history was revealed.
The street is named after Charlotte Campbell, John Campbell’s spouse (who Campbell street is named after). He was a frontiersman and prominent real estate figure in the mid to late-1800s in Kansas City. This makes Charlotte St. one of the city’s streets named after a woman.
Charlotte was born in Aberfoyle, Scotland in 1832. Her family members were descendants of Archibald Campbell, the Duke of Argyll. She carried that elegant and “royal” demeanor to the states as well.
She was described as “tall, of stately mien, with blue eyes and brown-black hair.”
The KC Times in 1940 said she was “well-educated and of decided literary tastes.” Her social entertainments were “of the old-fashioned and lavish order.” She was also said to have “personal grace and queenly matters,” as well as belonging to aristocratic circles.
And why wouldn’t she? Her husband John was one of the richest men in the city.
Charlotte met John Campbell when he visited his relatives in County Tyronne, Ireland. They married on Feb. 14, 1854.
John was born in Kent, Surrey, England on May 20, 1820. Campbell arrived in the U.S. in 1838 when he and his brother, William, looked for work in St. Louis. They found it with Robert Campbell, Charlotte’s uncle, who was in the furnishing supplies business for the mountain and Mexican trade. John moved to Weston, Missouri after years in St. Louis, where he continued to engage in trading.
In the later-1840s, John joined the military and fought in the Mexican American war. He fought alongside the Laclede Rangers and survived the battle of Monterrey.
In 1853 William died and left John $25,000 in cash. He used some of that cash to buy two of the four original shares of the Kansas City townsite for $50,000 from Robert Campbell in 1855, a heavy real estate investment into the growing city. His first building project in the city was a three-story brick warehouse on the levee that cost $32,000 to finish building in 1857. This would become John’s headquarters for the trade Mexican and mountain trade he was running in Weston and St. Louis.
In that same year, Charlotte helped found the Southern Presbyterian church. It would later have the name changed to the Central Presbyterian church. This cemented both members of the family as active leaders of the KC community.
One of the most famous buildings in the city at the time was Campbell’s “southern mansion” that loomed large over the east side of Kansas City. According to a KC Times article from 1940, the house took up an entire block and was surrounded by a white picket fence. It was built in 1861 on Third and Campbell. It was a must-see on tours of the city in its early days. The house was sold in 1885 and transformed into a railroad hospital until it was torn down in 1903.
Today at Third and Campbell, younger people gather at a skate park surrounded by a thick mass of trees. A far stretch from what stood there more than a century earlier.
John Campbell retired a year after the home was built in 1862 because of business constraints caused by the Civil War. It wasn’t the only awful thing to happen to the Campbells during this time.
From 1867 to 1878, the couple lost three children. In 1867 their daughter Virginia Jane passed away at the age of 1, in 1871 another daughter Charlotte Victoria died at 11 months, then in 1878 their son Addison Madeira died at the age of 4.
John died a couple of decades later on March 11, 1900, in Kansas City.
In a scrapbook, courtesy of the Kansas City Public Library Special Collections, John C. McCoy, who was a good friend of John Campbell said:
“In the early years of the city’s history (he) devoted his energies and means to the promotion of her interests. He was one of the few I have known through my life who I believe has no shadow or blemish in his whole moral make-up. We were for many years partners in business and brothers in personal regard. One on whose memory we love to dwell.”
Charlotte died in June of 1907 and is buried with her husband in Union Cemetery.
While the Campbell residence no longer stands over the river, the family’s legacy lives on through the names of two long stretching streets in the city.