by Marcia Napier, Grain Valley Historical Society
As we begin the second year of our current decade, I cannot help but wonder how the current decade will be viewed in another twenty or thirty years. What will the Class of 2022 tell their children about their last two years of high school? In the scheme of things how will 2022 compare to the last 100 years? This week I will talk about Grain Valley from 1920 through 1960.
There weren’t many graduates in 1922, and most were girls. The men had either dropped out of school a few years earlier to fight in World War I or to work on the farm so older family member could fight in the war in Europe. The young graduates of 1922 were alive to learn of Robert Peary’s 400 trip by dog sled to become the first man to stand at the North Pole and Orville and Wilbur Wright take to the air at Kitty Hawk in a biplane they called the Flyer. It was only airborne for 59 seconds; just long enough to travel 852 feet. The Model-T Ford had been built, available only in black, at a cost of 850 dollars. And, oh yes, the first Teddy Bear was introduced and named for Theodore Roosevelt, the 26th President of the United States.
Grain Valley was a growing town in the 1920’s. The original railroad station burned, but a new station was built in 1922 to accommodate the growing number of passengers that arrived to visit Sni-A-Bar Farms. The early cattle breeding demonstrations were attracting nearly 10,000 people each year. Some camped out near Monkey Mountain, some stayed in one of the three small hotels in Grain Valley, and some commuted back and forth to Kansas City daily via the train or by automobile.
Some would remember the 1920’s for the popularity of the Royal Playhouse or the fire which destroyed the first brick school in 1925. Still other would remember the 1928 (1929 Seniors) football team, the only undefeated team in our school’s history. During the 1920’s radios were being purchased in America at the rate of 1.5 million per year. My grandfather talked about the men who would gather around the heat stove in his feed store to listen to the radio.
By the 1930’s the entire county was plunged into the depression. While the Sni-A-Bar Bank went under, the Bank of Grain Valley was considered to be among the best financed and most sound of banks in all of Kansas City, if not Missouri.
Many men in Grain Valley lost jobs, their farms, or their businesses. Old-timers may remember their fathers and grandfathers finding work with government jobs provided by the WPA (Works Progress Administration, also known as the Work Projects Administration from 1939-1943). While they were mostly construction workers building schools, roads, and other infrastructure, the CCP (Civilian Conservation Corps) concentrated on building state and national parks.
During the 1940's America returned to war after the bombing of Pearl Harbor. Many young men from Grain Valley enlisted to fight not only the Japanese, but Hitler’s German Army. Between the depression of the 30's and rationing in the 1940's, many small businesses were no more. World War II created a need for ammunition and Lake City became a major employer for the citizens of Grain Valley. It was also a time when many women of Grain Valley began working outside the home.
On a lighter note, in the later 1940’s Americans purchased televisions at the rate of 100,000 sets per week. I remember our first TV, purchased in 1949. My brother was in 1st grade. He walked home from school for lunch every day and we watched “The Lone Ranger,” in black and white, while he ate his grilled cheese sandwich.
My memories of the 1950's include the closing of the rural schools which created the need for a new elementary school, going to the football field on August nights and hanging out with other kids on the playground while our mothers visited and our dads scoped out the prospects for the upcoming season. In the early 1950's, my dad coached a girls’ town team basketball squad. They qualified for the national tournament held in Kansas City. One of the players, Louetta Snodgrass, was the Queen of the Tournament and her photo appeared on the cover of the tournament program. I also remember hula hoops and poodle skirts!
Grain Valley was like the rest of America in the 1960's. We were obsessed with rock and roll, girls in miniskirts, and guys with longer hair. In 1965, I-70 was completed through our town and forever changed the landscape. The Nation saw both good (Neil Armstrong left Apollo 11 to walk on the moon) and evil (President John F. Kennedy was assassinated in Dallas on November 22, 1963).
For “the rest of the story,” read the next edition of the Valley News. I’ll write about Grain Valley from 1970 through 2020.
Visit the Grain Valley Historical Society museum at 506 S Main on Wednesdays from 10am - 3pm, Saturdays 11am - 3pm (when building is not rented for an event), and by appointment.
For more information, visit www.grainvalleyhistory.com.