William Rockhill Nelson

William Rockhill Nelson

William Rockhill Nelson (March 7, 1841 - April 13, 1915) was a real estate developer and founder of The Kansas City Star. He donated his estate (and home) for the establishment of the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art.

Early life

He was born in Fort Wayne, Indiana. His father Isaac De Groff owned the Sentinel which became the (Fort Wayne News Sentinel) and had a farm called “Elm’s Park.” His mother's maiden name was "Rockhill." [ [http://www.umkc.edu/whmckc/PUBLICATIONS/WARDPKWY/WARDINTRO.HTM Ward Parkway The Grand American Parkway] ] Nelson, as a 15-year-old attended the University of Notre Dame (which accepted high school students) at the time for two years which he described as "Botany Bay for bad boys." Notre Dame was reported to have asked that he not return. [ Biography - Nelson, William Rockhill (1841-1915) - Gale Reference Team – 2006]

He was admitted to the bar in 1862 and was a campaign manager for Democratic Presidential nominee Samuel J. Tilden. Tilden told him:

: While it is a great thing to lead armies, it is a greater thing to lead the minds of men

Nelson attempted to run a store in Savannah, Georgia but it failed. The southern sojourn was to earn him the nickname “The Colonel” even though he never served in the military. William Allen White said later:

:Not that he was ever a colonel of anything...He was just coloneliferous. [ [http://www.kansascity.com/614/ www.kansascity.com | Star History ] ]


Nelson along with Samuel Morss formally took over the Sentinel in 1879. In 1880 they moved to Kansas City and started the Star. At the time there were three daily competitors – the "Evening Mail", The "Kansas City Times" and the "Kansas City Journal." Nelson took over sole ownership of the paper within a few months.

Nelson's business strategy called for cheap advance subscriptions and an intention to be “absolutely independent in politics, aiming to deal by all men and all parties with impartiality and fearlessness.” [ Biography - Nelson, William Rockhill (1841-1915) - Gale Reference Team – 2006]

He purchased the Kansas City Evening Mail (and its Associated Press franchise) in 1882 and started the Weekly Kansas City Star in 1890 and the Sunday Kansas City Star in 1894. [ Biography - Nelson, William Rockhill (1841-1915) - Gale Reference Team – 2006]

Nelson had portraits of Tilden, Grover Cleveland and Theodore Roosevelt in his office and was a crusading editor. Roosevelt was to stay with Nelson at Oak Hall.

Legendary exploits

Among his most famous crusades was a push for Kansas City’s George Kessler-designed park and boulevard system and the 1900 “Kansas City Spirit” to build Convention Hall in 90 days in order to host the 1900 Democratic National Convention after the original (and new) convention hall had burned in April 1900.

Nelson bought the Times in 1901 putting “The Morning Kansas City Star” on it.

Nelson was described:

: From the bulbous torso, with its fawn-colored vest, black coat and short thick arms, a collar suddenly expanded. It was like no other collar ever made; it widened from the neckband to take in a steadily heavier neck, and almost triple chin, and folds which rolled down at the base of his skull. His face was square, his mouth a wide, firm indenture; his chin overcame those folds beneath and jutted like Vermont granite. His nose began abruptly and ended the same way. Shaggy penthouses ruled over eyes which were really threatened by blindness, but which seemed to possess second-sight. His white hair was always rumpled, as if by pawing slaps from his fat hands. He had trouble getting into a chair and out of it. He would ask for something only once. Then he bellowed.

Nelson lorded over the Kansas City political landscape. In one legendary encounter, Kansas City Mayor Joseph J. Davenport was thrown down a stairwell at the Star building by editors (including William Allen White) when he was believed to have physically threatened Nelson. Nelson said afterwards:

:The Star never loses! [Tom's Town: Kansas City and the Pendergast Legend By William M. Reddig - ISBN 0826204988 - pp42 and 43 (available on print.google.com)]

Other interests

In addition to his newspaper duties, Nelson developed an area of farmland south of downtown Kansas City into a neighborhood of more than 100 houses, including his own mansion called Oak Hall [ [http://kcpl.org/localhistory/media.cfm?print=go&mediaID=35167 Local History - Kansas City Public Library ] ] . The area, which became known as the Rockhill District, was noted for its use of limestone in both the houses [ [http://kcpl.org/localhistory/media.cfm?print=go&mediaID=35167 Local History - Kansas City Public Library ] ] and in stone walls that stood beside the streets [ [http://www.kclibrary.org/localhistory/media.cfm?mediaID=35139 Local History - Kansas City Public Library ] ] .

Nelson provided in his will that following the death of his wife and daughter his Oak Hill mansion be torn down and its 30-acre estate turned into an art museum. Proceeds from his $6 million estate were used to build the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art in Kansas City.

His memorial is located in a mausoleum located at Mount Washington Cemetery in Independence, Missouri, between Truman Road and US Route 24.


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Look at other dictionaries:

  • Nelson, William Rockhill — ▪ American journalist, editor, and publisher born March 7, 1841, Fort Wayne, Indiana, U.S. died April 13, 1915, Kansas City, Missouri       American journalist, editor, and publisher who helped found The Kansas City Star (Kansas City Star) (1880) …   Universalium

  • Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art — Nelson Atkins Museum of Art: Rechts der Altbau aus dem Jahr 1933, links das Bloch Building von 2007 Das Nelson Atkins Museum of Art ist ein Kunstmuseum in Kansas City im US Bundesstaat Missouri. Es befindet sich in einem parkähnlichen Gelände… …   Deutsch Wikipedia

  • Nelson-Atkins Museum Of Art — Informations géographiques Coordonnées …   Wikipédia en Français

  • Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art — Informations géographiques Pays …   Wikipédia en Français

  • Nelson-atkins museum of art — Informations géographiques Coordonnées …   Wikipédia en Français

  • William Nelson — may refer to: William Nelson (governor) (1711–1772), American Colonial governor of Virginia William Nelson, 1st Earl Nelson (1757–1835), elder brother of Horatio Nelson, 1st Viscount Nelson William Nelson (congressman) (1784–1869), U.S.… …   Wikipedia

  • Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art — View of the museum and the Shuttlecocks installation from the south side …   Wikipedia

  • Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art — ▪ museum, Kansas City, Missouri, United States formerly  William Rockhill Nelson Gallery of Art and Mary Atkins Museum of Fine Arts         art museum in Kansas City, Mo., that ranks among the 10 largest in the United States.       Opened in 1933 …   Universalium

  • Nelson T. Johnson — Nelson Trusler Johnson (April 3, 1887–December 3, 1954) was the United States ambassador to the Republic of China prior to World War II, and to Australia during World War II. Contents 1 Early life and career 2 Early influence on Far Eastern… …   Wikipedia

  • Musée d'Art Nelson-Atkins — Nelson Atkins Museum of Art Nelson Atkins Museum of Art Informations géographiques Coordonnées …   Wikipédia en Français

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