1841 - 1915
— "Citizen" —
Founder of The Kansas City STAR
Developer of the Historic Rockhill District
Patron of the Arts
William Rockhill Nelson
was born in Ft. Wayne, Indiana, and came to Kansas City in 1880. Shortly thereafter he produced the first issue of what he called "The Evening Star." For the rest of his life, he used the columns of The Kansas City STAR
to fight for myriad of public causes, including the development of a free parks and boulevard system.
Nelson began acquiring property in the area that became Rockhill in about 1890, naming it in honor of his mother, Elizabeth Rockhill. On the western edge he built his own baronial residence, Oak Hill. (Today it is the site of the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art.) His first Rockhill houses were built around 1902 and many used stone quarried on his property. Leading Kansas City architects designed many of the residences and it is believed Nelson designed some himself. He also had smaller "workers' cottages" built which were modeled after the stone cottages of the English Cotswalds [sic]. Some survive along Cleaver II Boulevard and on Harrison and Pierce streets. When his only child, Laura, married Irwin Kirkwood, Nelson built a house for them directly across from his own residence. It subsequently became the site of the Rockhill Tennis Club for more than 50 years.
The design of the Historic Rockhill District reflects Nelson's interest in order, symmetry and harmony in urban design. These are hallmarks of the City Beautiful Movement
which emphasized the use of native materials and urban design which complimented the natural terrain. The most striking feature of the area remains its low limestone walls. At his own expense Nelson built Rockhill Road which curved around the east side of Oak Hill.
At his death, Nelson was eulogized simply as "Citizen" for his remarkable contributions to building Kansas City. The bulk of his estate went to build the Nelson-Atkins Museum. The neighborhood he created was listed on the National Register of Historic Places and Kansas City Register of Historic Places as the Historic Rockhill District in 1975.
The Rockhill Homes Association dedicates this Park in 2009