Clay County, Missouri:  Cities of Excelsior Springs, Gladstone and Smithville

Excelsior Springs

Excelsior Springs, Missouri is a vibrant, historic community in a strategic location for future growth.  The city’s prospects present both exciting challenges and opportunities.

Community Center

Superior Mineral Water Well

Historic Hall of Waters

Excelsior Springs’ unique history began with the discovery of its mineral waters; founded in 1880 the city grew as a destination for healing waters.  Its numerous mineral wells attracted people nationally to come experience “America’s Haven of Health.”  The city used its special features to grow and prosper well into the 1960s when changes in medical science caught up with the city.  The city’s economy was forever changed but not its unique beauty, character, and history. 

Historically Excelsior Springs’ economy was independent from the Kansas City Metro Area but over the last 20 years an economic transition has occurred in the city with more residents commuting to jobs outside the city.

The city’s early development occurred in the Fishing River valley populated by hotels, resort services, bath houses, retailing, and related uses.  The attraction of the springs caused residential neighborhoods to grow both in the valley and on the surrounding hillsides.  In the early twentieth century, the “City Beautiful” movement came to Excelsior Springs as a community partnership retained the great landscape architect George Kessler to develop a parks and urban design plan to complement the springs and knit the city’s considerable public and private resources into a unified design plan.  In 1912, the city core received direct connections to regional cities with the completion of the Kansas City and St. Joseph Railway electric line, and was also served by the Wabash Railroad.  This high-performance interurban operated until 1933, when a combination of highway and steam railroad competition and the Great Depression led to insolvency.  Later developments occurring to the west of the core city, followed more conventional development patterns along transportation corridors that followed relatively flat, upland alignments including both highway and railroad corridors.  The resulting community, influenced by both history and geology and more conventional factors such as transportation and regional growth patterns dispersed development over a relatively large area.

Excelsior Springs, a suburb of Kansas City, is a city of over 11,000 residents earning the recent designation “Playful City”.  Over the last 50 years there have been many struggles and successes.  Excelsior Springs suffers from a generational pocket of poverty that is perhaps a result of the large loss of service related jobs supported by the tourism industry.  Today, Excelsior Springs boasts a growing tourism industry, following the restoration of the historic Elms Hotel and Spa, the region’s top wedding destination and spa attraction; and the resurgence of the historic downtown, host to several annual festivals and events.  Key sites include the Elms Hotel and Spa, the Hall of Waters and remaining mineral water wells, Excelsior Springs Golf Course and the brand new Community Center, modern sports facilities and beautiful parklands.  The city supports around 5,000 jobs due to a handful of small industries including a pasta manufacturer that emerged in recent decades to replace jobs lost.  Our residents are involved community members, quick to volunteer and always ready to enjoy a good time. 

Gladstone

The City of Gladstone, Missouri, incorporated in November of 1952, has a heritage of pride and integrity. As a first-tier suburb in the Kansas City metropolitan area, the community faces many challenges similar to most ‘postwar’ auto-oriented communities.  Gladstone is a largely residential community with an approximate population of 26,000 residents. Located in the northern metropolitan area, Gladstone is unique in that all borders of the city are shared with Kansas City, Missouri.  Gladstone is governed by an elected City Council, made up of five at-large members.  A City Manager, appointed by the Council, manages the daily operations of municipal services.

Like many other communities throughout the country, Gladstone is planning for changing demographics and priorities of its citizens, revitalization and strengthening of older residential and commercial areas, and enhancing community infrastructure and access to transportation options. Citizens who have lived in the city since its incorporation recall the days of narrow streets, few businesses, and a time when extensive growth opportunities existed.  Today, Gladstone is 98 percent built-out; revitalization and redevelopment of older existing, underutilized land is imperative for the long-term sustainability of the community.

The redevelopment of a downtown area has led to many partnerships and allowed for the construction of a new community / aquatic center, a mixed-use 225 unit multi-family and retail project, a green space community square venue and a four-story Innovation Center.  In addition to the downtown area, the City has invested in the heritage of the region by preserving the historic Atkins-Johnson farm, which is one of the oldest homesteads in Clay County.  This historic site has been carefully preserved to replicate the home and outbuildings as they were in the 1800’s.

One of the newest endeavors undertaken by the city is the formation of a citizen-led initiative called “Shaping our Future”.  This year-long process has led to the development of a “road map”, which will be used to guide city officials in prioritizing the projects and initiatives that will make Gladstone unique and distinctive for years to come.  Our vision is to use the Communities of Excellence 2026 process to develop an integrated healthcare platform that will align regional health care facilities, programs and services in order to offer a coordinated continuum of health care to the residents of our community.

Smithville

Smithville is a dynamic city located primarily in Clay County and partially Platte County, Missouri. Smithville lies along the Little Platte River, just west of the Smithville Lake Dam completed by the U. S. Corps of Engineers in the early 1980s.  The city has a total area of 15.67 square miles.

Smithville is named after Humphrey “Yankee” Smith (1774 – May 5, 1857) after he settled at the site in 1822.  The town was originally known as “Smith’s Mill” but ultimately became “Smithville.” The settlement was one of the most westward locations on the Missouri frontier and on the eastern boundary of the Platte Purchase.

The City and public schools were incorporated 1867-1868. Among the notable historic features of the community are silver screen stars Wallace Berry and Noah Berry, Sr. were born and raised near Smithville and the Downtown Smithville Historic District has been listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

As of the census of 2010, there were 8,425 people, 3,115 households, and 2,321 families residing in the City.  The median age in the city was 36.9 years, 29% of residents were under the age of 18; 5.9% were between the ages of 18 and 24; 29.3% were from 25 to 44; 25.8% were from 45 to 64; and 10.2% were 65 years of age or older.  The gender makeup of the city was 49.0% male and 51.0% female.

Since the early 1990s, Smithville has experienced rapid residential growth from a community of 2,500 to over 10,000 at the last estimates. In recent years, a long awaited uptick in retail growth has begun. The rapid growth has created challenges for the community to expand services and maintain standards for quality of services and infrastructure.

Smithville is also a recreational center from the KC Northland and beyond, being the home of Smithville Lake and the many trails that surround it. Smithville plays host to many local festivals and fairs throughout the year.