I found my roots in Strawberry Hill, a Kansas City (Kansas) neighborhood

Alvin George Edgell (my father) was born in Kansas City, Kansas on Feb. 3, 1924. His mother and father, childless in their thirties, may have been surprised by his arrival!

Neither of my grandparents were from the area. Emma Edgell (nee Blahnik) was a fairly intrepid young woman, moving from the Upper Peninsula of Michigan to Denver to find work. She met Kinsey Edgell there. Kinsey, a West Virginia native (in West Virginia the name Edgell is about as common as Smith or Jones, by the way), must have been fairly intrepid himself, heading to Colorado to seek a better future.

In the 1920s, Emma and Kinsey ran a boarding house on Orville Avenue in Kansas City, Kansas, in a neighborhood called Strawberry Hill. Then, it was a magnet for immigrants, mostly South Slavic. Today, the Strawberry Hill Museum and Cultural Center (established in 1988) boasts permanent exhibits for the countries of Croatia, the Ukraine, Lithuania, the Netherlands, Polish, Slovakia, Slovenia and Russia.

My father's block: Orville Avenue between 5th and 6th Streets in Kansas City, Kansas.
My father’s block: Orville Avenue between 5th and 6th Streets in Kansas City, Kansas. (Google Maps)

My father remembers being one of the few non-immigrant kids in his school. Holy Family Catholic Church served as a spiritual and cultural hub for the community. You can read about its history on the church website.

My grandparents, as far as I can tell, had no strong religious feelings then. (Later in life, my grandmother became an active of member of a Methodist congregation in Michigan). My father, intrigued by guitar-strumming Mormons who lodged at the Orville Avenue boarding house, decided to become a Latter Day Saint at age eight. That’s a story for another blog post!

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When I first visited my father’s street 2007, I found signs of a new immigrant community: Latinos, mainly with roots in Mexico. Many people not from this area may not know that Kansas City’s Hispanic ties date back many generations, especially on the Kansas side. Significantly, by the 1920s, most laborers on the local Santa Fe Railroad tracks were Mexican.

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As a person who is constantly moving, I am very fascinated by places–in particular, the places on the map where my forebears lived. So, to find myself living in Kansas City (Missouri), within an easy drive of the place where my father spent his formative years is profound.

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One thought on “I found my roots in Strawberry Hill, a Kansas City (Kansas) neighborhood

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  1. I used to live on 6 and Orville street in a duplex on the corn or or the top floor it was a beautiful skyline view of Downtown and the it just was a good vibe a lot off slovics and Russians a nice Diverse area! I live in Georgia now but said if I ever move back I will move back to strawberry hill!

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