Jeff Davis, Committee Chair, and liaison to the Union Cemetery Historical Society
With expanding boundaries, increasing populations, and the cholera outbreak of 1849, early city leaders found themselves in a quandary. Existing cemeteries were nearly full. A new cemetery was badly needed. The search for a proper piece of land ended in 1857 when James W. Hunter deeded 49 acres of land to the Union Cemetery Association, a private corporation. The corporation was organized by a special act of the Missouri General Assembly on Nov. 9, 1857. The new cemetery was located between Westport and the town of Kansas and was to be used by both towns, becoming a "union".
When Union Cemetery was dedicated, it was thought that the 49 acres would accommodate all the deceased in Westport and Kansas City for all times. Little did city leaders suspect that Westport and Kansas City would become one community, and that Union Cemetery would lie in the midst of a busy metropolitan area.
By 1910, Union Cemetery was showing increasing signs of deterioration. To raise funds for maintenance, the Cemetery Association sold 18 acres at 27th and Main Street. It was later discovered that several members of the Association had formed the Evergreen Land Company and had sold the land to themselves, which they later squandered in several land deals. After many years of neglect, Union Cemetery Association deeded the remaining 27 acres to Kansas City, Missouri, in 1937. It has since been maintained by the Board of Parks and Recreation of Kansas City, Missouri.
In August, 1889, the Sexton's cottage caught fire destroying cemetery records. This was a major loss as many graves were identified by wooden or limestone markers which were destroyed by weather, leaving hundreds of unmarked and undocumented graves. The Sexton's cottage burned again on Halloween night, 1985. This time, the cemetery records were kept off site, so none were destroyed. The cottage was rebuilt by the Women in Construction of Kansas City and rededicated in October of 1990.
Fifty-five thousand people have been buried in Union Cemetery. People of all races, the poor, the rich, entrepreneurs, entertainers, farmers, and soldiers lie side by side. These men and women not only united the future of Kansas City but also helped forge the western expansion of the Unites States.
Seeing the need for restoration following approximately 80 years of deterioration, the Native Sons of Greater Kansas City adopted Union Cemetery as one of its first community service projects in 1937, and aided in the major restoration of the portions of the cemetery. The present imposing gated entry was funded by the Native Sons in the mid-1950’s, including two significant bronze plaques commemorating the cemetery's history, mounted on brick walls on each side of the entry gate.
Today, the Native Sons and Daughters of Greater Kansas City partners with the Union Cemetery Historical Society providing a liaison to its Board and offering support and resources for the maintenance and preservation of this historic Kansas City landmark.
The Cemetery celebrated its 150th Anniversary on the weekend of June 8th and 9th, 2007, with participants from numerous organizations throughout the community planning and sponsoring the event. Over 1000 attendees enjoyed the “Voices from the Past” on Friday evening, and the festivities on Saturday were highlighted by remarks from area dignitaries, a color guard representing those buried at the cemetery from prior wars, and a civil war encampment.
Additional history and information may be found at Union Cemetery's page on the Kansas City Parks and Recreation site, and at Union Hill's site.