Powell Gardens' history began in 1948, when George E. Powell, Sr., a prominent Kansas City businessman, acquired the beautiful tract of land that is now Powell Gardens. Mr. Powell had learned firsthand about the sometimes harsh and unpredictable life of farming during his childhood on the family farm.
In 1917, he left to pursue a business career in Kansas City. He, along with his son George Powell Jr., and others, took over ownership of Yellow Transit Freight Lines, now YRC Worldwide, in 1952. Throughout his successful business career, Mr. Powell never lost interest in the lands of Missouri. He and his family and friends enjoyed many weekends on his farm in Johnson County, Mo.
A Tie to the Boy Scouts
In 1969, in keeping with his stewardship philosophy, Mr. Powell donated the 640-acre farm to the Kansas City Area Council of the Boy Scouts of America, who used it as a regional camp until 1984.
In 1984, with the University of Missouri’s School of Agriculture as a catalyst and partner, the Powell Family Foundation began developing a horticultural and natural resource facility called Powell Center. As a part of this development, Powell Center retained Pittsburgh, Pa.-based Environmental Planning and Design, the leading U.S. consultants for botanical gardens. The firm recognized that the site would be ideal for development as a botanical garden.
Kansas City's botanical garden begins
In 1988, official ties with the University of Missouri ended and Powell Gardens Inc., a not-for-profit organization, was established. A 19-member board of directors, in which several Powell family members serve, governs Powell Gardens. The Friends of Powell Gardens, a separate organization, is made up of about 5,000 member households.
Staffing at the Gardens fluctuates between 35 employees during off-season and close to 70 in peak season. Powell Gardens is now a 501(c)3 public charity, supported through private donations and admission, gift shop and rental revenues.