Biography of Jesse Clyde Nichols

Jesse Clyde Nichols. Under the stressful conditions of modern life the work that a man does cannot in any sense be estimated by his personal age, but rather by the intensity and concentration of his performance. Many Kansas people and people in other states know something of the positions and achievements of J. C. Nichols and the natural assumption would be that he is a man past the middle age of a natural lifetime at least. The fact is that he graduated from Kansas University fifteen years ago and within that time he had compressed as much dynamic force and energy with expression in concrete and important results as most men would be satisfied to accomplish in a period twice as long.

Though his business career makes him a citizen of Kansas City, Missouri, Mr. Nichols is proud of the fact that he is a native Kansas and his loyalty to the state had been of immense material and civic advantage. He was born at Olathe August 23, 1880, a son of Jesse T. and Josie (Jackson) Nichols. His father, a native of Ohio, came to Kansas in 1869 and was a farmer in his main occupation. He afterwards became president and treasurer and one of the organizers of the largest co-operative store in the state. He was of Scotch ancestry and a Quaker by birthright and training. He was actively identified with the populist cause when that movement was in its prime, and subsequently was a democrat. For four years he filled the office of county treasurer of Johnson County. He was associated with F. O. Ostranger in organizing the packing plant at Olathe still in existence as the Olathe Packing Company. He took a very active part in the Farmers Grange and held some of its chief offices. His business ability and experience turned to excellent use in his interests as a farmer, and was always in advance of the profession in solving farm problems. He naturally had a strong hold on the people of Kansas and especially the agrarian element, and at one time his name was proposed for state treasurer, but he declined to run. His honesty was proverbial, and he was especially distinguished by that strength of character and intellect which is none the less powerful because quietly operative. He gave all his influence to the cause of prohibition, was an active Presbyterian, and though his wife was reared a Methodist she afterward joined in the same church with her husband. These parents devoted themselves to the interests of their children and did all they could to provide them with good home influences and liberal educations. The father was a stockholder and director in the banks of Olathe and successful himself he did much to help others not so fortunate in life. He died February 13, 1916.

His wife was a native of Georgia and she and her family had some romantic experiences during Civil war times. Her father, Zachariah Nathaniel Jackson, was drafted into the Confederate army and made captain. He always abhorred the institution of slavery and finally became convinced that the South was wrong in its struggle and he joined the Northern army. In the meantime his wife had become a nurse in the Union army and was active in that service for three years, becoming head nurse in one of the large hospitals in the eastern war district. In the meantime their Georgia home had been burned by the Union armies and Mrs. Nichols and the other children were taken along by the Union troops. Mr. Nichols’ grandmother, Jackson, wrote a book describing her experiences as a war nurse.

Jesse C. Nichols grew up at Olathe, attended the common schools and the high school, and while his father was a man of prosperous circumstances and willing to encourage his son in every way, the son did much to pay his own way in the world even while a schoolboy. He would work on farms during the summers and for several years he clerked in stores at Olathe on Saturdays. For a year he conducted a wholesale meat market at Kansas City, Missouri, and handled the sales end of the Olathe Packing Company’s business.

Mr. Nichols was a student in the University of Kansas from 1898 to 1902 and had his degree A. B. from that institution. While concerned in many of the student and university activities, his scholarship record had been excelled only once prior to his time. This seems the more creditable because he paid his way through school by work as steward in students’ clubs, by selling meat products to retail stores, and as correspondent of the Kansas City Star. Though he took a general course in the University of Kansas it was his ambition even then to study law. At Lawrence he was a leader in college politics, was manager of athletic teams, assisted in the college newspaper and was a member of the Students Council and a class officer. He became a member of the Beta Theta Pi and was elected to the honorary scholarship fraternity Phi Beta Kappa. He won a scholarship in Harvard University and was graduated from Harvard in 1903. During the vacation of 1900 Mr. Nichols worked his way to Europe on a cattle ship and then toured the continent on a bicycle, the entire trip costing him only $125. The vacation of 1901 he spent in the West selling maps in Utah, Oregon and Washington, and for one month acted as deputy United States marshal in Utah under Glenn Miller. While in Kansas University he helped reorganize the Athletic Association and helped put athletics on a strictly amateur basis. After graduating from Harvard in 1903 Mr. Nichols had an instructive and recreative experience by a walking tour over the New England States.

He had always been keenly interested in University affairs, had served as president of his alumni class and as president of the Alumni Association and in different ways had assisted promoting measures through the Legislature for the benefit of the University.

After leaving college he was not long in finding his work. To call him merely a successful real estate man affords him little of the distinction which he deserves. In his real estate operations he had been guided by an idealism, vision, farsightedness and what might be called an enlightened view of his own interests and those of his clients, which puts him almost in a class by himself.

His greatest single achievement was the development of the Country Club district, said to be the largest high class residence district in America. It embodies the best modern thought in scientific planning, and the district had already been accepted as a model throughout the country. He is a national authority in residence subdivision and the development work carried on under his direction in Kansas City had revolutionized residence property management and improvement, had created new ideals of beauty and new standards for landscape treatment and the laying out of residence property, so that landscape architects all over the country have gained new ideas and have closely studied all that he had done.

It would require a long article to describe all his original ideas and methods exemplified in his development around Kansas City. He early realized that there is more to a residence district than the customary house and lot unit. In seeking to create atmosphere and an interesting environment he some years ago started a campaign for interesting people in birds, and in less than three years’ time had more than 2,000 bird houses erected on his property. This method had subsequently been widely copied. He secured the services of Ernest Harold Baynes, the noted New Hampshire ornithologist, who came to the Country Club district and delivered lectures on birds and means of attracting them. He also established prizes in the schools and sent out circulars in lots of from 5,000 to 10,000 to people throughout Kansas City for the purpose of stimulating interest in bird life and getting the people to protect these things of beauty and utmost usefulness to mankind.

He instituted similar plans for the promotion of flower gardening, and secured one lecturer on the subject from England, having the lecture repeated in the high schools of Kansas City and thus arousing a general interest in the beautifying of homes and grounds. In the same way he improved the knowledge and taste of local people in architecture, landscape gardening, vegetable gardening, and in many other things that make home life attractive.

When Mr. Nichols began his development work he found a general prejudice existing in Kansas City, Missouri, against having homes on the Kansas side. To combat this prejudice he deliberately set about creating a residence section in Johnson County, Kansas, just across the state line. This movement had as it nucleus the Mission Hills Country Club, which is today equally popular with any other club around Kansas City. The Mission Hills Country Club is surrounded by a magnificent tract of 400 acres, which Mr. Nichols is developing as Mission Hills. It is probably laid out more scientifically and more beautifully than any other section of Kansas, and will ultimately carry many millions of dollars of value into Kansas. A resident at Mission Hills had exceptional opportunities for the enjoyment of business, education, society, music, art, theaters, clubs of a large city and in addition the advantages of the quiet rural environment of the Kansas side.

Mr. Nichols realized some years ago the immense loss sustained by larger cities through the shifting and declining of residence sections as a result of the intrusion and encroachment of business and factories. Thus in the development of these residence districts around Kansas City he had worked out restrictions so as to anchor and protect permanent residence sections for long periods. Some of these residence restrictions evolved by him are perhaps entirely new and their benefits have been made applicable to other communities because Mr. Nichols had sustained the principles through several cases upheld in the United States Supreme Court.

The main feature in the development of his properties had been to create interesting home sites, quiet residence ways, separate from the traffic ways, where children may play with safety and amid healthful surroundings. Wide open spaces are carefully provided between the homes, historic points and beautiful vistas have been preserved, and the natural beauty accentuated wherever possible.

As a recognized authority on city development and city planning Mr. Nichols had been called to many other communities, and had addressed real estate associations and civic organizations in Louisville, New Orleans, Chicago, Cleveland, Omaha, Harrisburg, Pennsylvania; Evansville, Indiana; Baltimore and Washington, D. C. In 1914 before the National Convention of Real Estate Exchanges at Louisville he delivered an address on “Efficient Methods of Platting Residence Property.” This address was printed in pamphlet form by the American Civic Association and 10,000 copies have been distributed to the real estate associations and city officials of America and a second edition of the pamphlet was required to supply the demand. In November, 1915, he delivered an address before the American Civic Association in Baltimore on “Creating Good Residence Neighborhoods by Planning.” At that meeting he was elected a member of the board of directors of the American Civic Association and had since become vice president of the association. In March, 1916, he talked on “City Planning” before the National Association of Real Estate Exchanges in New Orleans. The association printed this address for distribution, and its substance was subsequently repeated before the annual City Planning Conference in Cleveland and before the Chicago City Planning Conference and the Chamber of Commerce at Harrisburg, Pennsylvania.

Mr. Nichols is a director of the National City Planning Conference. Articles from his pen upon such subjects as “Housing” and “City Planning” have been published in the American Homes and Gardens Magazine, The Survey, The Ladies Home Journal, House and Gardens, Annals of Political Economy and other publications. At the present writing Mr. Nichols is engaged on a series of articles upon Planning and Replanning Small Towns from the standpoint of efficiency, economy and beauty. His wide experience and thorough insight have made him keenly realize the economic waste in Kansas towns and elsewhere through the method in which they lay out their streets and improvements. Such improvements follow a haphazard stereotyped method, due to custom rather than the advantage of use, and such methods destroy the individuality and charm of the place and more important still place a greater burden of cost in proportion upon the city than is necessary.

At the age of twenty-seven Mr. Nichols was elected director of the Commerce Trust Company of Kansas City, Missouri, and was at that time the youngest bank director in the city. He is also a director of the University Club, the Business Men’s Accident Association, the Kansas City Real Estate Board, the Kansas City Title and Trust Company, the Morris Plan Bank, the Fine Arts Institute and the Chamber of Commerce. He is president of a number of commercial companies controlling more than $10,000,000 worth of property in Kansas City known as the Country Club District. He is treasurer of the Kansas City Conservatory of Music and vice president of the Kansas City Provident Association and had active connections with various other philanthropic organizations. He was vice chairman of the bond committee which conducted the campaign by which $5,000,000 were voted in bonds for local improvements in Kansas City, Missouri. He also took a leading part in the extension of the city limits.

Needless to say Mr. Nichols is a man in love with his work. He had that quality of enthusiasm and enterprise which may be likened to a dynamo, and yet is tempered and regulated and controlled by a wisdom and judgment that comprehend all the dimensions of a subject so that in reality his enthusiam is the truest conservatism.

Mr. Nichols is married and had a happy family. He was married June 18, 1905, to Miss Jessie Elder Miller, of Olathe. Mrs. Nichols is a graduate of Vassar College. Her father, M. G. Miller, was the pioneer banker of Olathe, organizer of the Olathe State Bank. He was also a merchant, and put up the largest building in Olathe for business purposes, was owner of the flour mill and the telephone company, and might also be classed as the largest farmer in Johnson County. Mr. and Mrs. Nichols have three children: Eleanor Miller, Miller and Jesse Clyde, Jr.

The Carnegie City Library of Emporiais one of the best patronized institutions of its kind in the state. It is in reality deeply rooted in the early cultural activities of that interesting city.

It was in 1869 that a library association was organized in Emporia, and for many years this association maintained a collection of books and a more or less adequate library service. The members of the Library Association took the leading part in 1904 in securing the $22,000 from Andrew Carnegie’s Library Fund, with which the present handsome structure was erected. The two lots on which the library stands at East Sixth Avenue and Market Street were donated by Mrs. Preston B. Plumb. The total number of books now housed in the library approximate 15,200, well distributed among the various classifications of fiction, history and biography, essays, art, politics, etc.

Besides the gifts from Mr. Carnegie and Mrs. Plumb which brought about the construction of the present building on the present site, the library is, of course, maintained by a library tax imposed by the city, and another important contribution was that furnished by the late Capt. L. T. Heritage, a former president of the library board, who left, when he died in 1912, the sum of $10,000 on interest and $2,000 for immediate use of the library.

This brief sketch should not fail to mention some of the citizens, all members of the old Library Association, who were especially active and influential in the old organization and who laid the foundation for the present institution. The following names are mentioned: Mr. and Mrs. P. B. Plumb, G. M. Steele, who was secretary of the old Library Association, C. H. Riggs, E. P. Bancroft, Mrs. Perly, Jacob Stotler, T. T. Wibley, J. S. Watson, E. P. Bruner, J. W. Trueworthy, W. W. Hibben, E. W. Cunningham, E. R. Holderman, W. D. Peyton, George Newman, L. B. Kellogg and S. B. Riggs.

The library board today consists of the following: L. A. Lowther, president; Conrad Vandervelde, vice president; Mabel Edwards, secretary; Mrs. Howard Dunlap, chairman book committee; Mrs. G. W. Newman, E. A. Perrine, George Borderkircher, H. E. Peach and R. M. Hamer, mayor and ex-officio member.

The librarian is Miss Mildred Berrier, who was born in Americus, Kansas. Miss Berrier was reared in Emporia by her grandparents, and graduated from the library department of the State Normal School at Emporia, following which she became librarian of the City Library. She is a member of the State Library Association and belongs to the Presbyterian Church.



Connelley, William E. A Standard History of Kansas and Kansans. Chicago : Lewis, 1918. 5v. Biographies can be accessed from this page: Kansas and Kansans Biographies.

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1 thought on “Biography of Jesse Clyde Nichols”

  1. I read Mr JC Nichols biography with great interest. My daughter and her husband did buy 2 years ago a house in the Country Club District (59th W Terrace) and they are in love with it. I’m actually visiting them with my wife from Quebec Canada and am trying to get some information about their house. I would like to find some documentation and pictures of this house from the building by eventually an architect that I would also be interested in knowing his name and achievements in this district.
    As I’m here only for a few days, I will probably have to keep on this searching from our home when back in Quebec. If anybody had access to such information that I’m searching I would be happy to read from that people.
    Jacques Hamel.

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