Biography of William Lee Vaughan

William Lee Vaughan for a number of years had been one of the foremost business men and merchants of Kansas City, Kansas. Nearly all the residents of that city know his place of business at Eighteenth and Central Avenue, and particularly in that district of Kansas City his influence is recognized as having been one of the chief factors in many lines of development and improvement which have been brought about during the last decade or so.

Mr. Vaughan had an interesting family history. He was born at Sedalla, Missouri, June 29, 1873, but had lived in Kansas for thirty years. He was the only son in seven children born to Richard Clarke and Emma (Sterrett) Vaughan. His father was born in Virginia and his mother in Missouri. Emma Sterrett’s father, who was of Pennsylvania-Dutch stock, came overland to Southern Missouri in 1825, locating on a farm of 320 acres in Benton County. He was a man of prominence in that section of Missouri, and added greatly to his holdings until he had a splendid estate. He lived and died there. He was a slave owner and two of his sons fought on the Confederate side during the Civil war. One of these, George, was killed at the battle of Springfield. Augustus, who died at Nevada, Missouri, in 1915, went all through the war and was with Lee at the Appomattox surrender. During the gold rush to California in the early ’50s Mr. Sterrett and one of his sons went to the coast, and the son lost his life there, the father subsequently returning to Southern Missouri.

The paternal grandfather of William Lee Vaughan was Dr. William Loving Vaughan. With his family he made the long journey overland from Virginia to Osceola, St. Clair County, Missouri. He was a skillful physician, built up a large practice and became a wealthy man for those days. In the cattle business he was associated with the father of William P. Johnson, now well known through his official connection with the Southwestern National Bank of Kansas City, Missouri. At one time Doctor Vaughan owned the largest part of St. Clair County, and conducted it as a vast cattle ranch. His prosperity continued practically uninterrupted until the time of the war, when, like so many others, his property was dissipated and the family fortunes reduced to a low ebb. During the war fully 1,000 head of cattle were driven off the Vaughan ranch and practically nothing was left but the land. Doctor Vaughan was not only a remarkable business man, but also possessed that integrity which caused people of all classes to repose utmost confidence in him, and it is said that when the war broke out many of the soldiers in going to the front left the entire management of their affairs in his hands. In those troublous times it is not strange that he had some personal enemies in spite of the essential kindliness and generosity of his character. In 1864, while he was riding his horse along the streets of Osceola he was shot down by a personal enemy, and his death was felt as a personal loss and calamity to hundreds of people outside of his own family. He was a devout Presbyterian.

Richard Clarke Vaughan, father of the Kansas City business man, spent his early boyhood days in Missouri, gained an education in the district schools, lived on the farm and later learned the trade of tinsmith. Prior to the war he was in the hardware business and also carried a stock of tinware and other goods in wagons, peddlng them over the country districts. He had a genius for business affairs, and like his father enjoyed the complete confidence of all the people with whom he had dealings. He also was exposed to the dangers and hardships of warfare. In the old Town of Osceola his store was burned by a gang of bushwackers, and a little later the Bushwhackers perpetrated another raid upon the town. At the time of the second raid Augustus Sterrett, who had served in the Confederate army, was lying ill at home, but the Federal soldiers expressed a determination to kill him and were only dissuaded from the purpose by his mother, who told him that he was near death.

Following the horrors of war, Richard C. Vaughan resumed the tinning business and followed it largely until his death in 1886. The family fortunes were then in a precarious condition. The mother for several years had supported her family by keeping boarders and by doing sewing, and in 1886 she came with them to Armourdale, now a portion of Kansas City, Kansas. This removal was made in order to give the children better opportunities, and it was largely due to the self-sacrificing love and devotion of the mother that the children had the advantages of good schools. In Armourdale she continued keeping boarders until her children were in a position to do for themselves.

William Lee Vaughan was about thirteen or fourteen years of age when his mother removed to what is now Kansas City, Kansas. Up to that time he had attended the common schools of Missouri, and his first ambition for achievement in life was in the capacity of an undertaker. He soon gave up that design. For one year he worked in the office of Kelley Brothers, coopers, and then found work in the postoffice and filled various grades of responsibility in the Kansas City postoffice for sixteen years. While at work there he turned over in his mind different plans and ambitious for an independent business career, and finally determined to become a druggist. He studied pharmacy at night, also gained all the practical experience he could, and in 1899 he opened his first stock of drugs, on a moderate scale, at Armourdale. He soon had a large business, and was prosperous until his store was practically ruined by the disastrous flood of 1903. It is indicative of his enterprise that he was the first merchant to reopen business after the flood.

He soon determined upon a new location, one on higher ground, and in 1905 he removed his store to the corner of Eighteenth and Central Avenue, where he is now located. He was a pioneer merchant in this district, and the store building which he erected and still occupies was one of the most important business improvements placed in that section. Since then Mr. Vaughan had worked, tirelessly in developing this section of the city. Largely due to his influence Eighteenth Street had been graded and the curves and crooks of the old county road had been straightened out so that Eighteenth Street is now one of the finest avenues in the city.

For one year he was president and was one of the organizers of the Grand View Improvement Company, which is credited with having done more for that section of Kansas City than any other one thing. He was also an effective worker in presenting the petition for the street railway on Eighteenth Street, and was the originator of this plan and of many other plans that have since been carried out and have brought untold benefit to that district. In June, 1911, Mr. Vaughan became one of the organizers of the Security State Bank, and had since served as vice president. He is a member of the Mercantile Club, and had been foremost in every movement in recent years for the improvement and raising of the standards of the public schools of the city. While he is a democrat, he had never been an office seeker.

On June 29, 1898, Mr. Vaughan was married to Miss Ellen N. Buchhalter, of Reading, Pennsylvania, but prior to her marriage she had moved to Kansas. Mr. and Mrs. Vaughan have four children: Sarah Lee, Charles Clarke, Joseph Harry, William Lee, Jr., all of whom are still at home. Mr. Vaughan is a member of the Ancient Order of United Workmen, the Kansas Fraternal Citizens and belongs to all the Scottish Rite bodies of Masonry and the Mystic Shrine. He and his wife are active in the Presbyterian Church. Besides his store he owned several pieces of valuable real estate in that immediate section.



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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