Now all roads lead to France and heavy is the tread
Of the living; but the dead returning lightly dance.
Edward Thomas, Roads

Friday, April 26, 2024

A Kansas World War I Memorial: The Rosedale Memorial Arch

By James Patton

The Kansas City metro area is justly famous for the magnificent Liberty Memorial and Tower, which sits on the Missouri side and includes the National World War I Museum. However, within sight of the Liberty Memorial there is another significant monument, this one to the Kansans who served in that war. The Rosedale Memorial Arch is a scaled-down copy of Paris’s Arc de Triomphe. Although many such Romanesque victory arches were put up around the country after the war, most were temporary, made of plaster, but not this one. Today Rosedale is known as the home of the University of Kansas Medical Center (KUMC). It’s only a neighborhood in Kansas City, KS, now,  but it was an independent city from 1877 to 1922.

Shortly after the U.S. entered the war the various state units were reorganized into divisions made up of two infantry brigades, one artillery brigade and support troops. Although the final numbering scheme allotted to the National Guard was Divisions 26 through 75, there were only enough troops to staff 17, and the 42nd was made up of "leftover" units from 26 different states. At the urging of then-Major Douglas MacArthur, the 42nd was called the "Rainbow Division." The Kansas and Missouri National Guards were amalgamated into the 35th Division, but both states had an ammunition train, so the Rainbow Division got the 117th (ex-1st Kansas). Like many National Guard units, the 117th was under strength, so its commander, Lieutenant Colonel Frank L. Travis, placed "Men Wanted" ads in local newspapers and netted 375 volunteers that were sworn in on Mount Marty in Rosedale. 

The Rainbow Division came into existence in August 1917 with an authorized strength of 28,105 men and officers. In France they proved to be a first-class fighting division, ready for the toughest jobs, and they sustained 16,242 casualties. They came home in April 1919. 

On 12 May 1919, the city of Rosedale held a "Welcome Home" celebration for returning veterans. The streets were decorated with rainbow colored bunting, and Hudson Road was officially renamed Rainbow Boulevard (still is) in their honor. In 1921 the Kansas Legislature passed an authorization for municipalities to expend public funds, issue bonds, and levy taxes for the erection of permanent war memorials. Accordingly, a special election was held in Rosedale on 21 June 1921 seeking approval for “the establishment of a memorial park and the erection of an Arch at its entrance...The improvement will cost $25,000 for which bonds are to be issued..." The proposal carried by a vote of 129 to 77. John Leroy Marshall, a local architect and veteran, was engaged to design the memorial, and a tract of land on Mount Marty was selected. Also proposed was an athletic field 290 by 150 feet. Marshall's plans were quickly approved, and on 24 April 1922, condemnation was initiated for 5.2 acres of land to be acquired for $10,000. The Rosedale city council then passed an ordinance under the new law for the issuance of $25,000 of special improvement bonds. However, a back story was running concurrently: in 1913 a small majority in Rosedale had voted for consolidation with Kansas City, but the Rosedale city council had consistently refused to certify the results. However, in a surprise vote on 5 April 1922, the council did certify—Rosedale had 21 days before becoming part of Kansas City. The bond issue was rushed through and authorized one day before consolidation, but action by the state legislature on 24 February 1923 was still necessary to enable the city of Kansas City, KS, to issue the bonds.

The "groundbreaking" was held on 20 July 1923 to accommodate the schedule of French General Henri Gouraud (1867–1946), who was touring the country. The parade order was Gouraud and the VIPs first, followed by Ft. Leavenworth’s 17th Infantry (including band), an American Legion color guard carrying the standard of the 117th Ammunition Train, 200 or so 117th veterans and the color guards of area Legion posts. The route was decorated and the crowd numbered about 6,000. Many speeches followed a salute of 21 guns and the playing of the Marseillaise, then Gouraud’s address, through an interpreter, and he turned some dirt with a golden spade.

All this notwithstanding, the property purchase was not finalized until August, and construction not put out to bid until 15 March 1924. The arch was completed by September. It is 34' 6" high, 25' 5" wide, and 10' 5" deep at the base, each pillar is 10' 5" deep by 8' 3" wide. This is about one-fifth the size of the Paris arch. The arch opening is just under 10 ft. in width and 20 feet high. Each pillar rests on a separate concrete foundation extending down to solid rock. It is made of brick with a four-inch limestone facing, the brickwork varying in thickness from 21 inches at the base to nine inches at the top. The roof beneath the parapet is a reinforced concrete slab, and a drain pipe leads down the inside of one pillar to a tile pipe emptying out on the hillside below. A hatch in the roof allows interior access. Other than the moldings and entablature, decoration is minimal: each of the four spandrel panels of the arch contain a bas relief carving of a laurel branch surmounted by a shield of Columbia. There is a carved inscription repeated on both the north and south faces of the parapet, which reads as follows: 


The construction cost was $12,179, which with the land yielded a final cost well below the bond amount. The arch was finally dedicated on 7 September 1924, in a simple ceremony, and began a slow descent into obscurity. A football field was built south of the arch, then a stands (since demolished) in 1929. In 1935 the W.P.A. built a 750-ft. retaining wall around the stadium.  At a point just 82 ft. south of the arch this wall was nearly 22 ft. high. 

Access to the monument was restricted, and the city refused to maintain the property. For the next 30 years a jungle grew up around the arch. In 1962, civic groups cleared the site and had it rededicated to the veterans of all wars. Eventually a tablet with names inscribed was added to the site. In 1968, an urban renewal agency proposal to move the arch was blocked, flood lights were installed by the Rosedale Business Association, and the city built a road up to the arch, at last an acknowledgement of city responsibility. In 1976, the city paved the road and added a small parking area, a walk and steps to a circular plaza built around the base of the arch, two overlooks, and a professional lighting system.

Recently, the 42nd Division Veteran’s Association has taken an interest in the site, and the city has installed ornamental lights along the access road. Due to vandalism, the site is gated and closed at night.

The Rosedale Memorial Arch was entered in the Register of Historic Kansas Places on 1 July 1977, the National Register of Historic Places on 2 August 1977, and as a Historic Landmark: 28 July 1982. At last, the arch has gained the dignity and prominence originally hoped for, visible by day and by night to the thousands of vehicles that travel along I-35 in the valley below, a source of pride rather than of shame. 

Sources: The Kansas Historical Society, the Kansas City, KS, Planning and Zoning Division, and the City of Westwood


  1. This is an excellent and well-maintained monument. My mother graduated from Rosedale High School in 1956. Thank you for bringing attention to this important Great War monument in Kansas City, Kansas. Respectfully, Michael R. Grauer

  2. Thanks for letting us know the hiostory. In KC about once a year. I will make sure to visit this site. Thanks Mike!

  3. One of the attendees at the dedication was former 345th Battalion 2nd Lt. Harry Heitz, proprietor of the Heitz Lumber Company, who was awarded a DSC for his actions at Apremont on 1 October 1918. On that date, Heitz's and another platoon sallied from Apremont against elements of Landwehr Infantry Regiments 120 and 125, whom Dennis Nolan's 55th Brigade had just pinned down outside the village. Body counts vary, but it seems that at least 200 Germans lost their lives in that engagement. (Renaults "turn against our skirmishers," wrote one German witness, "who are defenselessly abandoned to them, in order to crush them to a pulp or, if they jump up, shoot them down with machine guns and small artillery pieces.") Gouraud shook Heitz's hand during the ceremony.

    Of course, one can't discuss Rosedale without thinking of barbeque!