Siloam Mt. Featured Image

When A Hill Became A Mountain

A picnic pavilion sits atop Siloam Mountain in downtown Excelsior Springs, MO (photo by Courtney Cole).

This article originally appeared in the July 2021 edition of The Phunn, the newsletter of the Excelsior Springs Museum & Archives, which members receive quarterly. Memberships support the Museum’s mission of procuring, protecting, and sharing our local history today and for generations to come. For details on how to join the Museum, check out www.esmuseum.com.

In 1934, Carnation Hil became Siloam Mountain. Before it was Carnation Hill, it was still just a hill known as Richardson’s hill for the landowner. But it was the name Carnation Hill that stuck for generations of camping tourists, church outings, family picnics, and scouts seeking nature merit badges.

It became Carnation Hill in 1905 when an enterprising Kansas Citian, W.H. Jones, established a tourist camp there. On May 13 of that year, the Excelsior Springs Daily Journal reported that “the young man who has the outdoor tent city on Richardson’s hill has named his place ‘Carnation Hill… He has fifteen tents up, fitted with elegant furniture, lighted by electric lights, and [he] operates a free hack line to the grounds. To keep the name of his place fresh in the minds of his guests he distributes carnations every morning. Jones even provided one of the first telephone lines in town.

But the elegant tourist camp didn’t last long. Although the Daily Call ran a pictorial on the tourist camp in its June 16, 1905, edition, the property had been sold earlier that month. By July 26, the tents and furnishings were being advertised for sale.

The Excelsior Springs Daily Call ran these three pictures of “Jones’ Carnation Hill” in its June 16, 1905 edition.

The new owner, Henry Ettenson, in 1905 paid Millard F. Richardson $4,250 for the property. Richardson was a real estate agent who had paid $300 for the property only a few years earlier. Ettenson, a department store magnate from Leavenworth, had been investing heavily in Excelsior Springs for several years. He purchased the Elms Hotel and other properties in 1897, a year before the first Elms burned. Ettenson was living nearby on South Marietta Street when he died in October 1909. It’s unclear when the city obtained title to the property, but throughout the years it continued to be referred to as Carnation Hill.

In 1919, the Excelsior Springs Council approved an expenditure of $20,000 to $30,000 to beautify two new parks, including three acres on the lower side of Dunbar Avenue known as Sunnyside and the 15- to 20-acre tract adjacent to River Road Drive (also called Valley Parkway and Lovers Lane) south of Fishing River, extending to the crest of Carnation Hill. Carnation Hil was selected to become a magnet for visitors seeking a beautiful vista overlooking the city “which will form one of the most picturesque and artistic sections of the entire boulevard system of the city… transforming Carnation Hill into one of the most attractive show grounds of Excelsior Springs,” which the Standard writer believed would add “immeasurably to the value of the city as a recreation and health resort.”

The plans for Carnation Hill changed in 1923 when the city decided to put the tourist campground there instead of Sunnyside Park. But the municipal tourist camp doesn’t seem to have become a reality until the late 1920s-early 1930s. The first mention of it in the local newspapers was in the fall of 1931 when an article said that the camping season had extended through Thanksgiving Day the previous year.

S.S. Bonham, a retired farmer from Macksburg, LA, and his wife had arrived here in early June 1931 for their annual visit, having been regular Excelsior Springs visitors for the previous three years. Bonham, who was taking a course of mineral water treatments at the Peterson Bath House, described it as “a mighty nice camp and well taken care of. There on the top of the hill, we have a wonderful view of the town, and yet we are close enough in that we are not inconvenienced by long trips. We come down in the mornings for our baths and waters and when it is hot in the afternoon, we have shade and usually a breeze.” The article said the tent city had averaged about 15 families and cars daily, with campers from Iowa, Kansas, Mississippi, New Mexico, Oklahoma, both Dakotas, and Canada. Some had stayed for several months.

The article went on to describe the conditions and amenities that provided

…all the comforts of home… Electric lights provide illumination at night. Running waters and showers are available and there is a generous stack of sawed wood for use in the out of doors oven where they do their own cooking. Steps from the hill down to Siloam park are being finished for the convenience of those who like to walk between the town and their tent home… During the day they come to town for their treatments and to make their purchases, evenings they come down to go to Lake Maurer or the show. Now that the semi-weekly schedule of band concerts has started, they have prize places on the hilltop to listen.

In July 1931, the Standard reported that the “scenic drive skirting the rim of Carnation Hill” had been completed, calling it “Excelsior Springs’ newest and most beautiful drive….” Not only city workers but also employees of the Golf Hill properties had worked on the drive, as a portion of it was still part of the Golf Hill Properties holdings. The Golf Hill Properties employees worked under the direction of C.W. Fish, the general manager for the Bell interests, which owned the Golf Hill Properties. “Replete with rugged grandeur, many places along the route having a ceiling of trees and flanked on either side by walls of rock, the drive is of sufficient width to permit two cars to pass and also offers observation points in which cars may park at spots offering the better views of the city,” the Daily Standard wrote.

The scenic rim drive sparked an especially fond memory for Louis C. Kiel and his wife. Kiel was a county entrusted auditor visiting in 1931 from Fort Madison, lA. Twenty-five years earlier, he and his wife had spent their honeymoon in Excelsior Springs and he recalled, “Then, there was a footpath and a burro trail for the cabin on the crown of the hill and many people for their exercise in the mornings made a regular habit of climbing the hill.” During this visit, however, the Kiels and their three children were staying at the newly opened Phillips Tavern “Tourist City” northwest of town.

In December 1932, the Chamber recommended the renaming of Carnation Hill Drive to “Rim Parkway,” as wished by Charles Fish, who had recently died. In March of 1933, Alnutt reported that Rim Drive was in excellent shape. It had been widened, the curves made less dangerous and the surface smoothed. Alnutt urged all citizens “to drive over the improved roadway, enjoy the scenery therefrom and to call the attention of the feature to visitors who come to Excelsior Springs.” The next month, the Park Board designated five acres on the northeastern side of Carnation Hill along the newly built Highway 10 as a bird haven. “Not a stick, not a tree, nor a weed nor a vine is to be removed from this plot of ground. It is being allowed to grow naturally. Vines have grown up the saplings and have spread to the larger trees, underbrush has made a tangle which is almost an impenetrable growth. Here the birds have chosen to build their nests. There are none of the disturbances there that are found in other parts of the park,” the Standard wrote. The newspaper also reported that the song of a dozen or more species of birds could be heard, including a rare kingfish bird that had taken up a post along the banks of Fishing River. “The river, through its lack of living creatures, offered a poor hunting ground for this predatory bird,” the writer noted. A bird population survey by the Boy Scouts in 1933 found that 20 species of birds had built nests on Carnation Hill during the spring.

On March 8, 1934, the name “Carnation Hill’ disappeared from the landscape. The Standard headline was: “Carnation Hill A Mountain By Decree Of The Park Board.” The Standard also had some fun with the story stating, “Not by a volcanic extrusion nor a faulting nor by slow upheaval of the earth’s surface did Carnation Hill become a mountain. Carnation Hill became a mountain through a decree of the park board.” The renaming initiated some public discussion as to the definition of a mountain, “Just what constitutes a mountain is still a moot (sic) question among the scientists and until they are agreed, any elevation may be a mountain, or at least that is the theory.” reported one article. One response joked, “Since Siloam Mountain is to be, Excelsior Springs might bid for fame by having the smallest mountain in the country.” Dr. Curtis McKinney, who was the originator and instigator of the renaming of the hill, was later ribbed as “the man who made a mountain out of a molehill.” And generations later, the majestic Siloam Mountain still stands, as well as the name it was given.

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