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Downtown Overland Park

June 20, 2010

an article from today’s Kansas City Star. Downtown Overland Park….The Culinary Center of Kansas City™ is proud to be  part of it!

While crowds of relative newcomers to Overland Park’s booming history clogged the festival Saturday, some of the old guard tried to keep track of all the changes they’ve seen.

It’s not an easy thing to do when a town goes from 28,000 to 170,000 people in just 50 years.

The old dairy where you picked up your milk in glass bottles was right there, they said, pointing in one direction from Santa Fe Drive at the heart of Downtown Overland Park Days.

This year, the city is using its downtown festival to help invigorate a year of events marking its 50 years.

The original depot for William B. Strang Jr.’s interurban rail line was over there, they said, pointing another way.

The old lumberyard was right down there …

Mildred New, Debbi Roy and Marilee Ciardullo remembered family farmland in what used to be a lot of open country among the scattered homes and businesses — really not that long ago.

They said they appreciate what has become of their town and the comforts that attracted so many people.

But they can remember, too, times when it all seemed to be changing too fast.

Many of Roy’s family are buried in Johnson County Memorial Gardens on Metcalf Avenue, which once seemed far south at 115th Street.

“We used to go out there, and it was like going to the country,” she said. “It was so peaceful.”

Then College Boulevard came through in the 1970s, speeding a burst of development. She remembered feeling stunned by the sudden rim of apartments and offices surrounding the cemetery.

Metcalf used to be called the “Short Line,” Ciardullo said. Or the “Military Highway” because it ran between Fort Scott and Leavenworth.

“And it used to be brick,” she added.

New was part of the first group of students to attend Shawnee Mission South High School, which seemed to be “way out in the middle of nowhere” at 107th Street and Nall Avenue, which ended there as a dirt road. And that was just 1966.

As the suburban expanse has stretched miles beyond old Overland Park, the core of the city holds onto a past rooted in a high quality of life, said Florent Wagner, president of the Overland Park Historical Society.

“The city’s been very fortunate,” he said. “People have worked hard to make this quality of life. It’s something we need to preserve.”

Today, a much larger Overland Park blends blindly into the rest of the suburban landscape to the point that longtime residents wonder how many people are unaware of the old downtown they aim to preserve.

Like the old KCP&L building where families could return used light bulbs and get new ones for free.

Or the old movie theater where matinees were always preceded by a cartoon — a theater that’s been restored.

“I really like this old part,” Roy said. “A lot of people don’t know it’s here.”

To reach Joe Robertson, call 816-234-4789 or send e-mail to jrobertson@kcstar.com.

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