John Wornall & His Family
The Wornalls were an prominent family in the early days of Kansas City. John Wornall, native of Kentucky, and namesake of Wornall Road, made a name for himself in the early days of Westport as a farmer. As the city developed around the Wornall property, the Wornall family contributed to various enterprises, including real estate, banking, and politics.
The Wornall Family
Eliza Wornall, painted by George Caleb Bingham in 1866
John Bristow Wornall, the oldest son of Richard and Judith Wornall, was born in 1822 in Kentucky. Richard Wornall was once a successful farmer and mule and horse trader, but financial losses forced him to move west. In 1843, Richard, Judith, and their two sons, John Bristow and George “Thomas,” moved to Westport, Missouri. Richard Wornall purchased nearly 500 acres of land from John McCoy for a total cost of $2,500. The crops from the first year reportedly paid the entire purchase price of the farm. Richard and Judith sold the land to their sons in the mid-1840s. Thomas died of cholera on the western plains in 1849, and John became the sole titleholder. After Judith died in 1849, Richard Wornall returned to Kentucky.
John lost his first wife, Matilda Polk, to illness shortly after their marriage in 1851. In 1854, John married Eliza Johnson, daughter of Rev. Thomas Johnson, who founded the Shawnee Methodist Indian Mission in Kansas in 1831. John and Eliza had seven children but only two lived beyond infancy: Frank (born 1855) and Thomas Johnson (born 1865). Eliza passed away a week after the birth of her last child, at 29 years old. In 1866, John married Eliza’s first cousin, Roma Johnson. They also had two children who lived beyond infancy: John B. (born 1872) and Charles H. (born 1876).
The Wornall Legacy
John Wornall was a leading citizen in Jackson County. He was one of the original members and president of The Jackson County Agricultural and Mechanical Association. He was also active in the Baptist Church, serving as treasurer and moderator of the Big Blue (later Westport) Baptist Church. John was a strong supporter of William Jewell College and acted as chairman of its Board of Trustees. In 1857, John Wornall and his brother-in-law, A. S. Johnson, became incorporators for the Shawnee Town Company of Johnson County, Kansas. This interest in real estate continued, as a directory in 1867-68 listed his profession as such. John Wornall co-founded the Kansas City National Bank in 1870. That same year he was elected to the state senate representing Cass, Jackson, and Bates counties. He served four years before declining re-nomination.
After John Wornall’s death in 1892, Roma lived in to the Wornall House the rest of her life, except for one year when she sold the farm and the house in 1909 to local real estate developer J.C. Nichols. Nichols in turned allowed the Pembroke Country Day School for Boys to use the home as the first site for their school. However, after living for a year in an apartment downtown, Roma wished to move back to the country. The contract of sale with J.C. Nichols allowed her to repurchase the homestead, so she returned. She lived here until her death in 1933. The house then went to her son, John Jr., who lived in the home until his death in 1962.
Roma Wornall (left) with family, including Frank Wornall (second from left) and John Wornall Jr. (right).