By Heather Paxton
Thomas James Brodnax, who was known as Tom, was born in Eutaw, Ala., in 1858. He was the son of Rachel (Meriwether) Brodnax and H.W. Brodnax. Members of his family were among the early settlers in Greene County, Alabama. “‘Brodnax Landing’ was an important shipping point in the days when steam boats plied the Warrior River and when Greene County’s main highway led by their doors, through old Springfield and Eutaw,” according to the Greene County Democrat, which was published in Eutaw and which described the Brodnax plantation as “the ancestral home of the Brodnax and Meriwether families.” Tom was a child during the years of the Civil War. At the age of 18, he went to New Orleans and began a career in the grain business.
Tom moved to Kansas City when he was 22. In 1891, he married Myrtle Mae Deardorff at the First Baptist Church. Myrtle was one of six children of Caroline “Carrie” (Shouse) Deardorff and Lewis Deardorff. Myrtle’s maternal grandparents were Harriet (Bryan) Shouse and Judge William O. Shouse, both of whom were originally from Shelby County, Kentucky. Myrtle’s father, Lewis, who died in 1881, was “for many years one of the most useful and highly honored of the business men in Kansas City,” according to the “Encyclopedia of the History of Missouri.” His primary business was lumber, but his name is known because of the Deardorff building, which replaced the family’s lumber yard at 11th and Main streets. For many years, the Deardorff building was home to Harzfeld’s, the department store. (In the late 1970s, a high-rise originally called City Center Square, now known as 1100 Main Street, was erected on that site.) Her sisters were Hattie and Martha (Mrs. E.W. Shields; her husband was also a grain man, and their home at 5110 Cherry St. now houses the Bloch School of Business at the University of Missouri-Kansas City), and her brothers were Frank, Lewis and Harvey. The Kansas City Times estimated that 750 invitations for the wedding of Myrtle and Tom were sent. An intimate reception for about 65 guests followed at the bride’s mother’s home, which was located at 12th and Central streets. Members of Tom’s family who attended included his mother and his sister, Mary Leigh Brodnax, who were visiting from Alabama, and his uncle J.T. Brodnax, who resided in New Orleans. (Tom, like Myrtle, was from a large family. He also had three brothers, Ned, John and H.W.) The Times described the bridegroom as “being a member of the grain firm of Brodnax & Brodnax.” The newlyweds toured the East Coast and then set up housekeeping at 680 E. Ninth St.
Source: Jackson County Historical Society – Strauss-Peyton Collection
Tom became a member of the Commercial Exchange in 1892. He joined the Board of Trade in 1895, served as president in 1907 and remained a member until his death.
Myrtle and Tom were the parents of a son, whom they named Lewis Meriwether Brodnax. Tom earned the nickname “Old Man River” due to his work with William Rockhill Nelson and J.C. Nichols to improve travel on the Missouri River. For many years, the Brodnax family lived at 3526 Walnut St. Tom was a longtime member of the vestry at St. Paul’s Episcopal Church. He was a member of the Real Estate Board and a charter member of both the Kansas City Club and the American Automobile Association. Myrtle died in 1943. Tom closed his office in the Manufacturers Exchange Building in 1949. He then moved with his son, Lewis, and Lewis’s family to the Brodnax plantation in Eutaw, adding a ranch house to the property. Tom celebrated his 93rd birthday there in 1951 and died less than a month later.
The Kansas City Board of Trade Building – 1906
Source: Library of Congress