This is the first post in a multi-part series about Longview Farm in Lee’s Summit, Missouri
Longview Farm now stands as a reminder of a bygone era, while it has faced and is still facing many trials throughout its century long history. This series will examine a few of those trials, but will focus mainly on the history of the many buildings on the farm.
Before introducing the farm, I feel it is necessary to acknowledge everything that made this series possible. Thanks to digitization efforts by the Library of Congress, a large cache of research materials could be tracked down on the internet, mainly the entire Historic American Buildings Survey (HABS) entry on Longview Farm conducted in 1978. The HABS survey contains architectural drawings, black and white photographs, color photographs such as the one above, short written entries, and vintage photographs. Additional online aides included the archives of The Kansas City Star newspaper for articles since 1990, and the National Register of Historic Places (NRHP) nomination form for Longview. A great source of offline help was The Longview We Remember by Linda Newcom-Jones, a collection which contains memories from those who had the chance to live at Longview.
If you come across anything either online or offline that is related to Longview Farm, no matter how minor, and not listed above, feel free to send me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org, and I will see what I can do about incorporating that content into the blog (with acknowledgment).
Overview of Longview Farm’s History
The history of Longview Farm can be divided into four distinct eras: The R.A. Long Era, The Loula Combs Era, Deterioration, and The David Gale Era.
The R.A. Long Era (1912-1934)
Longview Farm was the country estate of lumber baron R.A. Long, co-owner of the Long-Bell Lumber Company. He had a large estate in the city known as Corinthian Hall. Today it is also known as the Kansas City Museum. As the company grew, so did Long’s fortune. By 1912, he was ready to create a getaway in the country – a place that would soon be known as Longview. One of his daughters, Loula, was known as one of the greatest horsewomen ever, and Longview would provide her an unrivaled place to raise her horses. She would show horses for the first time at Madison Square Gardens in 1913 and continue showing them throughout the next half century. Throughout the fall of 1912, Long acquired all of 1682 acres of land in an area that was a then-three miles beyond the city limits of Lee’s Summit from fifteen landowners. This land included its namesake views, land suitable for pastures, and parts of Mouse Creek and Little Blue River.
Construction began the next spring, with original parts of the farm designed by architect Henry Hoit, famous landscape architect George Kessler, and built by Sechler Brothers of Lee’s Summit. The 50+ structures on the farm required 2,000 construction workers. There was already one structure on the farm, the duplex. It was moved to its permanent location and stuccoed upon Long’s purchase of the acreage. The duplex and several other structures on the farm would contain living quarters for workers and their families. Being in a rural area meant the farm would have its own power, water, and telephone system. The water tower may be small by today’s standards, but it held 100,000 gallons and distributed water throughout the farm with gravity. While the farm may now appear fairly uniform in appearance with their Spanish Colonial Revival style, influences came from many places. The pergola was modeled after Italian influence, while the sunken garden in front of the Mansion had a French flair. The grandstand and its clubhouse were modeled after early American log cabins. The farm was also well fenced, with a total of nine miles of fence enclosing the property.
After the farm was completed, it functioned as an excellent model for the modern farm and as a social gathering place. Likely the most notable horse show was in 1921 in honor Admiral Early Beatty, head of the British Fleet in World War I. It attracted many dignataries such as General Pershing, then-Vice President Coolidge, Missouri Governor Arthur Hyde, and the leaders of the Italian, French, and Belgian military. Another large social function was the horse show for the American Bankers Association, which attracted 6,000 to the farm. While the farm was never a huge profit earner, it did have some other successes during its early years. The farm had a 1000 quart a day dairy, a large number of hogs, and roses from the Greenhouse won blue ribbons at the 1925 National Flower Show. While Long would lose much of his fortune due to the Great Depression, the farm still remained intact. Upon his passing in 1934, ownership was split between his two daughters, Loula Long Combs and Sallie Ellis. While the ownership was 50-50, Loula controlled the farm for the next few decades, as she lived at the farm and Sallie only lived there a few short years.
The Loula Combs Era (1934-1971)
The farm started its decline shortly after Long’s death. Many of the non-show (saddlebred) horses were sold off within a year, and the hog barns were turned into dairy barns shortly thereafter. The converted operation would not last long, as the hog barns were destroyed by fire in 1945. The remaining dairy operation lasted a bit longer, with the dairy shutting down its commercial operations in 1944 before shutting down any cow related operation altogether in 1957.
Even as she aged, Loula remained a horsewoman. She was featured in Loula was in National Geographic, Time, Life, and Newsweek among others, as those four were the only ones I was able to verify with certainty. In addition, the horse heritage of the farm was chronicled by Fox in 1942 when they produced a thirty minute movie with the title “Show Horse” at the farm. The Combs appeared to be rather private outside of the horse arena, and stayed at the farm quite a bit. By the time she reached her 70’s, which would be the early 1960’s, Loula had retired from showing hackney horses. This meant that the number of horses on the farm would slowly dwindle as they were not replaced. It should also be noted that Loula was also a dedicated church member, sitting halfway back on the right side each Sunday. Each summer, Loula and her husband Pryor would travel out to Colorado and spend the season there. He suffered from Parkinson’s disease and died in the early 1960’s. Sometime after his death, Loula’s sister, Sallie Ellis, also a widower, would move to the farm.
Towards the end of Loula’s life, there was a fight to keep the farm intact. While the website for the Kansas City Museum, and some articles I have read make Loula and her sister Sallie out as philanthropists for donating the land for Longview Community College, the truth may be quite different. According to an account in The Longview We Remember, the sisters only donated the land out of fear that the junior college would go after the dairy barns and either use them for the college or tear them down. By donating so much land, the college couldn’t ask for any of the existing buildings. Also during the 60’s, at least one of the Combs sisters went to Washington D.C. to try to stop lake project that would ultimately be put into place a couple of decades later. Loula suffered a stroke in 1969 that would leave her unable to speak and in a bedridden state for the last two years of her life. Two years to the day (minus a day) after having the stroke, Loula died on July 5, 1971 at the age of 90. Sallie died a year earlier, in April 1970.
Deterioration may not be adequate. Destruction is likely a more appropriate term. After the death of Loula Combs, the estate fell into the hands of her late sister’s five grown children. Unlike their mother, who lived her last years at the farm, these children had no intentions of living on the farm. Only one even lived in the Kansas City area. The year after Loula’s death, 32 workers would be left on the farm’s payroll. This is still a sizable number, but far less than the numbers employed during the heyday, which fluctuated between 175 and 350 employees.
As if the vacancy of the farm was not enough, destruction would soon follow. In April 1978, Over half of R.A. Long’s land – 950 acres to be exact – would be acquired by the Army Corps of Engineers for their Longview Reservoir project through condemnation (also known as eminent domain). The project would provide some flood relief to the Little Blue River basin at the expense of putting everything below 890 feet above sea level on the farm underwater. Sadly, this meant that many of the farm’s buildings and structures had to be destroyed, including many of the workers’ residences and the Work Horse Barn complex. Some of these structures would not have been underwater after the construction of the lake, but were still bulldozed, likely for maintenance reasons. A few of the cupolas from the barns were salvaged and can be seen around the Longview Lake Park’s roads. The impending buyout would also claim the last profitable aspect of the farm – the greenhouses, which would close on July 31, 1977.
One of the conditions of constructing the lake was to document the entire farm and so when the Historic American Buildings Survey (HABS) conducted a survey of the farm during August of 1978. This likely saved much of the farm from being completely forgotten. At the time of the HABS, 12 people still lived on the farm.
Additional destruction came in the form of fire. Around 1976, the Chapel faced a large fire caused by lightning that required remodeling the entire sanctuary. While repairs were being made to the chapel, the church held services at the mansion. Other parts of the farm were not so fortunate to be repaired. The Saddle Horse Barn burned in 1977. Vandalism and being built out of old logs resulted in the grandstand and clubhouse becoming uselessly deteriorated by the 1980s. Its classic log construction made the structure kindling for a fire. Miraculously and despite being negected for so many years, the Dairy Barns have not yet been vandalized, not even the glass that is exposed in areas. By 1985, the Work Horse Barn, Implement Shed, Blacksmith’s Shop, and Hotel were all ready for demolition as part of the Longview Lake project.
In 1985, the farm was sold to Dean Goodman and a group of investors. When Longview was was placed on the National Register of Historic Places the same year, the “Georgia 400 Company (d.b.a. Longview Properties Limited)” of Northglenn, Colorado was listed as the owner. This is Goodman’s group of investors. By the time the farm was placed on the register, only 17 structures across 325 acres could be placed on the list. These 17 included:
- Main residence
- Well house
- Show Horse Barn (Longview Farm Elementary School)
- Gatehouse (destroyed)
- Gatehouse residence
- Dairy Barn and Milk House
- Manure pit (destroyed)
- Water tower
- Calf and Shelter Barn
- Dairy Manager’s residence
- Farm Office
- Saddle Horse Manager’s residence
- Hospital Barn
- North Ornamental Entrance Marker
- East Ornamental Entrance Marker
As the 1980’s ended, new development began on the farm. While that may sound positive, the development of a subdivision called “Longview” meant the farm would be forever changed. Luckily, these houses were built on the edge of the farm, so while their style did not blend well with the farm, they were not in close proximity to many of the iconic parts of the farm. It should also be noted that while the structural styles did not blend well, the neighborhood had the same iconic white fencing that Longview is known for along the main thoroughfares and streets did not have street signs to indicate the particular street, but instead had a placard on a stuccoed monument that terminated the fence. This should be made clearer when this post is revised and I add a picture to show what I mean.
Throughout this era, Longview Chapel was the one constant operating feature of the farm – even if it was on life support. By the early 1990’s, the congregation had shrunk to a handful of families. However, with the installation of Rev. Jan Keeler as pastor in 1995, the church experienced explosive growth. Without the determination and faith of those few families in the early 1990’s, the church probably would have closed. An expansion to the church was soon necessary, and was started in 1999 and completed the following year. It blends seamlessly on the exterior, as I have seen pictures that have to point out which side is the addition because it simply is not obvious. The only architecturally dubious feature is the staircase on the fellowship hall, which is probably for fire code purposes, but in going to church there for many years, I don’t remember anyone ever using it. On the interior, it was obvious which part was newer, but it still blended nicely.
Hopes for revitalization of the farm came and went. In 1991, the PGA considered building a golf course at the farm, but the plan ultimately fell through. It would have been only the third PGA owned course in the nation, which would have surely brought the area loads of attention.
During this time, Longview survived on annual events. The first is “Christmas in the Park”, which involves a massive display of Christmas lights in the Longview Campground area. The event started in 1988 and continues today as a fundraiser for charity. By 1992, there were 2.5 million lights in the display. Since then, lighting has improved and the old-fashioned, bulky lights have been replaced by modern rope lights. Another holiday themed charity event was “The Festival of Trees”. This event held at the arena in Show Horse Barn had many decorated trees on display, and an auction. It started around 1991 and ended around 2003, when the ownership was transferred to Gale and construction on the school began. In 1995, there was a shortlived attempt at having a “Longview Farm Theater” in the Show Horse Barn.
While Longview Farm continued to deteriorate under Dean Goodman’s ownership, and that may make him seem careless, it should be noted that he was a very careful owner. Under his ownership, he did not allow razing of any of the farm’s major structures, kept the farm protected from vandalism, and did not allow careless development to occur right next to historic structures. Some structures were torn down, but these were on the outer edges of the farm, not on the Register, and relatively minor. An article in the Kansas City Star states Goodman tore down two farmhouses in 1996, but satellite imagery does not confirm this. Part of the reason why nothing happened to the farm during this time is that Goodman did not want to compromise the farm. Doing nothing was rather expensive, as he did $2 million in restoration work on top of investing $250,000 a year in maintenance. For that, he should be commended.
Still, the farm became known for controversy over development during the final years of his ownership. There were fights over where Goodman’s proposed boulevard would be placed, and the AMLI apartment complex that would ultimately be built after Goodman sold the farm. The controversy was hot at times, enough for nearly all the members of the Lee’s Summit Historic Preservation Committee to quit and for a group called “Save Longview Farm” to be formed. Shortly after selling the farm, I believe the Goodman family moved back to Colorado. Whoever was living at the Show Horse Barn’s attached residence moved to Colorado, and I believe they were the only residents of the historic part of the farm at that time.
The David Gale Era (2001-present)
This era could really start in either 2001 or 2002. Gale (technically his development firm Gale Communities, Inc.) purchased much of the remaining acreage of Longview Farm in August 2001, but the New Longview logo states it was established in 2002. To settle some of the controversy surround the future of the farm, he almost immediately held a “charrette”, which were basically open design workshops. This soon turned into the plan for New Longview. Below is the plan from 2002. Check newlongview.com for an updated version. It really hasn’t changed much since except for a few streets, most notably the main boulevard. The current plan still wants to believe in that roundabout on 3rd Street too.
From this charrette came a few important things. A couple of the farm’s buildings were slated for demolition – the Hospital Barn and Manure Pit, both of which would be torn down between 2004 and 2005. They were both historically insignificant, as other posts will show. The most well-kept farm building, the Show Horse Barn, was promoted as a potential site for a new elementary school. The Lee’s Summit School District almost immediately rejected the idea, but ultimately agreed to converting the barn into a school after Gale agreed to double the amount of land for the school to 10 acres and put up $4 million of the $13 million cost of the school. The school would open in time for the 2005-2006 school year. At 91 years old, the Show Horse Barn was practically brand new with a completely refurbished interior and a 41,000 square foot addition to bring its size to 71,000 square feet overall. The only loss to the barn was the filling of the basement with dirt.
On November 22, 2002, historic preservation took a hit. A construction truck with a crane crashed into the eastern Entrance Arch, which had 14’6″ of clearance eight months before it was to be moved. Large parts of the arch were moved to its current location by the city, who was technically the owner of the arches. After the arch was moved, just the foundation remained at the old site. The other arch would be moved so it was no longer over the road shortly after the accident. The only reported incident of vandalism at the farm took place in 2003 when a Longview subdivision resident was arrested for stealing large limestone blocks from the sunken garden near the Pergola. Ironically, this man was also the publisher of Ingram’s Kansas City, a business magazine that had run an article titled “The Fight to Save Longview Farm” in May 2001. It should also be noted that the man interviewed for that article who criticized false promises sold his 400 acres immediately north of Longview to Gale soon after the article was published. This land was originally supposed to used for a residential development, but a large portion of it is currently being marketed as land for big box store development.
By 2004, New Longview was starting to come alive. The Citizen’s Union State Bank & Trust (now known as Hawthorn Bank) was the first tenant of the commercial part, getting a prime corner spot. The first model homes in the residential part of the development also opened during 2004. Since then, progress on both the residential and commercial sides of New Longview has occurred slowly. The economic downturn slowed construction considerably. All of the existing commercial space is now occupied despite nearly half of the original tenants leaving. A gas station will soon open. The Dairy Barn and Calf and Shelter Barn were recently sold to out of state investors for $2.6 million and are to be converted into offices. The cost of restoration to create 56,000 square feet of office space is expected to be around $10 million. The same architects that restored the Show Horse Barn (Hollis + Miller) will restore the barns. While the small Gatehouse was destroyed, the residence across the street has been restored into a single family residence. Restoration on Longview Mansion is ongoing and is about halfway completed.
Some parts of Longview Farm’s future is still in limbo. The Pergola continues to be neglected. It is easily accessible though, which helps the community keep vandals from doing too much damage. The two houses and the office located to the east of the recently purchased barns will supposedly be moved. At least one of these buildings has had its plywood removed, so the elements may take quite a toll if it remains open this winter.
The Longview Farm Project
This post is simply the first in a long series of posts. By the time I’m done with “The Longview Farm Project” it will probably consist of items on the following list. Some entries will be very brief, while others will be very detailed. Since parts of the farm are private property and I don’t like to trespass or look suspicious around old buildings, some posts will be briefer than what they could probably be. This list will updated with links under the tab labeled “Longview Project”:
- Longview Farm Overview (this post)
- New Longview (likely last)
- Longview and Bridlewood subdivisions (but probably not)
- Assistant Manager’s House (razed for lake)
- Bandstand (destroyed by the elements)
- Boarding House (also known as the Hotel, razed for lake)
- Brood Mare Barn (razed during 1980’s)
- Brood Mare Manager’s House (razed during 1980’s)
- Colt Barn (razed about 1970)
- Dairy Manager’s House
- Entrance Gates (combined)
- Garage/Apartment/Powerhouse (they are a single jointed complex)
- Gate Lodge #1 (adjacent gatehouse razed 2005)
- Gate Lodge #2 (razed for lake)
- General Manager’s House (razed for lake)
- Grandstand and Clubhouse (destroyed by elements, but site somewhat exists still)
- Greenhouse Manager’s House
- Greenhouses (some razed for lake, others remained until after 1990 but before 1997)
- Hog Barn (destroyed by fire in 1945)
- Hog Manager’s House (razed during 1980’s)
- Horse Trainer’s House (razed during 1980’s)
- Hospital Barn (razed after 2002)
- Implement Shed (razed for lake)
- Main Residence (aka Longview Mansion, won’t be detailed as I’d like it to be because it’s a private property and I’m not the type of person that trespasses)
- Manure Pit (razed 2004 or 2005, actually nice looking)
- North Dairy Barn
- Paint-Carpentry-Blacksmith Shop (razed for lake)
- Pump House (There’s a pump house and a pump station. I’m trying to figure out which one was where and when they were torn down)
- Saddle Horse Barn (destroyed by fire in 1977)
- Saddle Horse Manager’s House
- Show Horse Barn (also known as Longview Farm Elementary)
- South Dairy Barn – Milkhouse (they’re connected and essentially one structure)
- Stallion Barn (razed between 1997 and 2002)
- Summer Camp (closed in 1930’s, so there’s probably nothing there)
- Sunny Slope Farmhouse (also known as Duplex, razed for lake)
- Water Tank
- Well House
- Work Horse Barn (razed for lake)
- Worker Residence (razed for lake even though it wasn’t near water)
- Workers’ Cottages (razed for lake)
Misconceptions and Trivia:
- Sometimes Longview Farm is thought of as being in Kansas City. This is not completely true, as the boundaries of the farm are included entirely within the city limits of Lee’s Summit. However, the park surrounding the lake does extend into Grandview and Kansas City. The land outside of Lee’s Summit was acquired from other land owners.
- Also confusing with regards to the location of the farm, boundaries of the farm have always into three different school districts, known as Lee’s Summit, Hickman Mills, and Grandview today. As the land is being developed, this is creating some interesting problems the school boards will have to fight out.
- The park surrounding the lake is one of the largest public city parks in the United States. It would rank much higher in national rankings, but those rankings break the park up for its respective cities. Yet, each city still has a portion large enough to be nationally ranked.
- The church is owned by the congregation now, but if it ever closes, it will go back to the Long family estate.
- The city owned the entrance arches, but the farm did maintenance on them until some point where no one maintained them.
- The school on the edge of the farm was the Cedar Hill school. Now, a nearby school and creek both bear the name Cedar Creek.
- The other Longviews in Washington and Texas were also started by R.A. Long, but as company towns, not as personal retreats.
- The “Longview, Missouri” that shows up in Google Maps or Wikipedia as being in Southern Missouri probably has no connection.
- The song “Longview” by Green Day is probably related to Longview, Washington.
- The band “Long-view” is British and probably not connected to any Longview city.
September 1912: R.A. Long begins buying land for the estate.
1913: Construction begins on Longview Farm
1915: Horses moved from city (Corinthian Hall) to the farm.
Summer 1915: First “Summer Camp” for poor mothers and children is held.
December 15, 1915: Longview Chapel is dedicated.
1917: Mr. and Mrs. Combs move to Longview Farm.
About 1920: R.A. Long is worth $30 million to $40 million thanks to his lumber fortune.
1934: R. A. Long dies. Estate is valued at $100,000.
1934: The last “Summer Camp” is held.
1937: Loula Combs loses interest in saddle horses, so they are sold.
About 1944 or 1945: Dairy herd sold, farm switches to Hereford business.
1945: The Combs are worth $25 million according to The Kansas City Star.
1950’s: The tower clock on the Show Horse Barn stops functioning.
March or April 1961: Pryor Combs dies.
1961: Loula Long Combs retires from showing horses at age eighty.
1963: Parts of the farm are annexed into Kansas City.
1964: Longview Community College is established with a donation of 146 acres to the college from the Combs and Ellis families.
December 31, 1964: Much of Longview Farm is formally annexed into the city limits of Lee’s Summit.
July 6, 1969: Loula Long Combs has a stroke and becomes bedridden for the remainder of her life.
April 1970: Mrs. Sallie Ellis dies at age ninety-one.
July 5, 1971: Loula Long Combs dies at age ninety, one day of short of being two years since the stroke had occurred.
1976: Longview Mansion vacated as George Peniston, Loula’s longtime chauffeur, moves out.
July 31, 1977: Greenhouses closed.
1978: Army Corps of Engineers acquires 950 acres of Longview Farm and surrounding farmland through condemnation to create Longview Reservoir.
1985: Dean Goodman and his group buy about 600 acres of the remaining farmland.
1985: Restoration at the mansion and Show Horse Barn begins.
1985: Longview Farm has 17 of its buildings listed on the National Register of Historic Places (NRHP)
1986: Part of farm changed to multi-family use land zoning.
1987: Construction on the Longview Farm subdivision begins. Ghaffari Associates plans the initial 120 house site.
1992: Longview Community College requests that one of the entrance arches be moved to its campus.
1996: The full-time staff at the farm consists of six people for about 100,000 to 200,000 annual visitors.
1997: Most of the Lee’s Summit Historic Preservation Commission quits or is removed after fighting over how or if Longview should be protected.
2001: Missouri Alliance for Historic Preservation nominates Longview to be put on a list of America’s 11 Most Endangered Historic Places made by the National Trust for Historic Preservation, but the nomination fails. The farm is still placed on the Missouri list.
January 2001: AMLI apartment complex project announced.
August 7, 2001: David Gale announces he has purchased the last 260 undeveloped acres of the farm.
October 2001: Lee’s Summit School District rejects Gale’s plan to turn Show Horse Barn into an elementary school.
December 2001: Gale seeks TIF funding for the redevelopment of Longview, a $217 million project.
August 2002: Lee’s Summit School District accepts a revised plan to renovate Show Horse Barn into a school that includes 10 acres (Gale originally offered only five) and $4 million towards construction.
November 22, 2002: A truck crane crashes into the East Arch. It had 14 feet and 6 inches of clearance. On November 26th, the damaged arch is moved to its current location.
March 2003: Longview subdivision resident Joseph Sweeney is arrested for stealing 3×3 foot blocks of Indiana Limestone from a rock wall near the Pergola.
August 2003: Construction begins on Longview Boulevard.
Fall/Winter 2003: North Arch is moved to its current location.
February 2004: Citizen’s Union State Bank & Trust is named as the first tenant in New Longview.
Summer 2004: Sprint makes good on its 2001 offer to restore Water Tank in return for using it as a cell phone tower. Gale was not willing to spend up to $200,000 to restore the tank, and it would have likely been destroyed otherwise.
February 2005: Lee’s Summit School District makes announcement that school at Show Horse Barn will be named Longview Farm Elementary School, and the 10-acre campus will be named Loula Long Combs Campus.
August 22, 2005: Longview Farm Elementary opens to students.
Credit where credit is due.
(1) David J. Kaminsky, HABS, August 1978.
(2) Self, October 2011.
(3) Unknown, appears in HABS and NRHP nomination form, about 1920.
(7) Self, June 2011
(8) From an archived version of the newlongview.com website.
(9) Self, September 2011