Robert Alexander Long was born
December 17, 1850 in Shelbyville, Kentucky. He was one of nine children
born to Samuel M. Long and Margaret Kinkead White. Margaret was only
sixteen years of age when she married Samuel Long. Her father had died
and she was encouraged by her family to marry. She grew up on a grand
Southern plantation and was strong willed and could be obstinate. These
genes would help create Robert A. Long. Samuel M. Long owned 300 acres
of farm land in Shelbyville, Kentucky and he was twenty-five years old
when they married. Samuel Long and his children worked the 300 acre
farm and made it profitable. Robert A. Long learned at an early age
that laziness was a carnal sin. His parents were deeply religious and
his father served as a deacon at the Christian Church. They were strong
in their church and its teachings, which included being very
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Robert A. Long’s primary education
was in a one-room country school house. From the age of fourteen to
sixteen, he attended a preparatory school for boys. Robert A. Longs’
personality drove him to excel at whatever task came about. He had a
photographic memory, which later was a standard part of his life. He
could store pages of information in his head and recall it at will. He
was deeply religious and a member of the Christian Church. This deep
faith would mold his life. He abstained from alcohol, profanity and
carnal sin. He did not smoke.
Shelbyville, Kentucky was famous
for purebred cattle and fancy saddle and harness horses. Long grew up
in the era of rolling hill sides with grand and spacious Southern
mansions. Going into town with his father, they would pass these
estates. One of his favorite mansions was Walnut Hill. It was in the
Greek Revival style with a two-story portico supported by five columns.
All his life Robert Long equated columns and porticos with rank and
He dreamed of opportunities in
places other than on his father’s farm. His uncle, C. J. White, was a banker
in Kansas City when Robert was twenty-two years old and decided to try
his wings. With $700, a share of the farm harvest, in his pocket, he
traveled to Kansas City and was welcomed into his uncle’s household.
Various jobs did not come about and his savings were nearly gone when
his uncle suggested Robert and his cousins, Robert White and Victor Bell
start a hay business. He suggested the boys cut wild grass in Kansas
and sell it.
They cut tons of hay and bought a
few carloads of lumber to make sheds to protect the hay from winter. It
was 1872 and the grasshoppers devoured everything and only the prairie
grass survived. However, the boys cut the hay too late and it was
worthless. They were able to sell the lumber from the shed and a new
business was born!
His life is the ultimate American
dream. A boy from the farm with an austere persona, who also could
seize on unique opportunities that eventually would bring him opulence
and wealth, that enabled him to enjoy his love for the luxurious
lifestyle of the Old South.
The lumber business was not his
only career interest. Everything interested him! Also in Columbus,
Kansas, Robert realized there was money beneath his feet, coal
mines – it made good sense to own coal mines. He acquired 1520 acres
and sank two shafts at Stone City. These mines brought in a great deal
In 1874, Robert A. Long met
nineteen year old Martha Ellen Wilson. She had grown up in
Pennsylvania and her father had died at the age of forty-live, leaving
her mother with eight children to rear and many debts. So, Mrs.
Wilson had moved the family to Columbus, Kansas, staked a claim and
established a farm. Martha Ellen, Ella as she preferred to be
called, was a Quaker and became a school teacher. Her parental
background was as stern and staunch as Robert Long’s. Mr. Long and
Ella dated, or courted as they said in those days, for one year.
They married December 16, 1876. Their first and only son lived but
a few weeks. Sallie America was born in 1879 and Loula in 1881.
Mr. Long enjoyed his wealth and
shared it with his wife and daughters. He built a large Queen Anne
house with verandas, stained glass windows and gardens. There was
a stable with ponies for his children and a fine carriage pulled by a
pair of handsome bays. He was doing well and the next move had to
be his return to Kansas City.
On February 26, 1891, R. A. Long
moved into the Keith and Perry Building in the heart of the Kansas City
financial district. He acquired acres of timberland throughout
Louisiana, Mississippi, Texas, Michigan, Wisconsin and eventually
He established his family in
Kansas City, but it was not the Kansas City of today. It was
sidewalks made out of boards, stockyards and packing houses, half a
dozen saloons and cable cars inching up steep hills, clattering and
lurching. The business district was four blocks long and there
were two residential streets, one being Independence Avenue. Their
new home was on the corner of Independence Avenue and Bellfontaine.
The new house was large and spacious. The corporate expansion of
Long-Bell Lumber accelerated. Now at the age of fifty-four, Mr.
Long was active and tireless.
At the St. Louis World’s Fair, Mr.
Long saw the Pullman Palace Railroad Co. train. He had to have one
to travel back and forth to Washington. There was a stateroom,
drawing rooms, sleeping cars for six passengers and a dining car with a
kitchen. The crew included a cook, steward and a maid for Mrs.
The Long-Bell Co. was operating
269 railroad cars including seventeen locomotives to haul timber from
logging areas to sawmills. Rolling stock consisted of
seventy-seven flat cars, four steel cars, eight boarding cars, four
powerful locomotives and two red cabooses.
Now, it was time to move to an
even larger home with a larger stable. Henry Ford Hoit was
commissioned to design this new abode. Mr. Long had eyed property
at the crest of a hill known as Scarritt Point. It was in the
heart of a neighborhood of aristocratic character. Two years would
pass before he acquired enough lots for the square block for his
mansion. He also purchased four lots nearby for a garage and a
large exercise ring for the horses.
There was to be the main house, a
gate house for the Long’s horse trainer and his family and a two-story
stable complete with a harness and tack room, a white-tiled wash room
and a lift to take carriages to the storage loft. A high
wrought-iron fence would surround the entire site with six pairs of high
wrought-iron gates installed between cut-stone pillars crowned by large
mansion would be three stories with an attic. It would have a
front portico with six columns of solid limestone. It would be
called Corinthian Hall.
During the next years, Long-Bell
expansion accelerated. Mr. Long was active and tireless. He was the
King of the Yellow Pine Industry.
Now, Mr. Long decided the offices
at the Keith & Perry Building were too small. He and his staff needed
more room. He decided to build his own “office tower.” Choice
downtown real estate was available on Grand Avenue & 10th Street. It
was impressive – 16 floors in the Beaux-Arts style. It contained 300
offices. All tenants enjoyed 6 high-speed elevators. The R. A. Long
Building was the first tall building in Kansas City constructed with an
all steel-skeleton frame. The building today is the United Missouri
The Gilded Age lasted from the
Civil War until World War I. That is when federal income tax began to
be collected by the U. S. Government.
The lumber business was not Long’s
only career interest. Mr. Long was serious and intense in his work
ethic. He was brought up in a pious family which in his adult years
proved to be an exemplary layman of the Christian Church. He led fund
raisers for his church and his beliefs. He financed the building of
churches and schools. He purchased a large publishing house for
religious books of faith.
Mr. Long was president of The
Southern Pine Association, The National Lumber Manufacturer’s
Association, The American Christian Mission Society, The National
Brotherhood of Disciples of Christ, The Christian Board of Publication
and The International Convention of Christian Churches. He was a part
of Men & Millions Movement of the Christian Church and a Trustee of the
Bible College of Missouri. He was an organizer of the Pension Plan and
Trustee of the Pension Fund of the Disciples of Christ. He was the
chairman and prime promoter of the World War I Liberty Memorial here in
Kansas City, Missouri.
In 1920, the Long-Bell Company
bought a large body of Douglas Fir timber in the state of Washington.
Here the company erected a huge lumber mill. The workers did not have
adequate housing and Mr. Long knew his workers needed better living
quarters. In 1924, he built a city for his employees and he named it
Longview. Several years ago, Longview, Washington celebrated its 75th
When Mr. Long passed away in 1934,
the Long-Bell Company had 13 lumber mills, 110 retail lumber yards, a
sash and door factory and many warehouses.
||Rita Nell Patejdl
Lumberman of the Gilded Age
by Lenore K. Bradley
The Foundation Stands Firm
by Truce V. Lewellyn