The preservation of Raymore’s history is in good hands.
More than 25 years ago, several Raymore residents recognized the need to preserve this history and came together to form the Raymore Historical Society. Since 1994, the group has collected, archived and digitally catalogued more than 40,000 of the city’s historical objects.
The society’s collection includes newspapers, Civil War artifacts and military uniforms from every branch of service, early 20th century marriage licenses and wedding dresses, school trophies and memorabilia, antique Bibles and books and more.
Indeed, as the collection has swelled, the group has outgrown its original location in the basement of Cullen Funeral Home and, next spring, members will celebrate the grand opening of a new museum.
The society is renovating a historical home built in 1937. Situated across from the farmers market at 103 S. Washington St., the 1,000-square-foot space also includes several detached garages for additional exhibits and storage.
And to ensure the best possible archival processes and longevity for their collection, the society’s members have continually sought out assistance from restoration experts, including those from the National WWI Museum and the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art. These processes will continue in the new space.
Among the society’s most prized artifacts is a flag carried by the Grand Army of the Republic, an organization made up of Union veterans that formed after the Civil War.
Another tells the story of many Raymore families and their shared community life.
“We have the first television in Raymore,” said Eleanor Kopetsky, founding member of the society and its current librarian and treasurer. “It belonged to the Buck family, who purchased it in the late 1940s. All the kids in town wanted to watch TV, so when the Bucks bought theirs, kids would sit on their front porch and look through the windows to watch ‘Howdy Doody.’ ”
The society is always receiving donations, she said. “A family will care enough about an item to save it and donate it to the collection.”
Kopetsky’s family is an important part of her city’s history. In 1917, they opened Raymore’s first grocery store. Located on Washington Street, Jeter’s Grocery and Locker remained in business until 1980. In addition, Kopestsky’s great-great-grandfather, L.F. Gray, was a doctor and the city’s first postmaster.
However, history wasn’t always high on Kopestsky’s list of favorites.
“I hated history in school. It was not a passion,” Kopetsky said. “What got me interested was my uncle, who lived in Raymore his entire life. He had a lot of pictures. When we started the historical society, I didn’t have a clue what we would find in his collection. When I started going through it, I got really interested.”
Founded in 1872, Raymore is one of the fastest growing cities in the state of Missouri, according to the United States Census. In 1980, the city had a population of 500. Today, the city has 24,000 residents.
However, this growth has seen its ups and downs.
Renee Kerckhoff, Raymore Historical Society president, is impressed with the city’s growth, but even more so with its resilience.
“Raymore was thriving in the early 1900s. Initially, it didn’t even have a water source. It was the train, the good prairie land and the fact that our land was high that brought people here to build a community and farm it. We still had cows walking down 58 Highway in the 1950s.
“The community was small but had everything people needed right here. After the train went away, the small town community went away. It’s amazing to see what has come back. It died out and came back — and that amazes me.”
Woven into this current growth are many historical sites that tell this story of resilience.
The T.B. Hanna Station Park is named after the founder of Raymore’s first general store, while Woodson Antique and Interiors is located in a home built between 1861 and 1867. Founded in the mid-19th century, the Watkins Family Farm Historic District is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. The Raymore Presbyterian Church, which was the first church in Raymore, was built in 1895.
Pat Gore’s family farm is another of those significant historic sites.
In 1882, Gore’s great-grandparents headed west from Ohio with dreams of building a life in the Midwest. They purchased a quarter section (160 acres) farm in Raymore where they grew crops, planted orchards, raised livestock — and built that life they dreamed of.
“My great-grandparents made enough money to be able to put their three sons through college,” said Gore, the society’s current secretary. “That was unusual in those times. When my grandfather took over, he held onto it through the wars and Depression, which was also an accomplishment.”
Today, Gore’s family farm is listed on the Missouri Century Farms registry, which recognizes farms that have been in service and in the same family for 100 years or more.
Ice cream social
The Raymore Historical Society will hold an ice cream social Aug. 14 at the gazebo in its new 103 S. Washington location.
All are welcome to attend, including families. The historical society will provide the ice cream and water. Brad Harris will provide the entertainment. Members will be able to view the progress of the new property.
The Raymore Historical Society is in the midst of a capital campaign and is accepting donations for the new museum. One of its members is matching up to $25,000 in donations through September. More information is available on the Raymore Historical Society’s Facebook page.