Lost in a Sanitarium

Research is a treacherous business. It’s so easy to get lost. Easy, because there are so many ways to get lost. The first part of this story is an example of one kind of getting off track, specifically getting “into the weeds.” When I get into the weeds, it means I’m now looking at a level of detail that will never make it into the piece I’m working on, but still I have to keep going, because you never know, right? It’s so damn interesting, I just can’t help myself. The trouble is, now that I’ve found this something, what do I do with it? Sure, maybe “someday,” that “something” could be really interesting. But my “someday” list is already too long. Now that I have a blog, I can share it here.

I was looking through the Nichols Company scrapbooks on the trail of some information for my next book, a history of the Greenway Fields neighborhood. That, of course, had nothing to do with some pictures that caught my eye of an interesting old building that looked like it was being taken over by a jungle. The scrapbook page identifies the building as the old Uhls Sanitarium, about 20+ acres that the Nichols Company had recently purchased (this is 1932) because it “lies in the path of the greatest growth trend in Kansas City’s area.” This was 1932. J.C. knew his stuff.

Having never heard of the Uhls Sanitarium, I was curious what and where this place had been. I knew better than to think anything that had stood in Johnson County in 1932 “in the path of the greatest growth trend” would be there today. That led me to the Johnson County Historical Society, which had two photos from the early 1990s of the main building, looking surprisingly the same. The info accompanying the photo tells me it was built in 1910 (I later learn that’s not exactly right, but more on that next time). It tells me that the site, at 74th and Metcalf, was also “a sanitarium” but doesn’t mention Uhls. Most interesting of all, though, is that it tells me that it is today the Kansas College & Bible School. A quick search of the school leads me to the website of Kansas Christian College, the schools current name. The school’s history tells me it bought the property in 1941. Incredibly, the school is still there at the sanitarium site on Metcalf, even if the buildings aren’t. Regardless, this is fascinating. Like I said, J.C. knew real estate. He wasn’t wrong. The area around 75th and Metcalf was, in fact, the very center of the path of Johnson County growth. Nichols bought the property in 1932 and less than a decade later, the company sold it to the school. Why? Was it the lagging development pace brought about by the Great Depression? Was it an expediency, a way to cash out and invest in other property? There are a half dozen reasons that are plausible, but the answer would require more investigation. I’ll save that for another day.

Now, as to the Uhls Sanitarium, that turned out to be an even more interesting story – and an example of another way to get lost while researching. But I’ll take that up next time.


Source: In addition to the source material imbedded in the post, additional information came from copies of various Kansas newspapers, archived at the subscription website Newspapers.com.

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  1. From Madness to Murder – The Uhls Sanitarium Continued | LaDene Morton Books | 8th Feb 17

    […] that while researching J.C. Nichols and the Country Club District I tripped over the story of the Uhls Sanitarium (December 5, 2017) was a perfect example of how easy it is to get distracted by tangents when diving deep into a […]

  2. Christopher Sumpter | 14th Feb 17

    I also was “in the weeds” when I stumbled on to your fascinating blog. I am currently serving as the registrar and director of institutional research at Kansas Christian College, but I have been around this campus since the early 1970s, even living on campus in my early years. In fact, when I was a child, my babysitter lived on the top floor of the building pictured here. My piano lessons took place on the ground floor. My dad lived in that building when he was a high school senior and college freshman. Although the building was in poor condition, it stood until at least the early 1990s. I knew little of this property’s distant past, though, beyond knowing that it was once a sanitarium. Your blog post shed some wonderful light on the history of the area. I am going to share it with the rest of the administration.

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