Kansas City, MO

The 'William Volker House' built in 1889 in Kansas City represents the humble nature of philanthropist William Volker

CJ Coombs

William Volker House, Kansas City, Missouri.Google Maps.

The William Volker House located at 3717 Bell Street in Kansas City, Missouri was listed on the National Register of Historic Places (NRHP) on May 20, 1993. Volker didn't need a mansion.

The house sits on a limestone foundation and contains brick in the walls. The house is one block east of the Missouri-Kansas state line. There are three contributing buildings on the property for inclusion in the NRHP. Besides the residence, there is a carriage barn that was converted into a residence, and a summer house. The property sits on half a city block with Bell Street to the west, 37th Street to the north, and Genessee to the east.

The contributing structure is a low stone wall which surrounds the entire estate; three entrances are marked with the name 'Roselawn' on the entry posts. (Source.)

The two-and-a-half-story residence was constructed in 1889. The carriage barn and stable were constructed in 1907. It’s a rectangular stone building that was converted into a residence. The summer house was also built in 1907.

The house of philanthropist William Volker

William Volker lived in the house from 1889 to 1947. He wasn't keen on publicity but was very generous. He had a nickname of Mr. Anonymous of Bell Street.

Alexander Kinghorn constructed the stone carriage barn and greenhouse for Volker in 1907. Volker had a preference for horses over automobiles and used a horse and buggy. In time, however, the stable was converted into a garage. His house may not look like a mansion, but the house and lawn were always well-cared for.

After 1909, his sister, Carrie, oversaw the construction of a bowling alley and tennis court, which were near the honeysuckle-covered stone wall on the Genessee Street side. (Source.)

Volker paid for three other houses near where he lived. One was for a clerk at his firm, one was for a brother-in-law, and one for his sister, Carrie.

Before Mrs. Rose Roebke Volker died, the Volker house was deeded to the University of Kansas Endowment Association, and in 1968, the property survived a demolition proposal. When the University requested a zoning change to build apartments on the site, the proposal was defeated because it was opposed by the neighborhood.

The property remains under private ownership. This house is most closely associated with Volker for the longest period of his productive career. Volker practiced anonymous assistance throughout his life. He didn't flaunt his wealth, he used it to help others including institutions.

It was estimated that Volker gave over one-third of his annual income each year of his life for charitable purposes, and, from 1911 to his death, he expended an estimated ten million dollars on philanthropy. (Source.)

Volker was born in Hanover, Germany in 1859, and his family emigrated to Chicago in 1871. In his late teens, he worked for a picture frame manufacturer, Charles Brachvogel. When Brachvogel died in 1879, Volker was promoted to plant manager. In the summer of 1882, Volker established William Volker & Company with two partners. Three years later, the partnership dissolved and Volker was the company's sole owner. In the same year, he brought his family to Kansas City from Chicago.

In 1889, Volker purchased the 12-room house at 3717 Bell Street in Kansas City. By the early 1900s, Volker was valued at over $1 million. So many gifts and donations from Volker were anonymously made.

Examples of his gifts range from surgical instruments for a promising young physician, a graduation dress for a poverty-stricken girl, dentures for a crippled elevator operator, the lifting of mortgages on the homes of several of Kansas City's destitute, and food and rooming expenses for those unable to get relief elsewhere. (Source.)

By 1907, Volker's gifts were going to institutional recipients. Hospitals like Children's Mercy Hospital received his donations. Volker gave close to half a million dollars to Research Hospital (fka German Hospital). In 1927, his anonymous gifts to Research Hospital were public knowledge because the hospital dedicated a shrine in its lobby to William Volker, Benefactor of Research Hospital, which Volker didn't attend.

When Volker married in 1911, he put $1 million away in his wife's name and it was his intention to give the rest away. Over the next 36 years, he expended about $10 million on philanthropy. It's believed that throughout his life, he gave more than a third of his annual income to charity.

Volker's contributions to Kansas City were a means to help improve and shape the city. He was one of the wealthy Kansas Citians by his mid-40s. He was 52 when he married Rose. One donation he made was 40 acres and a mansion (now Scofield Hall) that would later become the University of Missouri at Kansas City.

Located just south of the Country Club Plaza, Volker Campus is home to Swinney Recreation Center, Durwood Stadium, the Student Union, Atterbury Student Success Center, two residence halls and other student resources. (Source.)

Volker is memorialized in Kansas City at the William Volker Memorial Fountain. He will be remembered for his success and generosity. Much of his wealth was put in the William Volker Fund to be administered by his nephew, Harold Luhnow. It appears to be questionable whether his nephew handled the fund and Volker's company as Volker may have wanted.

See, Aggressive Philanthropy: Progressivism, Conservatism, and the William Volker Charities Fund authored by Michael J. McVicar, Ph.D.

William Volker died on November 4, 1947, at the age of 82. His wife, Rose, died on January 26, 1971, at age 93. They had no children.

Thank you for reading.

Comments / 2

Published by

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

More from CJ Coombs

Comments / 0