It’s All Downstream From Here: Parkville grows from deep roots planted on the banks of the Missouri River

Article Matt Smithmier | Photos Christine May & Courtesy City of Parkville

As a town grows up, it often wrestles with its own identity. Do I want to hold on to my quaint and old-fashioned atmosphere? Do I want to expand and grow? Do I have anything to offer new residents? Parkville is working on answering “yes” to all of the above.

“Originally I chose this area because of its small-town feel, yet it was still close to everything,” says Bret Cleveland, a Parkville resident for the past seven years. “But the growth of the region is the other reason I really like it. It’s just continuing to expand.”

Cleveland says that Parkville’s downtown—with glimpses into the town’s storied past—is one of his favorite aspects, and one of the reasons he chose this Platte County community.

In fact, the back-story is long. Like many parts of the state, its history starts with the Missouri River, once a vital transporta- tion route across the country. Colonel George S. Park purchased some land and a riverboat landing in 1838, and the small town grew quickly—even faster than Kansas City.

Within a decade, Park had established numerous warehouses and a hotel and in 1853 launched one of the county’s first newspapers, “The Industrial Luminary.” Despite its initial success, the next few decades nearly demolished what Park had managed to build, as the border strife of the Civil War brought conflict over slavery and whiskey to town.

However, Park again brought life to Parkville when he teamed up with Dr. John McAfee to establish Park College in 1875. Park donated the land and McAfee brought in the first batch of students. Now known as Park University and boasting students from all 50 states, two of the school’s oldest buildings—built by the lo- cal college kids—still over look the campus. One of them, Mackay Hall, is on the National Register of Historic Places.

That kind of history, says Parkville Mayor Jim Brooks, is what brings character to the town.

“It gives it a very solid base to work from,” he says, “and people are comfortable knowing the city has been a good place to live for a very long time and has very deep roots.”

While Mackay Hall certainly is an iconic and recognizable feature, Cleveland says the area’s natural beauty is another huge attraction. As an arborist and owner of Urban Tree Specialists, one of his favorite spots in town is English Landing Park, with 68 acres and three miles of trails that hug the Missouri River as it winds through town.

“You look at Parkville, there are trees everywhere,” he says. “And the trail aspect of this area is huge.”

A large part of preserving all of that beauty and history falls to the Main Street Parkville Association, a volunteer group originally formed in 1993 to help downtown rebound from the flood but now works to preserve and promote that downtown charm.

The Association focuses on beautification and preservation but also serves as an important tool to promote economic de- velopment. While many communities have seen their historic downtowns shrivel as development sprawled outward, Deborah Butcher, MSPA chair, says Parkville is proud to be an exception.

“In recent years when other shopping malls and areas have been plagued with overwhelming vacancies, Parkville was not,” she says. “Small businesses tend to have a high turnover, and we have experienced that. However, there are currently only two vacancies downtown. We continue to have requests for space.”

Butcher says it’s all about growing your community with a plan in mind.

“Parkville has built out from our ‘heart,’ the historic downtown,” she says. “Responsible development has evolved where all roads lead back to downtown. Our history sets us apart because we have a strong sense of who we were. It grounds who we are and provides a footprint for the future.”

The Association stays busy working to share the assets of Parkville with visitors by keeping a full calendar of events throughout the year, from holiday celebrations and beer festivals to fun runs and outdoor music events. Coming up next month is the 18th annual Parkville River Jam Jazz, Blues and Fine Arts Festival, a two-day event showcasing music, art and food from around the region, held June 14-15.

But Butcher’s favorite is the annual Christmas on the River. This year it will be held on Dec. 6.

“To share the sights, sounds and promises of the holiday season is simply wonderful,” she says. “What a grand way for Parkville to invite everyone and provide everything needed to provide treasured memories for a lifetime.”

While many of these events have become long-standing traditions to their faithful attendees, Butcher says they hope to also add additional smaller events, including art exhibits, car shows and theater productions.

“My goal is to have people think, ‘Let’s go to Parkville, there’s always something fun to do!’” she says.

Of course, every community knows it must also grow to stay healthy, and the city has been hard at work in recent years devel- oping subdivisions to attract new residents. Brooks says he’s been pleased with what he has seen in his first year as mayor.

“We’re in good shape,” he says. “We have a lot of growth potential. We have a lot of construction activity going on right now and a lot of new-home starts as part of growth. We’re going to have some costs and associated things with that we’ll have to address, but overall we’re in pretty good shape.”

He says the city is working on some redevelopment projects in the near future, with announcements coming by the end of 2013, and he is looking forward to even more residential growth in the coming year. He’s also confident that the final stretch of Missouri 45 will be widened in the next few years, once funding is secured.

Another feather in Parkville’s cap is the Park Hill School District, which continues to be recognized for its accomplishments. The district recently won the Missouri Quality Award from the Excellence in Missouri Foundation (the first school district to be awarded the prize), and Park Hill South High School was one of only four high schools in the state to be recognized in 2012 as a Blue Ribbon School by the U.S. Department of Education.

So like many residents, Cleveland is happy living and working in a community that gives him easy access to the big city but still maintains the friendliness of a close-knit family.

“People wave at each other, and people know their neighbors,” he says. “You get that small town, and you get that community involvement that you just don’t see everywhere.”