Olathe historians are becoming resigned to the probability that some of the city’s history will be lost when contractors begin bulldozing in November to make way for the new county courthouse. Time has about run out on a proposal to move the 90- to 125-year-old homes to create a historic subdivision in north Olathe.
But at least there’s still some hope for the tree, says Bob Courtney, past president of the Olathe Historical Society.
“The tree” is an Osage orange 76 feet tall with a circumference of 18 feet, 2 inches. It’s listed as a “champion” tree by the Kansas Forest Service. And it sits within the demolition zone of a city block that is slated to become a construction staging area and later, a parking lot.
The historical society and an Olathe garden club are trying to get the county to tell its contractor to spare the tree, which could be more than a century old. They hope the tree can exist with parking around it, even if the homes still have to be torn down. Perhaps there could even be a marker explaining the tree’s significance, Courtney said.
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Local history buffs have been hard at work since the county commission decided about three months ago that it would have to buy and tear down 14 buildings in the block just to the north of the courthouse construction zone. The commission had planned to use other lots for parking, but city officials decided to try and redevelop those other areas to improve the downtown. That left area north of West Poplar Street, known as Block 29, as the most likely parking spot.
There was a brief glimmer of hope that the homes might be saved also, but given that demolition is set to start Nov. 1, that is unlikely to happen. Courtney, who also sits on the city’s Historic Preservation Board, said a local resident came forward two or three weeks ago with the idea of moving all the historic homes to a property north of Olathe to create a historic subdivision.
The idea was to move the homes all in one weekend, thus cutting down on the time traffic and power lines would be disrupted.
“We could have called it ‘a parade of homes,’” Courtney said.
But the proposal would have taken some time moving through the city’s planning department, he said. The subdivision would have to have appropriate road access and fire protection and all the permits and public hearings those things entail.
“I don’t think it’s going to go anywhere,” he said, “but I’d be tickled to death if it would have.”
A few of the homes date from the 1890s, but there are also some from the 1920s and 30s, including some Craftsman style homes, Courtney said. Some homes are on land that was once owned by some of Olathe’s founding families, he said.
But since it appears unlikely that any homes will be saved, the historical society will try to document their interiors and exteriors, he said.
The county is still closing on homes in the block, meantime. A tree inventory will be included in the site survey of the area, and that will be the basis of the county’s decision on the tree in the early part of 2018, county officials said.