Benton Harbor: A Man For Our Time

Steamship “City of Benton Harbor” Near St. Joseph/Benton Harbor, Michigan Lighthouse

For nearly two centuries, the legacy of Missouri’s Benton family has continued to spread.

Maecenas Benton, United States Attorney (1885-1889) and Congressional Representative from Missouri (1897-1905) happened to be the father of Thomas Hart Benton, American regionalist painter and muralist.

Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art, which houses many of his paintings, is located in Bentonville, Arkansas, a town named in honor of his great-great-uncle Thomas Hart Benton, a five-term Missouri senator whose efforts on behalf of Arkansas statehood were substantial.  After the first county in Arkansas was named “Benton” as a tribute to the Senator, the site designated as the county seat became known as Bentonville.

Arkansas wasn’t the only state that profited from Senator Benton’s attentions. Only six months after Arkansas’s [¹] 1836 admittance to the Union, Michigan became the next state to join.  Benton Township was established there on March 11, 1837, and in 1865, one of the first towns in the area, Brunson Harbor, became Benton Harbor: also in tribute to the Missouri Senator who helped Michigan achieve statehood. Continue reading

The Great Arkansas Post Office Tour

Tobacco Sorters  (1942-1944) ~ Thomas Hart Benton

In Arkansas and Missouri, the name is ubiquitous. Even the most casual visitor tends to notice, and occasionally asks, “Who is this ‘Benton’ character whose name keeps cropping up?” In fact, it isn’t “this Benton” but “these Bentons” for whom the states’ schools, counties, and towns are named.

The first Thomas Hart Benton (1782-1858) served five terms as senator from Missouri. A strong advocate for westward expansion, he petitioned Congress to fund a survey of the road to Santa Fe. The petition granted, Commissioners George Sibley, Benjamin Reeves, and Thomas Mather of Illinois took charge of the survey, measuring and negotiating their way across Kansas and New Mexico from 1825-1827. Continue reading

Tom Benton’s Flood

Modern explorers call it the Lewis & Clark, that long swath of concrete and steel connecting Kansas City, Missouri to Kansas City, Kansas.  Constructed as a two-lane toll bridge in 1907, it was jointly purchased by the two Kansas Cities in 1918, and tolls were discontinued. Expanded in 1936, it remained the only bridge open to traffic during the flood of 1951 as the West Bottoms, the Argentine and the Armourdale industrial districts – including the stockyards and rail yards – disappeared under water. Finally, in 1969, a parallel bridge was tucked in next to it and the entire span was designated the Lewis & Clark Viaduct.

Still, for many who heard stories of the original bridge, remember its expansion or experienced gratitude for its survival through decades of flooding, it’s still called by its original name, the Intercity Viaduct. In 1951, the Intercity (and perhaps the 7th Street Trafficway as well) helped our family escape from one of the greatest floods ever to roll through the Midwest. Continue reading