Kansas City, MO

Kansas City's 'Waldo' neighborhood is part of the city's historic fabric--sometimes one person makes history happen

CJ Coombs

Who was Dr. David Waldo?

In 1841, Dr. David Waldo, Sr. was persuaded by friends to buy some land in Jackson County, Missouri. His purchase involved 1,000 acres.

The one thousand acres that Dr. David Waldo purchased in 1841 might have been any one other thousand acres in the area. Had anyone else bought it, the area obviously would not be known today as 'Waldo,' a unique corner of Kansas City’s urban landscape. (Source.)

Dr. Waldo was born on April 30, 1802, and died on May 20, 1878, at age 76. He did not come to Missouri until he was over 18. He was in Gasconade County, Missouri for a while making money and then went to medical school at Transylvania College in Kentucky. After earning his degree, he went back to Gasconade County. By the time he was 26, he was a master of roles including medical doctor in his community.

In 1828, Dr. Waldo gets an invite by a friend, Samuel C. Owens, to visit him in Independence, Missouri. Owens persuaded him to buy property in Jackson County. He lived in Independence then and was buying and selling property. But he wasn’t selling his large piece of property that Kansas Citians know as Waldo.

Waldo formed a partnership with St. Louis's well-known fur trader, Ceran St. Vrain. His brother, William, joined him on excursions to the west.

When at home in Independence, he was an active and prominent citizen, thoroughly well-respected and sought-after as a business partner. With his professional degree and the reputation of his considerable civic history in Gasconade, the citizenry of Independence considered him among its most important and educated residents. (Source.)

Waldo was respected at home, and courageous and resourceful while on the trail taking goods back and forth from Mexico (now New Mexico). He seemed to be a smart business partner who was always thinking ahead. Click here to read the full story in Dr. David Waldo – Part 1: The Early Years, published in KC Backstories.

With the rise in conflicts in traveling along the Sants Fe Trail, Waldo started focusing his attention on other opportunities, namely on all the land he purchased in south Jackson County, Missouri. He soon had a house and a farm but it wasn’t fulfilling his adventurous self, so he and his brothers, William and Lawrence, became involved in the freight operation business. 

In 1846, at 44, he joined in the fight when war with Mexico broke out.

He was made a captain in the Missouri Mounted Volunteers. On June 22, 1846, Waldo’s regiment departed from Fort Leavenworth under the command of Colonel Alexander Doniphan as part of the famed 'Kearney’s Army of the West.' (Source.)

In 1848, the war with Mexico was over. Waldo ran a trade business shipping supplies for the army under the name of Waldo & Company. 

Bad news was around the corner. His friend, Charlie Bent, who was appointed as governor of New Mexico was murdered by rebels. Shortly after that, his brother, Lawrence, was killed by revolutionists. He then saw the need to financially support Lawrence’s family.

In 1849, at age 47, Waldo married Eliza Jane (Norris) Waldo and they had five children. He became a family man and continued to stay abreast of life events and politics. He especially remained active in business. He was greatly affected by the Civil War, however. It's been written that he might have suffered from dementia.

In the late 1860s, he was admitted to an asylum. After years of taking morphine to help him sleep, he died of an overdose of the opiate in 1878, at the age of seventy-six. (Source.)

Waldo was buried at Woodlawn Cemetery in Independence, Missouri. To read more details of Waldo's later life in Dr. David Waldo – Part 2: The Later Years, click here (also published in KC Backstories).

Where's Waldo?

Well, I'm not talking about the popular children's puzzle books where you had to search for the character, Waldo.

I am talking about Waldo that's an area in south Kansas City I have been to several times which has grown and changed over the years. It was annexed by Kansas City in 1909 but continued to have its appeal to residents or those who came by. It's bordered by Gregory Boulevard, 85th Street, Holmes Street, and Ward Parkway.

In 1860, there was an established rail line through Waldo. In 1907, the rail line was converted to street cars. The Waldo location had a brick station that was called the Grand Central Station of Waldo. When Waldo was annexed by Kansas City, the city limit stretched from 49th Street to 77th Street. As businesses began to grow around the station, going through Waldo became the main traffic way in south Kansas City.

Waldo Water Tower aka Frank T. Riley Memorial.Nick Graves, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons.

There is a castle-like water tower known as the Waldo Water Tower located at 75th and Holmes that's been a landmark. It's listed on the National Register of Historic Places as is the Alexander Majors House. There are hundreds of businesses in Waldo, many of which are locally owned.

In 2019, InKansasCity.com published Our Top 6 Things To Do In Waldo if you’ve never been to the Waldo area and you need some suggestions on what to do there. Check out the somewhat iconic pizza joint, Waldo Pizza, that’s been around for decades. The pizza is great! Or, go straight to Yelp to see a whole listing of places and reviews associated with Waldo.

I'm sure many of us remember the Tiffany's Attic and Waldo Astoria dinner theaters that used to be in Waldo. They, too, are now part of history but those memories still live. The owners of the sister theaters closed them and reopened the now successful New Theatre Restaurant at 92nd and Metcalf in Overland Park, Kansas.

Thank you for reading. Keeping history alive.

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Multi-genre writer and indie author with a BA in Eng Journalism & Creative Writing. My working career has been in law firms. Thinker, giver, and lover of life and retired early to be a writer. Born into Air Force service life, life has taken me to Louisiana, Idaho, Kauai, Nebraska, South Dakota, and Missouri. I love family, art, reading, history, true crime, travel, and research.

Kansas City, MO

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