History of Belinder

The History of Belinder Elementary School

We are going to share with you a little of Belinder’s History… What was on this land before our school? Why a school was built here, and how this school was named Belinder Elementary School?

So read carefully. We hope you learn a lot!

In 1876, the United States was in an economic boom as it recovered from the Civil War. The states of Missouri and Kansas were seen as the far west and the gate to the land of golden opportunities as the western expansion of our country began to take shape. It was in that year that two brothers living in Stockholm, Sweden decided to pack their belongings and come to America.

Brothers, Frank Alexander Johnson and Andrew Gustaf Johnson traveled from their native Sweden to attend the newly opened Bethany College in Lindsborg, Kansas. Friends had written to them in Sweden inviting them to join the growing Swedish community and it was a chance to attend college that even featured special courses in Swedish history and traditions. This combined with the lure of the new land of opportunity, appealed to the two young men and so they traveled to Bethany, Kansas.

Frank and Andrew studied hard taking classes to master the English language and in business. After two years, their classes were completed and each graduated with college degrees. With their classes completed at Bethany College, Frank and Andrew Johnson decided to remain in this country and applied to become naturalized citizens.

When they appeared before the judge, he informed them that, if they wished, they could choose a new name to go along with their new American citizenship. The idea of a new name was very exciting to the two brothers. They were very proud of their Swedish heritage but the Johnson name was very common both in Sweden and in their new country. They liked the idea of having a more distinctive name, so they thought it over very carefully.

An idea popped into their heads almost simultaneously. It was the name of their elementary school in Stockholm, Sweden. Without the excellent education they had received there, they would never have been able to attend college at Bethany and earn a college degree. They would never have been able to come to America. And they would never have had the opportunity that faced them now, to make a new life in a new country.

The name of their elementary school, you ask? Belinder! Belinder became their new name. Frank and Andrew Johnson became Frank Alexander Belinder and Andrew Gustaf Belinder and new citizens of the United States of America. With a college degree and a new name, Frank and Andrew Belinder set out to make a new life.

They traveled to bustling town of Kansas City, Missouri. They noticed the continual activity that surrounded the stockyards of the city and decided to open their own hotel. The Terrace Hotel located at about 24th and Terrace Streets became the first business for the brothers.

During the years that followed, the 1880’s to 1900’s, Kansas City was booming with business and people were coming from everywhere. With the railroad, came businessmen and investors by the thousands. Kansas City’s Union Station, which was then located in the West Bottoms, north of 12th street, was not close heart of the city’s businesses. To reach the city’s business center, located at about 31st street, businessmen had to take either the 9th Street Cable Car or hire a horse drawn buggy. Frank and Andrew Belinder decided it was time to branch out and open a second hotel. They found the perfect spot at 9th and Holly Streets, right on the route of the 9th Street Cable Car.

They named their second hotel, The Savoy. Businessmen and travelers flocked to the Savoy, as it became known for its luxurious rooms, service, and a restaurant offering excellent food in the tradition of old Sweden.

With growing numbers of residents and visitors, came the need for entertainment. Traveling shows from New York and Chicago became frequent visitors to Kansas City. Kansas City’s Favorite was their own Sally Rand. She was famous for performing the "fan dance," using two large ostrich feather fans to cover her body. Miss Rand always performed at the Folly Theater and stayed at The Savoy Hotel during her visits to Kansas City and her family. The 1910 Census reported her as a guest at the Hotel. She could slip out the back door of the Savoy, into a carriage for a few blocks, and right into the stage door of the Folly Theater without ever being seen.

Business was good for the Belinder boys and they prospered. With a little extra cash they decided to take advantage of the times and do some investing themselves. Their first project was the buying and selling of horses. To find a place large enough to pasture the animals and not too far away, they crossed the state line and came to Johnson County. They purchased an area of land west of what is now Belinder Avenue and south of the County Line. Soon after, they were able to acquire much of the Thomas Johnson property as well.

Andrew along with his wife Hannah, son Ande and daughter Anna continued to oversee the 2 hotels, restaurant and a saloon down by the stockyards. The well-traveled road, which led to the Belinder Farm from Countyline Road, became known as Belinder Road. Frank moved his family to Johnson County, Kansas to manage the property and livestock.

Frank with his wife, Catherine, and their two sons, Frank and Charlene, continued to live on the farm until the early 1940’s. The city, which had continued to grow, was now spreading across the state line and into Johnson County.

An offer to purchase most of the farm came from a young man by the name of J.C. Nichols. Mr. Nichols wanted to use the land to build homes for families that would soon be moving into the area. Mr. Nichols purchased the land from the Belinder Brothers except for 1 acre where the Belinder home was located. Descendents of the Belinder Family continued to live there through the 1960’s. Mr. Nichols began to develop the land that would become known as Prairie Village and Mission Hills, Kansas.

One school existed in the area but as more homes were built the need for more schools grew as well. Mr. Nichols, who had always been intrigued with the story of the Belinder Brothers, decided that one of those schools should be built on Belinder Road and it should be properly named, Belinder Elementary School.

In November of 1951, Mr. Nichols began personally supervising the construction of Belinder School, located at 72nd Street and Belinder Road. Two years later, in January of 1953, Mr. Harold Dent, superintendent of the Prairie School District announced that Mr. Paul Gooch would be Belinder’s first principal.

On Jan. 30, 1953, 50 years ago, classes were held for the first time in the new Belinder Elementary School. 1 principal, 1 nurse, 16 teachers, and 400 students from the Prairie, Porter, and Highlands grade schools began their first day at their new school.

For the first time in three years, 1st grade students would be attending school all day. They had only attended for ½ a day due to crowded classrooms. Belinder held classes from kindergarten to fifth grade that first year. Sixth grade would be offered at Belinder beginning in the fall of 1953.

On Feb. 4, 1953, Mr. Dent, superintendent of schools, announced that 5 new classrooms would be added to Belinder for the next school year because so many children were coming to Belinder. Enrollment in the Prairie School District had grown from 600 students in 1948 to 2,300 in 1953. That’s 1,700 students in just 5 years! 

Belinder has established a history of academic excellence for 50 years. Today we are here to share this history with you as you study hard to continue the tradition.

Here are some highlights from our history:

In 1969, the Prairie School District along with other school districts in Johnson County unified into one school district. Belinder became part of the Shawnee Mission School District.

In 1976, students celebrated the United States Bicentennial by making the two quilts you see hung in the hallway next to the gym.

In the fall of 1981, students from the closed Porter school along with students from the Old Sagamore area began attending Belinder.

In 1983, Belinder celebrated its 30th Birthday with a Sock Hop, Open House and All School Picnic.

In 1986, students buried a time Capsule for “Feel Good Week” which is buried in the infamous Dirt Room. It is to be opened in 30 years, the year 2016!

In 1994, Belinder Elementary School was recognized by the United States Department of Education as a Blue Ribbon School for it’s academic excellence. President Clinton in Washington, D.C gave our plaque that hangs in the hallway in a special ceremony.

In 1995, Belinder was Air-Conditioned! That was a lot of years of heat and sweat! And a new gym was added to the building. Belinder parents and community members contributed additional funds to install a wooden floor and bleachers and we got new playground equipment!

In 1997, Belinder parents helped us add a curriculum garden just outside the Gym. Mrs. Kenneth Upton, the last surviving member of the Belinder Family, helped us dedicate the garden.

In the year 2002-2003, we celebrated Belinder’s 50th year as a public elementary school.

In 2005, Belinder will begin construction of an additional Library wing, remodeling of the front office and reception areas, and updated hallways! And the most astonishing part! The entrance to the new library wing will be through Belinder’s original library room. The original library room will serve as the entry hallway to modern facility of just under 5,000 square feet.

We hope that you have learned a little bit the rich history of our school. We want you to remember that just like the Belinder Brothers, your future begins with an excellent education. As a student at Belinder, you will receive an excellent education BUT it is up to you to take advantage of it. Lastly, Belinder students have maintained a tradition of excellence in their school and community for 50 years. You are the Future!

The Tradition of Excellence is now up to you! Be a proud Belinder Bear!

(Information was obtained from the historical files of the Johnson County Sun Newspaper, K.C. Star, Census Records for Missouri and Kansas.)