The historically Croatian neighborhood of Strawberry Hill is located in Kansas City, KS right across the Kansas River from Kansas City, MO. It was founded in the 1800's, and still preserves a strong Croatian heritage with many second-, third-, and fourth-generation Croatians still living here today.
Croatian immigrants first settled at the bottom of the hill where you could once find strawberry fields. A 1903 flood forced many of them to move up the hill, which they renamed Strawberry Hill.
The neighborhood itself is very charming, with brick sidewalks, rows of old houses, and great views over the surrounding areas.
The Strawberry Hill Museum, which exhibits the cultural heritage of the neighborhood's Croatian immigrants and other ethnic groups, occupies the Scroggs House. This house was built in 1887, and is one of Kansas City's finest examples of Queen Anne Style architecture, which was popular in the US between about 1880 and 1910.
The house was first a private home owned by Margaret Scroggs, who lived there with her husband John until her death in 1915. The house then passed on to Margaret's daughter Emma. After a devastating influenza outbreak ravaged the nation and made many children into orphans, Emma sold the home to the church in 1919 and it became an orphanage. The orphanage, which was run by nuns through the Catholic Charities, housed as many as 70 children at a time and over 3000 children in total over the course of its 69-year operation. During this time, several additions were made to the house to give the orphanage more space. When the orphanage closed in 1988 it was turned into a museum.
Family is important to the community and the museum, as evidenced by my guide, Elaine - her father is on the museum's board of directors, and her mother, Marijana, is an artist whose work can be seen in the museum.
Marijana paints scenes from the neighborhood as she remembers it from her childhood. And, luckily, she has a very good memory! One thing that makes Marijana's art even more important is that a big part of the neighborhood no longer exists - it was demolished in 1957 to make way for the new interstate highway system. You can see the big red face of St. John's church in the center of the painting below. The street running from left to right directly in front of the church is 4th Streeet. Everything depicted in this painting that is downhill from 4th Street was demolished and is no longer there. Today the only thing across the street from St. John's is Interstate 70.
Anyway, back to my tour of the Strawberry Hill Museum! The first part of the tour takes you though the original Scroggs House, which is remarkably well preserved. There are several stained glass windows and light fixtures, as well as many beautiful details carved into the woodwork, all of which is original to the house. The few things that are not original, such as the wallpaper, were meticulously restored to be appropriate to the time period. Also, unlike many old homes that are open to visitors, much of the furniture is also original to the house, having belonged to either the Scroggs family or the orphanage.
The rooms along either side of this hallway were once the living quarters of the nuns who operated the orphanage. One room has been restored to look as it did when a nun lived there.
One other unusual exhibit in this part of the house is the bed that Pope John-Paul II slept in when he flew to the US in the 1980's and 1990's.
One of the most unusual items in the museum is this large playhouse. This house sat in the classroom of one of the nuns who taught at St. John's. Nuns are renowned for being extremely strict teachers, and this one was no exception. However, if it was your birthday you were allowed to take a couple of friends and go into this playhouse, as kind of a special birthday treat. But only on your birthday! The rest of the year there was no admittance, thank you!
There was also an assortment of tamburitza-making tools, donated to the museum by the local tamburitza maker Nick Rodina.
I'll leave you with this clip I found of Kansas City's own Sugar Creek Tamburitzans performing at the Sugar Creek Slavic Fest. I didn't know that there was a Slavic Fest in the Kansas City area, but I may have to check it out this summer! Doesn't that music sound like you're walking down some narrow side street in an old Croatian village?
Strawberry Hill Museum
Sugar Creek Slavic Fest
And if you're worked up an appetite after your visit to the museum, drive 15 minutes south to Lenexa, KS (their shop used to be in the Hill, but they've recently relocated) to have a taste of some Strawberry Hill Povitica! Povitica is a traditional Croatian rolled bread that is traditionally filled with nuts, but can also be made with a variety of other things including cream cheese, pumpkin, apple cinnamon, and even chocolate. IT IS DELICIOUS. Trust.
Strawberry Hill Povitica