Kansas City, KS

The Historic H.W. Gates Funeral Home: three generations of service in Kansas City, Kansas

CJ Coombs

H.W. Gates Funeral Home, Kansas City, Kansas.Photo byJonathunder, GFDL, via Wikimedia Commons.

On July 6, 2010, the historic H.W. Gates Funeral Home was added to the National Register of Historic Places (NRHP). It’s a historical landmark in Kansas City Kansas. This structure is located at 1901 Olathe Boulevard. It was established by Horatio W. and Mary Gates in the mid-1890s. 

In 1980, the house experienced a lot of changes when it was converted to a residential facility for the Ronald McDonald Charities. It’s also currently listed as housing apartments on the Zillow and Trulia real estate websites (pictures included).

As one of the first licensed embalmers in the state, the Gates built this funeral home in 1922. The architectural style is Neoclassical. The architect was Fred S. Wilson. Besides housing their business, this two-and-a-half-story building was also their family home. Three generations of the Gates family ran the funeral home for nearly close to 100 years in the Rosedale neighborhood of Kansas City, Kansas.

This building has a stone foundation and stucco walls. There is a two-story front porch with columns and it faces north. The east side of the building has a Palladian window. Behind the house is a paved parking lot. 

A side view of the H.W. Gates Funeral Home building.Photo byCruznOz, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons.

The building

The H.W. Gates Funeral Home occupied the southwest corner of State Line Road and Olathe Boulevard. It’s west of the Kansas-Missouri state line, and three miles southeast of downtown Kansas City, Kansas. To the east is the campus of the University of Kansas Medical Center. 

The building accommodated the need of a funeral parlor business and served as a residence for the undertaker’s family. 

The funeral business

Embalming wasn’t a method that was always used. It became more popular after the Civil War. With the growth of hospitals, more people were treated there instead of in the home which meant there were different processes involved with a deceased patient as opposed to the way treatment used to be at home. 

By the late 1800s, more communities had an undertaker who embalmed bodies. They also helped with funeral arrangements. “The work of embalming might occur in the home of the deceased or in the undertaker’s place of business, quite often a livery stable or furniture store.” (Source.)

As we enter the 1900s, schools were opened to train undertakers and the field was becoming more professional. Those completing training were becoming licensed and there were learning about other fields that would tie into the business including social and psychological skills. 

The number of undertakers in the Kansas City area increased. 

  • In 1895, 10 undertakers were listed in the Kansas City, Missouri city directory, and 5 in Kansas City, Kansas.
  • In 1920, 37 undertakers were listed in Kansas City, Missouri, and 13 in Kansas City, Kansas. 

By the 1920s, funeral homes became the chief location for funeral-related events. Even though the funeral homes looked like family dwellings as a whole, the business portion was on the lower level and the family of the funeral director lived on the upper floors. 

The wife of a funeral director also had a key role. Children who were raised in the business oftentimes followed the roles of their parents. Not all children wanted to take over the business though. 

Funeral homes were also under attack with negative criticism such as the cost associated with funerals and media-influenced reporting suggesting that those involved with funeral homes were only interested in money. Regardless of the negative stories. the funeral home is part of death and dying. It’s an accepted and necessary business, many of which probably receive community support. 

While there are corporate funeral homes that may have taken over the smaller funeral homes, including those that were family-owned, some still are in business and the way they conduct their personal service most likely sets them apart from the corporate funeral homes. 

The H.W. Gates family

In 1867, Horatio W. Gates moved to Kansas City from Ohio. His uncle, Dr. Simeon Bell, was a well-known resident of the Rosedale community in Kansas. Dr. Bell was also a benefactor of the Eleanor Taylor Bell Memorial Hospital. This hospital was located at 311 Seminary Street in Rosedale (which is now Kansas City, Kansas). It was also the first building that’s now the University of Kansas Medical Center.

Before Horatio came to Rosedale, he lived in DeSoto, Kansas. There, he farmed and raised draft horses. Once he sold his farm, he moved to Rosedale. In 1890, he established a wagon and livery yard on Southwest Boulevard. 

In 1892, Gates married Mary Louther. While operating the livery, they established an undertaking business. In 1897, Horatio helped organize the Kansas Funeral Directors Association and by 1899, he was the president of the organization. He was assisted by his wife in the business and was the first secretary of the Kansas Funeral Directors Association.

The Gates were among the first embalmers licensed in Kansas. They were also licensed in Missouri. Mary was the first woman to receive an undertaker’s license in Missouri. 

In 1915, the Gates had a wood-frame funeral parlor on their property. In 1917, the building burned, and the next one was made out of brick. In 1922, they built their new funeral home in the Hanover Heights neighborhood. 

Their new building wasn’t commercial in appearance. It was inside a residential area and the Gates were part of the community. Horatio also served as the president of the Twin City Stae Bank located at State Line Road and 43rd Street. 

Horatio and Mary’s son, Miles, and their son-in-law, Frank S. Wickert joined in the business later. Frank was married to their daughter, Marguerite. 

Horatio died on February 26, 1930, at age 80. Mary died on March 24, 1960, at age 98. John S. Gates, son of Miles, started the third generation to take over the business. After John retired, the business didn’t carry on. The Gates Funeral Home was purchased by McGilley Memorial Chapels, which didn’t use the building and instead, transferred the use of it to Children’s Oncology Services of Mid-America. They renovated the building and it became a Ronald McDonald House. 

When the Ronald McDonald House ceased operating in that location, for a while it was a spa. At the time the house was nominated for the NRHP, it was vacant. 

Hanover Heights neighborhood

Before Hanover Heights was developed, it was originally part of a Shawnee Indian reservation. In 1872, Rosedale was platted and became incorporated in 1877. In 1922, Kansas City, Kansas annexed Rosedale. In 1911, Rosedale annexed the Hanover Heights neighborhood. 

In 1920, 13 acres located at 39th Street and Rainbow Boulevard were purchased for the building of the Bell Memorial Hospital and The Kansas Medical School. As the hospital began to expand in the mid-1900s, a lot of homes on Olathe Boulevard were demolished for that growth. Today, what was the historic Gates Funeral Home, sits a block east of the hospital property. 

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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, and I retired early so I could be a writer all day. You could say I'm from Louisiana, Idaho, Kauai, Nebraska, South Dakota, and Missouri because I was born into the Air Force life. I love family, art, reading, history, true crime, travel, and research.

Kansas City, MO

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