By Susan Jezak Ford
Kansas City’s downtown was once crowded with substantial brick buildings, many of them built by William Whitehead Taylor. A handful of his structures remain, reminders of a time when bricklayers made an impact on our streetscapes.
William Whitehead Taylor was born in Lancashire, England, in the Rose & Crown public house, where his mother brewed her own beer to sell. She died before he was 10 years old, and even though his father soon remarried, life in England was very hard. The family was extremely poor, and Taylor spent his childhood working in factories and as a farm hand.
In 1856, at the age of 12, he left England with a brother for a better life in America. He arrived in Kansas City in 1857 and lived in a tent at 15th and Oak streets, working on a building crew. He attended school sporadically, but he also worked when he could. In the spring of 1863, he began to learn the trade of bricklaying from his brothers, who were building a brewery at 20th Street and Grand Avenue. He served as a guard during the Civil War, keeping rebels out of town.
William Whitehead Taylor
Source: The Kansas City Museum
After the Civil War, Taylor lived in Kansas City for the rest of his life with his wife, Anne, and their seven surviving children. He was laying brick on a convent at 11th and Washington streets when he befriended Father Bernard Donnelly. He later helped build Donnelly’s Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception and the Stock Exchange building in the West Bottoms. Taylor also worked on the Board of Trade building, erected at Eighth and Wyandotte streets in 1887; the Midland Hotel, built at Seventh Street and Grand Avenue in 1888; the old Jackson County Courthouse, built at Fifth and Oak streets in 1892; the waterworks building; and many private homes.
In 1910, Taylor died of pneumonia at his Kansas City home.
Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception
Photo by Bruce Mathews