A couple of years ago Mayor Randy Rhoads signed a proclamation for Harris Family Day which now hangs in the Harris Park Community Center.
The occasion was the 100th anniversary of the Harris family reunion on Sept. 12, 2010, an unbroken string of gatherings.
Harris Memorial Park, at Blue Parkway and Jefferson Street, is on the site of an ancestor’s farm, and is the city’s oldest park. It is also home Summit Waves water park.
Surely Rhoads would have signed a proclamation for any such prominent pioneer family but he had an extra boost. His wife, Mary Ann Rhoads, is a Harris descendant. She said the reunion is almost always at the park.
“We had to move it (once) because they were redoing the floor in the community center,” Mary Ann Rhoads said.
The deed to the city perpetually guarantees the family use of the park for its reunion on the second Sunday of every September.
Rhoads said her family originally settled land in Blue Springs, where the natural spring is located which gave that city its name. The family also donated 1.5 acres to the city which became Blue Springs Cemetery.
According to a newspaper account, as told by Nate Corder of Lee’s Summit, another Harris descendant, and a family history by Mary McCarty Harris, the family’s arrival dates back to 1830 when settlers from Virginia arrived in wagons, including William and Rhoda Harris, and Reuben Harris Sr., his father who was a Revolutionary War veteran.
William and Rhoda Harris were patriarch and matriarch. William was born in 1796 and died in 1847. His wife lived from 1800 to 1878, according to a plaque in Harris Park Community Center.
They were farming in the Blue Springs area when the Civil War brought havoc.
Three extended family members, Charity McCorkle Kerr, Susan Crawford Vandever and Armenia Crawford Selvey, died in an 1863 prison collapse while being held in a Kansas City jail, suspected of aiding pro-Confederate guerillas.
It’s said that spurred William Quantrill’s raid on Lawrence. Days later General Order No. 11 was given by a U.S. Army general to force evacuation of all settlers in rural areas in Jackson and Cass, Bates and part of Vernon counties to rid the area of southern sympathizers.
After the war, the Harris families, like Lee’s Summit founder William B. Howard, returned to their burned-out homes to start again.
A descendant, John Hardin Harris moved to his Lee’s Summit farm in 1897 and reportedly had a park stocked with deer, owned 900 acres in the county, a business block in town and an 11,500 acre ranch in New Mexico.
John Hardin Harris, a son James Fleming Harris and a brother Samuel Birks Harris started the family gatherings as early as 1908, and the tradition became official reunions in 1911.
Harris decendants in the area were plentiful. William and Rhoda Harris had a total of 15 children and 99 grandchildren.
By 1914 there were 474 descendants, 300 of them living in Jackson County, and now in the thousands across the country.
Mary Ann Rhoads said today family members return from all over the U.S, for the annual reunion.