With construction renovating south Lea McKeighan Park at Douglas and Chipman roads, someone might wonder who was Lea McKeighan.
Actually, the park’s name comes from two families associated with the land: Lea and McKeighan.
First was an original settler, Pleasant John Graves Lea and the other family were farmers who had long association with the site.
Lea is considered by many to be the city’s namesake, although it’s first subdivision was laid out by William B. Howard.
The parks department intends to build a monument documenting the history of the park which is being rebuilt, with a new pond and a playground. One of the challenges of deciding what that narrative will be is sorting out the details, said Tom Lovell, parks administrator.
What is known comes from oral accounts later put down in newspapers, cemetery books, deeds and some Civil War records.
The area was known as Doctor Lee Prairie, Lee an apparent misspelling for Lea, as mentioned in a special military order by Brigadier General James Totten, a Union commander for the area during the Civil War.
In about 1850 Lea had moved to southeastern Jackson County from Tennessee, arriving Nov. 22, 1849, and built a home at the intersection of Chipman and Douglas.
He had nine children and six slaves.
Lea built along what was then the Independence Road which lead from that city to Cass County settlements.
According to Don Hale, an amateur historian who wrote books about the history of Lee’s Summit, one day in 1862 Pleasant Lea went to the Josiah Hargis house, the first house in the downtown Lee’s Summit area.
Totten, in April 1862, had ordered cavalry from Seventh Missouri Volunteers to punish guerrillas and outlaws and escort the mail. Also a company of First Iowa Cavalry was to escort mail from Pleasant Hill to Independence.
Hargis’s house was the only home on the downtown site at that time, Hale wrote, and stood at about Fourth and Jefferson, built in 1854 and torn down in 1949.
Lea was accosted on his way by some of the Iowa soldiers, possibly trying to locate the guerrillas who were riding with infamous William Clarke Quantrill, which included two of Lea’s sons.
The soldiers took Lea to the site of the present train depot, where they broke both his arms, then shot him. One story said a messenger had told Lea a son had been injured and waited for medical aid at the Hargis home, which was why Lea was headed there.
Hargis and several others returned Lea’s body to his home, on the park site and buried it beside his first wife.
Soldiers burned Lea’s home and 13 others that night.
Sometime after the war, a new home was erected on the site. One of Lea’s descendants, a woman, returned to the homestead to find a pig pen over the family cemetery. She ordered the bodies exhumed, personally saw to the cleaning of each bone and had them reburied Nov. 1, 1900, in the Lee’s Summit Historical Cemetery, where a large granite monument marks their grave.
Kathy Smith, president of the Lee’s Summit Historical Society, said the McKeighan connection with the land began in late 1800s.
R. H. McKeighan arrived in Lee’s Summit from Illinois in 1893.
He was cattle and hog speculator. He had six children, including Adelaide who was a well-known teacher.
“She was said to be rather cranky,” Smith said.
In 1896 McKeighan moved his family to a home at Douglas and Chipman, on property previously owned by William T. Hearne, another prominent cattleman and developer of Hearne’s 1st, 2nd and 3rd additions, that now are on the National Register of Historical Places.
He’d bought the land from yet another cattleman, A.H. Powell who was affiliated with the Bank of Lee’s Summit. He had bought it from the heirs of Pleasant Lea, Smith said.
In 1966 to 1967 many parties began transferring property to the city, including descendants of McKeighan. Smith said Mayor Ralph Powell approached the family with the idea of building a park.
William R. McKeighan apparently had inherited 4 tracts at the northeast corner of Douglas and Chipman. William McKeighan died in 1995 and his wife Vada in 1999, and they are buried in Lee’s Summit Historical Cemetery.
Land was developed for a park, starting with 16 acres, in 1974 and 1975.