I remember the day, around six years ago, when I saw builders constructing something at 109th and Raytown Road. The finished product was a cream colored cylinder topped with a pointed red clay tile roof. I asked myself, is this a land-locked lighthouse? How about a missile silo in disguise?
What purpose did this structure serve? Why did they put it right at the entrance to the bridge across Longview Lake, which takes you from South Kansas City to Lee’s Summit?
To finally get some answers, I stopped by the Visitor’s Center at Longview Lake and asked Park Ranger Jim Dickerson, “What is that?”
“I know it looks like a lighthouse, but it’s a cupola and what it is originally is basically a vent on a very tall barn,” Dickerson says. “It’s like the vents you put on the roof of your house to keep air moving through it.”
As it turns out, the cupola was part of what was called “The World’s Most Beautiful Farm” in the early 1900s. Longview Farm was built by lumber baron and philanthropist Robert A. Long. Belgium craftsmen and Sicilian stonemasons helped build the Longview Mansion, grandstand, barns, school house, and other buildings. They all had cream stucco walls, brown trim and red Spanish tile roofs. Dickerson says they’ve been able to replace the tiles in the process of bringing the buildings back to their glory days.
“The cool thing about the shingles, when we were restoring them, there were a lot of them that had broken off during storage and over time,” Dickerson says. “We found the back one that had the name of the company and a SKU number on it. We were able to find the number of the company, call them up and order new tiles.”
Many of the buildings are on the National Register of Historic Places. The farm itself was known for its Jersey dairy cows, hogs and prize-winning roses from its greenhouse. To keep up with all these demands, the farm once employed over 2,000 people. The cupola sat high on the Show Horse Arena, which had 150 horse stalls. In its time, it was considered the largest indoor arena in the world.
“People that worked on the barn used to play basketball on the second story,” Dickerson says. “It was that big of a building.”
Robert Long’s daughter, Loula Long Combs, was well known for raising award-winning show horses on the farm and was internationally recognized for her horsemanship skills. Although she was the daughter of a lumber baron, Dickenson says she definitely wasn’t a socialite.
“I never heard anybody say anything bad about her,” Dickerson says, “but people tend to think she liked horses better than people.”
In 1979, The Army Corps of Engineers began construction of Longview Lake, forcing them to take down the arena. The base of the Show Horse Arena would be three feet under water if it were around today.
“When they tore the barn down, they moved it [the cupola] to what’s now the horse park,” Dickerson says. “They sat there for 15, 20 years and the decision was made to move them to where they are now and restore what they took off the top of the barn. That’s what you’re seeing at Raytown and 109th.”
So now, when I ride by the Longview Lake cupola, I can picture the Show Horse Arena that once stood in the middle of what’s now Longview Lake and of the “World’s Most Beautiful Farm” that surrounded it.