Thursday, Sep. 27 2012 5:08PM
Lee’s Summit a misspelling?
Was the city named after a doctor or general?
By Russ Pulley
A copy of a sales poster is a hint on how Lee’s Summit got its name.
For decades there have been competing histories, even dating back to an 1866 “misquote” in the Louisville Journal which said the town was named for Confederate General Robert E. Lee.
Many area residents settled Missouri from the South, were expelled during the war, and returned when it ended, still defiant after the Confederacy surrendered. So they favored that account.
The other version, also from the Civil War, might have a little more evidence.
Dr. Pleasant Lea was a prominent settler who, with his brother, ran a store and stage line at a site at about Chipman and Douglas intersection, said Kathy Smith, president of the Lee’s Summit Historical Society.
Lea was tortured and assassinated by Union soldiers or Jayhawkers seeking information about Southern sympathizers in the area. Lea was killed on Sept. 12, 1862, so this year is the 150th anniversary of his death, Smith said.
While Lea was alive the area was called Big Cedar. That much is know from an abstract of U.S. Post Offices.
Here the tale gets murky, Smith said, as many records were lost during that turbulent time, so there’s no absolute proof.
William B. Howard, recognized as the town’s founder, platted his town with the name Strother in 1865. Strother was his wife’s family name. But the area was apparently already known for Dr. Lea and his land at the high point of elevation between Kansas City and St. Louis.
Railroad surveyors referred to the area as Lea’s Prairie. After the war, the stories say, Lea’s name was put on a box car donated to be the first depot, when the railroad finally was built through the area.
Reportedly the sign painter misspelled Lea’s name, using two e’s and leaving out the apostrophe. Lea’s name also was misspelled on one side of a stone culvert near the station, but spelled correctly on the other, according to this version.
Now here is one detail that evidences that the town was indeed named after Pleasant Lea.
A poster Howard printed to advertise lots he put up for sale in his subdivision referred to as “Strother formerly known as Lee’s Summit on the Pacific Railroad,” Smith said.
The copy is in the historical society’s collection. It indicates that Lea’s name was already established in the area before the end of the war in April 1865. This part of Jackson County was unpopulated because the Union had forcibly evicted the residents because of the rebellion. Strother was platted in the fall that year, the fame of the Confederate general didn’t really have time to become popular as the localities name.
The town people of Strother petitioned to change the name to Lee’s Summit in 1868, but kept the two “e” spelling because it was already in circulation.
“I honestly believe it was named after Dr. Lea,” Smith said.