July 28, 2014
WILLARD E. WINNER - Father of the Inter-City
Winner Road is named after the man who brought Independence and Kansas City together, creating the "Inter-City" district, Willard E. Winner. His Winner Investment Co. bought thousands of acres of land around the Blue River in unincorporated areas of Jackson County, and began work connecting the two cities by streetcar.
"Winner’s Road," which was also known as Washington Park Avenue, was a wide dirt road with a streetcar track for Winner’s Kansas City, Independence, and Park Railway, which started at 15th St. and Askew and headed east to "Washington Park," an amusement park also built by the Winner Investment Co. (now Mt. Washington Cemetery). From there the "dummy line" went on along Winner’s road into the Independence Square, following the same path that Winner Road runs today. It was called a dummy line because the trolley, consisting of two passenger cars, was powered by a steam locomotive that was covered up with a wooden box so as not to frighten the horses in traffic.
Along Winner’s dummy line tracks grew the areas of Maywood and Englewood.
The Winner Investment Co. didn’t just focus on the area east of the Blue River – they bought and sold land all around it, creating the areas of Centropolis, Manchester, and Sheffield. Willard Winner was the Kansas City pioneer of selling homes on the installment plan, and Winner’s neighborhoods sprang up all over the Blue Valley area during the real estate boom of the 1880s. He sold tracts of land to industrial developers at "bed rock prices" (at cost) "for the benefit of Kansas City."
In 1887 Winner persuaded an investor named James Sternberg from Reading, PA to build the "KC Bolt & Nut Co." in Sheffield. Later it would become Sheffield Steel and, after that, Armco Steel.
Willard Winner set his sights on the Northland, and Winner Investment Co.’s North Side Syndicate acquired thousands of acres of land in Clay and Platte Counties, trying to entice capitalists from the East to build new factories there.
In 1891 the Winner Bridge Company was building the piers for the bridge that would span Missouri River, the Winner Depot Company was building a train station, and the Winner Building Company was laying the foundation for a 9 story office building at 7th and Delaware in Kansas City when the real estate bubble burst, and the Winner Investment Co. went broke. Winner’s many projects would be sold and completed by other companies. The bridge he started building in 1890 would become the ASB Bridge, opening in 1911.
Willard E. Winner was born in Fairfield, Iowa, on May 4, 1849. His family moved to Wyandotte in 1858 when Kansas City was in its infancy. From the age of 11 Willard worked as a clerk at the McHenry, Downs & Co. store. His family moved to Kansas City during the Civil War. He later spent 11 years working in the post office, becoming assistant postmaster. He left that job to go into the insurance business, and soon began to build his real estate empire. He was married in 1872 to Myra Baker, daughter of Dr. Peter Baker. They are believed to have had four children. Willard Winner died while on vacation in Texas in 1929 at the age of 80. Mrs. Winner passed away the next year.