Positioned in northeastern Kansas just southwest of Independence, Missouri, the Mahaffie farmstead was an important stage stop along the Santa Fe Trail where travelers stocked up for their journey westward. the house is a rare historical structure with good integrity and enough space to accommodate the visiting public who desire a taste of Kansas’s pioneer spirit.
The Mahaffie House and its surrounding outbuildings constituted the first hotel and stage station in its section of Johnson County, Kansas. As a whole, the property is testament to the ways that private citizens far from Santa Fe helped open trade with Mexico. Present-day visitors can see the contrast between northeastern Kansas’s rural past and its modern urbanized form. The unchecked growth of nearby Kansas City makes the preservation of the Mahaffie House–an important link to Johnson County’s yesteryears–even more vital.1 The house is the only known Santa Fe Trail stage station that remains open to members of the public.2
The Santa Fe Trail ran right across the southwest corner of the property, providing travelers with ready access to the farmstead. Stage stops were essentially multi-dimensional convenience stores–in addition to hot meals and other provisions, they offered hospitality, shelter, and relative safety. The property actually contains three structures listed on the National Register of Historic Places: the house, a wood peg barn, and a stone ice house. 3
Who Was J.B. Mahaffie?
James Beatty Mahaffie was born in Ohio in 1817; he married Lucinda Henderson in 1844. When he first arrived in Kansas in 1857, he found that proslavery Missourians had taken all the good plots of land so he returned to the Midwest for a while. Kansas did not become a state until 1861, and Kansas Terrtitory was organized under popular sovereignty–meaning that the state’s voters would decide whether or not slavery could be practiced there. Mahaffie eventually returned to Kansas and bought a house and a separate plot of land; he moved the house to the plot in 1858.4
Mahaffie the pioneer
Although a transplant from Ohio, Mahaffie is remembered as “one of the leading farmers of the area.” He was also “active in local social and political affairs”; in 1858 he was elected chairman of the Johnson County supervisors. Mahaffie belonged to the Grange, a post-Civil War organization to further the political and economic advancement of rural communities. His passion for developing the county extended to railroad politics; he served on the first board of directors of the Missouri River, Fort Scott, and Gulf Railroad. Later in his life, Mahaffied advocated the preservation of the Santa Fe Trail.5
The first night Mahaffie moved his house to his newly-purchased property in 1858, he took in $5 (roughly $150 today) from travelers–just for the privilege of sleeping on his wooden floors! Mahaffie’s farmstead soon became known for its hospitality.6 Communal dinners were served in the basement7. Mahaffie completed a large stone addition in 1865; that same year, he had the largest farm (570 acres) and the largest livestock herd in Olathe.8
The house sits roughly 500 feet north of the Kansas City Road, which once served as a portion of the Santa Fe Trail. The house, which sits on a thirteen-acre parcel, was constructed somewhere in Olathe in 1857 and moved to Mahaffie’s plot in 1858. It was originally a one-and-a-half stories tall until Mahaffie added a two-story stone addition on the structure’s southern side; Mahaffie later raised the adjoining frame structure so it stood two stories tall, as well. A one’story porch on Tuscan columns faces the old Kansas City Road. Though the house is not especially significant architecturally, it conforms to what architectural historians call a vernacular style9.
The End of the Mahaffie Era
Mahaffie retired from the farm in 1881 and sold the property in 1883. The era of the stage station had largely come to an end, thanks the end of the Civil War and the beginning of the railroad era.10 The property passed through different owners until the City of Olathe purchased the property in 1980 with funds from citizens, grants, and the city government. In 1982, a federal grant to imporove the Mahaffie House provided a new roof, forced air heating, and new wiring. It is relatively unusual for a city to own/operate a historic site as important as the Mahaffie House.11
Visit the House
The Mahaffie Farmstead is still used for agriculture, but it exists primarily as a tourist attraction. Those wishing to experience the property in a more intimate way can schedule a wedding or other large group event at the farm. It remains the only known Santa Fe Trail stage station that is open to the public (CMP).
The house is located at 1200 E Kansas City Road, Olathe, KS 66061. It is generally open from 10 am to 4 pm, depending on the season.
- Bleeding Kansas
- America’s Transcontinental Railroad
- Olathe, KS
- The Building of the First Kansas Railroad
- Harmon Park Rut
- Grinter House and Ferry
- Westport Landing
- Harris House
- William Bent House
- Alexander Majors House
- Michael E. Duncan, “Mahaffie Farmstead and Stagecoach Stop Historic Site,” Wagon Tracks vol. 1, no. 3 (May 1987): 4.
- National Park Service, Draft Comprehensive Management Plan. Denver: U.S. Department of the Interior, 1989.
- Richard Pankratz, “J.B. Mahaffie House.” National Register of Historic Places Inventory/Nomination Form. Kansas State Historical Society, Topeka, 29 August 1977.