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TitleArgentine Kansas
DescriptionPostcards of Argentine Kansas, Silver Avenue & Healy House in Leadville, Colorado
Historical ArticleArgentine, in Wyandotte County, came into being in 1880 when the newly completed railroad from Topeka to Kansas City--the Kansas City, Topeka and Western Railroad (soon changed to the Santa Fe)--was looking for ground for its shops, roundhouses, coal chutes, train sheds and other facilities.

A suitable spot was found on the south bank of the Kaw river, about three miles south of the mouth. A town at once sprang up and 60 acres were plotted by James W. Coburn, the first town proprietor, and called Argentine, meaning silver or silvery.

Growth of the new town was given additional momentum when, in the same year, the Consolidated K. C. Smelting and Refining company erected a small smelting plant there.

A year after the construction of the smelter, August R. Meyer gained the controlling interest in the business and began a program of expansion and enlargement. Ore was shipped by rail to the Argentine plant from various parts of Mexico, Canada, and the United States, especially Colorado.

Argentine was a wild and woolly place when Meyer arrived from Colorado in 1881 to look things over. There were 56 houses, no church, 27 saloons, one grocery and one drygoods store, the depot, smelter and the Santa Fe shops.

By 1882 the town had a sufficient population to form a city, and an election was held on the first Tuesday in August to select the first set of city officials. They were mayor, G. W. Gully; councilmen John Steffins, A. Borgslede, W. C. Blue, Patrick O'Brien and George Simmons; police judge, A. J. Dolley; marshal, Charles Duvall; city clerk, J. H. Halderman.

August Meyer came to Kansas City with an impressive background. Born in St. Louis of German-born parents, he attended St. Louis schools until he was 14 and then went abroad to study at the School of Mines in Freibourg, Saxony, where he was graduated in 1872. Subsequently he spent several terms as a student at the University of Berlin and later traveled through the leading mining sections of Europe.

After his schooling and return to America he spent some time in examination of coal land in Illinois, quickly passing on to executive positions there.

In the spring of 1874 when he was 26 years old, he went to Colorado. There he became territorial assayer at Fair Play, Colo. When the Fair Play mining community at California Gulch needed a U. S. postoffice, Meyer gave the rugged camp town its first official name: Leadville, Colo. Meyer's home in Leadville is preserved as Healy House, a state museum memorializing the silver mining area of the state. Meyer helped to build Leadville's first sampling and smelting works. He also established an ore-crushing mill in in Alma, Colo.

Meyer was already successful and wealthy when he left Colorado to come to Kansas City in 1881. He made a general study of the area here, its railroad advantages and commercial prospects. He liked what he saw and decided on this place as his new business headquarters and home.

He also liked living conditions here, especially in the fine new residential district in the northeast part of Kansas City. His home was at 2806 Independence avenue. (Later he built a German manor-type mansion at the corner of Forty-fourth and Warwick, now the home of the Kansas City Art Institute.)

Always a hearty outdoor man and an early riser, he rode horseback daily with one of his children. They rode from the Independence avenue residence along the nearby bluffs of the Missouri river, and here he conceived the idea of a boulevard (Cliff drive) along the high, scenic cliff, and other boulevards and parks elsewhere in the city.

He became Kansas City's first park board president in 1892 and his ambitious and far-seeing plans at first seemed extravagant beyond the limits of economic possibility, even to his park-minded admirers, like William Rockhill Nelson. However, he persisted, and today's boulevard and park system in Kansas City is a monument to his memory.

When Meyer first took over the Argentine smelter the word spread to the mining districts of Germany, Austria and Bohemia, where he had a wide acquaintance and had previously worked and studied. As a result, a great influx of workers from those sections came to Argentine.

Thus Argentine has always had a strong European background. At one time the smelter colony reached 3,000, half of Argentine's entire population.

The post card accompanying this article, Silver ave., looking east from Second st., Argentine, Kas., was made at the turn of the century. The spot can be found only with difficulty today, since it is now part of the Silver City apartment complex (one block north of the present Argentine high school, on Ruby). All the stores pictured are gone and the trees seen in the background are now straddled by the 18th-street expressway.

Elizabeth Wagner, who was born in a house near the post card scene and who now lives at My Lady of Mercy Home, 918 East Ninth street, identified all but one of the buildings on the street, as follows (left foreground to back):

1. Chinese Laundry.
2. And 3. Fire department.
(Their hand-drawn equipment is visible in front.)
4. Unidentified.
5. Harness shop.
6. Sables grocery.

And, on the right side, foreground to back:

1. Gaskill drugstore; upper floor, Workmen lodge.
2. Walden dry goods--known as the Racquet store.
3. Simmons livery stable office.
4. Simmons livery stable.
5. George Simmons funeral home.
6. Hammer hardware; (upper floor, Odd Fellows lodge.)
7. John R. Boehm meat market, later the grocery store of Charley Green, one-time manager of the smelter and four times mayor of Argentine.

Interestingly, the equipages of the George Simmons livery stable, with its 30 horses and 15 buggies, were often rented for funerals. It was because of this that Simmons eventually set up his own funeral home. The Simmons mortuary still operates today under the management of a grandson, Howard H. Simmons, and a great grandson, Donald H. Simmons, in a new location.

In 1898 the smelter boasted a total production of 7,899,029 ounces of silver valued at $4,970,008; 242,736 ounces of gold worth $5,017,360, and 39,947 tons of lead priced at $3,195,760, one-fifth of the nation's total lead output. Large quantities of blue vitrol and zinc also were produced that same year. The company, capitalized at 2 million dollars, employed a thousand men and did a business of 15 million dollars a year.

Piled high on Wells Fargo flatbed wagons at the old Santa Fe depot were stacks of silver bricks, awaiting the next shipment to buyers in this country, as well as in such faraway places as Japan and India. It was a common sight to see silver bullion, each brick stamped with its weight and value, lying on the dock down at the station, waiting for the train, the silver out in the open, unwrapped and unguarded. A ton of silver bricks and $20,000 in gold in a day was not unusual. There is no record of any having been stolen.

The smelter was closed in 1901 by the Guggenheims, a German family with whom Meyer had merged. Two factors contributing to its closing were that Colorado ore was being refined in new smelters nearer the ore in the mountains and that it became cheaper to ship Mexican ore by water to the east, than by rail to Argentine.

But during its operation for two decades the Argentine facility gained the distinction of being the greatest ore-smelting and refining plant in the world.

On September 14, 1909, the city council of Argentine, with Charles W. Green as mayor, passed a resolution asking for a consolidation of Argentine with Kansas City, Kansas. A month later the necessary legislation was enacted, making Argentine the 7th ward of Kansas City, Kansas, as of January 1, 1910.

Argentine street names were changed, in some cases to become continuation of Kansas City, Kansas, streets. (Thus old First street became Twenty-first street, and Second and Silver, as pictured on the post card, is now Twenty-second and Silver.)

The Argentine district still has an identity of its own and community spirit. It has grown to the south and west and boasts two fine new home districts, Southboro and Berkshire Village, a garden-type co-opeartive apartment. There are new banks, professional buildings and a new shopping center.

There are still a few of the older community leaders interested in collecting stories of the past, such as J. C. Harmon, retired principal of Argentine high school, and the Simmons family, whose records go back to the days of old Second and Silver and when George Simmons served as deputy marshal and captain of the Horse league, an antithief association composed of 100 men seeking to rid the pioneer community not of silver robbers, but of horse, fruit and poultry thiefs.

Kansas City Times
April 10, 1971

AuthorRay, Mrs. Sam (Mildred)
Item TypePostcard
CollectionMrs. Sam Ray's Postcard Collection (SC58)
http://www.kclibrary.org/localhistory/collections.cfm?collID=18
LocationSC58
Local SubjectArgentine, Kansas
Wyandotte County, Kansas
Neighborhoods
Digital FormatJPEG
Barcode20000157; 20000156
RepositoryMissouri Valley Special Collections, Kansas City Public Library, Kansas City, Missouri
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