American Historic Towns
Historic Towns of The Western States

Edited by Lyman P. Powell
G. P. Putnam' Sons
New York and London
The Knickerbocker Press
1901

KANSAS CITY
THE CENTRAL CITY
By: CHARLES S. GLEED


IN early literature and in early United States Indian treaties the Indian word” Kansas” appears as Caucis, Konza, Konseas, Kons, Kanzaw, Kanzau, Kaw, and Kanzas. Kansas, meaning smoky, was the name of a tribe of Indians still existing in the Indian Territory and it came to be applied to all the country west of the Missouri River over which the tribe roamed (the country which is now largely in the State of Kansas), and also to its chief river.

There are two Kansas Cities, one in Misouri, the other in Kansas. The Kansas City in Missouri was named after the Kansas Indians, the Kansas River, the Kansas country, or all of them. The Kansas City in Kansas was named after the Kansas City in Missouri. The two cities are one except in law and the line dividing them is not discoverable except by the surveyor. The Kansas City in Kansas was made up of a number of small towns the chief of which was Wyandotte. It was thought that the Kansas town would be helped by adopting the good name belonging to the Missouri town. The Kansas City in Kansas has about 60,000 people; the Kansas City in Missouri has about 225,000. The former is the largest city in Kansas, while the latter is the second city in Missouri. In this sketch the two towns are considered as one.

Among large cities Kansas City is central, for the exact centre of the United States is about two hundred miles west in Kansas. At the point where Kansas City is located, the Kansas or "Kaw" River coming from the west empties into the Missouri River coming from the North. The Kansas Missouri State line runs south from near the junction of the two rivers. In the angles formed by this junction are very high, hills, almost mountains. Standing on the high point close in the southern angle, one may look away for ten to twenty miles to the north and the east along the valley of the Missouri and to the west along the valley of the Kansas. It is in these valleys and on these moniature mountains that the city is built. The parts in the valleys present no special difficulties to the town builder, but in the higher parts almost every difficulty is presented. The hills are composed of rocks which must be blasted, and of yellow clay. The original bluffs are cut by numerous ravines leading towards the rivers, and those streets running parallel with the rivers and therefore crossing the ravines are necessarily in many cases very steep. This topographical situation has required the removal of enormous quantities of earth and rock, the filling of great ravines, and the artificial establishment of the grades of streets. This rendered the city unsightly through its earlier years, but the unsightliness is rapidly giving way to great beauty and picturesqueness.

The first plat of the "Town of Kansas" was filed in 1839. It included the land bordering the Missouri River some distance south and east of the mouth of the Kansas River and bounded by the river, the present Second Street, the present Delaware Street, and the present Grand Avenue. There was no technical incorporation, and the common name of the place was at first Westport Landing, this being the river landing for the trading post called Westport, four or five miles south of the river.

In 1850, the County Court of Jackson County, Missouri, at Independence, created the "Town of Kansas" as an incorporation governed by a Board of Trustees. The first board, appointed February 4, 1850, failed to act and on June 3d of the same year another board was appointed, composed of William Gillis, Madison Walrond, Lewis Ford, Bennoist Troost, and Henry W. Brice. This board controlled the town until the Legislature of Missouri, February 22, 1853, granted the right of incorporation to the city of Kansas. From the small original town, by one addition after another, has grown a city covering an area of nearly one hundred square miles.

Long before any incorporation or any platting of town sites there was much activity in this locality. Judge E. P. West, an eminent local geologist, produces indisputable evidence in the shape of stone arrow heads and spear heads found on the present town site that the place was inhabited at least 21,000 years ago. The local museum contains a great number of specimens of flint and stone work indicating to geologists and archaeologists the presence of races dating back many centuries.

In 1825, the Jesuit Fathers penetrated all parts of the wilderness surrounding what is now Kansas City. They were doubtless the first white settlers and in all probability they had only the usual purpose, zeal in propagating the religion of their fathers. They are known to have built a small log house in the neighborhood of the northern part of what is now Troost Avenue. It was as much a church as a dwelling, for here the tribes to whom they had come attended religious service. In 1835 a missionary named Father Roux established the first actual church in this locality. There were many trappers and hunters of the French Canadian type who had intermarried with the Indians. In 1835 Father Roux purchased of a Canadian some forty acres on the hill adjoining the present site of the Roman Catholic Cathedral, almost exactly in the centre of the present city, and in 1839 was instrumental in having a log church built on a part of the land situated between what are now Eleventh and Twelfth Streets on Penn Street. Here for a period of at least twenty years a congregation composed largely of French Canadians and the children of the French and Indian intermarriages worshipped together. In 1845 Father Bernard Donnelly was made pastor of all Western Missouri, and ministered to the Indians and whites alike. Through his efforts a brick church was erected on the corner of what are now Eleventh Street and Broadway, and from 1857 to 1880 when he retired from active work to die a few months later at the age of eighty, he devoted himself entirely to his priestly duties. The church and the city owe an unmeasured debt of gratitude to this unselfish and lovable man.

Questions of transportation have been of overwhelming interest to the people of Kansas City from the beginning. The first crossing of the Missouri River at this point was established in 1836 by the operation of a flatboat at the mouth of the "Kaw." The Rev. Isaac McCoy and his son established the ferry and operated it until 1854. Then came the horse power ferryboat, and the steam ferryboat. In due time full fledged steamboats made their appearance on the Missouri. Westport Landing, by reason of a rocky bank and deep water in front of it, afforded an excellent landing. Here were unloaded the goods for the great Indian and Mexican trade of the West, and from here were shipped eastward wool, furs, buffalo robes, and other products of the region. Immigration overland to Colorado, Utah, Nevada, Mexico, and California came to this point in boats and then went westward by the old Santa Fe trail. From about 1850 to the coming of the railroads, from six to ten boats daily came to this landing. In 1857, during the nine months of navigation, no fewer than fifteen hundred boats arrived and departed. Some of them were palatial structures, judged even by the standard of today, and many of them were magnificently furnished and equipped to care for passengers.

One of the early features of the travel and traffic between Kansas City and the West was the old Concord Coach and another was the ox and mule wagon known as the "Prairie Schooner." The coaches carried from ten to fifteen passengers, and the passengers as a rule carried from two to a dozen weapons of defence against the Indians. At one time the fare per passenger from Westport to Santa Fe, New Mexico, was $175 in gold, and the schedule time was thirteen days and six hours. The trip involved travelling night and day, asleep and awake, without stopping except for meals. The "Overland Mail Express Company" maintained an office for years on the Levee, and for carrying mails received $172,000 a year. Mail, passengers, and express matter usually yielded from $5000 to $6000 a trip.

In 1843, the Mexican trade from this point was suspended by Santa Anna, who closed the northern port of entry. As soon, however, as the embargo was removed, trade revived and greatly increased. At this time Atchison, Leavenworth, St. Joseph, and Omaha entered upon the same business, but until the Civil War commenced Kansas City retained most of the trade. A book published in 1843 shows the tonnage between Kansas City and Mexico to have increased from 15,000 tons in 1822, to 150,000 tons in 1837, the increase being fairly uniform over the entire period. In 1850, 6oo wagons began the overland trip from Kansas City; by 1855 the trade had grown to a total valuation of at least $5,000,000, and by 1860 had still further increased to a point which attracted national attention. In that year a correspondent sent by the New York Herald to study the statistics of the business, reported that there were shipped from Kansas City in that year 16,439,134 pounds of freight, employing 7084 men, 6147 mules, 27,920 yoke of oxen and 3033 wagons, to which should be added the statistics of the trade with the towns of Kansas and Nebraska. This, for that time, enormous bulk of business, passed over the Santa Fe trail which is now almost exactly the route of the Atchison, Topeka & Santa Fe Railroad.

At the close of the Civil War in 1865, during which Kansas City, in common with all the border towns of Missouri and Kansas, was disturbed by the conflict, a tremendous immigration began to flow westward through the city. Railroad enterprises in Kansas and beyond were opening up the country for settlement, and the families of those who had lately been engaged in war rushed westward to take up the vacant lands offered them.

The first railroads entering the city were the Hannibal & St. Joseph (which is now a part of the Chicago, Burlington & Quincy system) and the Missouri Pacific, the first entering from the direction of Chicago, and the last from the direction of St. Louis. The first built to the west was the Union Pacific Railway, Eastern Division, afterwards known as the Kansas Pacific, now a part of the Union Pacific.

Railroad building in the country immediately tributary to Kansas City became active at the close of the Civil War, and has continued until the present time (1901), when two new main lines are under construction towards the city. The railway companies with lines entering Kansas City now are the Chicago, Burlington & Quincy, the Chicago, Rock Island & Pacific, the Atchison, Topeka & Santa Fe, the Chicago, Milwaukee & St. Paul, the Wabash, the Chicago & Alton, the Missouri Pacific, the Missouri, Kansas & Texas, the St. Louis & San Francisco, the St. Joseph & Grand Island, the Kansas City, Fort Scott & Memphis, the Kansas City Southern, the Chicago & Great Western, the Kansas City & Northern, the Union Pacific, the Suburban Belt, and the Kansas City Belt.

Nowhere in the United States can be seen a better demonstration of the wonderful development of the transportation system of the country. Besides its trunk line railroads the city has two beltrailway systems and numerous private tracks, so that its equipment for industrial work is unexcelled. Its street railway system of nearly two hundred miles is one of the finest in America. The tracks and the equipment are thoroughly modern in every respect.

The first newspaper published in Kansas City was a weekly called the Kansas Ledger It was established in 1851, but was sold in about fifteen months, and then sold again and removed to Independence. The city after the death of the Ledger was for eighteen months without a newspaper office. In September, 1854, the Kansas City Enterprise made its appearance, edited by W. A. Strong, D. K. Abeel having charge of the publishing department. In August, 1855, the Enterprise was bought out by R. T. Van Horn, who assumed editorial control in October. In January, 1857, Mr. Abeel purchased a half interest in the paper and in the following October the Enterprise became the Western Journal of Commerce, a larger and greatly improved sheet. The Kansas City Journal grew out of this and at once began to assume the high position among the great dailies of the country which it has since maintained. Theodore Case, in his history of Kansas City, a volume of some seven hundred pages, says of the Journal in 1888 what may well be repeated today:

"There is one feature that has always characterized this paper, a never failing devotion to home and local interests, and an unyielding faith in the destiny of the city, that has made it, more than any other interest, the builder and architect of the present City of Kansas. It has furnished more information,, historical, statistical and commercial in regard to Western Missouri, the great western plains and the mountains, their trade, resources and capabilities, than any other paper in the Mississippi Valley, and when the history of the New West comes to be written, it is to its columns that the historian will turn for its earliest facts and figures."

Colonel R. T. Van Horn continued to be the chief owner and editor of the Journal until 1896, besides attending to his duties as Congressman and in other important relations. As the "Grand Old Man" of Kansas City, he is today quietly enjoying the fruits of his long and honorable labors.

The only other Kansas City newspaper besides the Journal in existence at the close of the war was the Daily Kansas City Post (German) started in the latter part of 1858, with August Wuerz, Sr., as its first editor. Mr. Wuerz was a strong abolitionist and so aroused the antipathy of the pro slavery element that he was forced to. abandon the city in 1860. He crossed over to Wyandotte (now Kansas City, Kansas), published the Post there for nine months, and then returned to Kansas City. The first democratic daily established here after the war was the Advertiser, which appeared in 1865. It was succeeded in 1868 by the Kansas City Times, which was issued by the proprietors, Messrs. R. B. Drury & Co. Varying fortune marked the paper until 1878, when, under the management of Messrs. Munford, Munford & Hasbrook, it attained a high standing among the dailies of the country. Of the papers which at about this time shared the honor of representing Kansas City should be named the Kansas City News, an evening paper, which suspended after a four years' existence; the Evening Mail, an evening democratic paper, which came into existence in 1875 and which, after frequently changing its proprietors, became, in 1882, the property of the owner of the Kansas City Star, Mr. W. R. Nelson. The Kansas City Star achieved remarkable success in the hands of Mr. Nelson, and now occupies a leading place among the dailies of the city and the country, giving as it always has. its best efforts towards the upbuilding and expansion of the city. Another evening paper which has shown evidence of the growth of the city by its own substantial growth, is the Evening World, which, established in 1894, continues to rank well among the papers of the city. Vicious newspapers have never been permitted to flourish in Kansas City.

What may be called the real estate history of Kansas City is peculiarly interesting. In the year 1830 James H. McGee built a log cabin for a residence near what is now the corner of Twentieth and Central Streets. He made the first kiln of brick west of Independence, built the first brick residence in Kansas City, and furnished the bricks for Father Donnelly's chapel chimney. Mr. McGee acquired by purchase nearly all the land between the towns of Kansas City and Westport, and his name and that of his family is today so associated..with the record of the city's development that it cannot be lost. The first working town company was formed in 1846 and was composed of men whose names, subsequently were conspicuous in the city's history. They were H. M. Northrup, Jacob Ragan, Henry Jobe, William Gillis, Robert Campbell, Fry P. McGee, W. B. Evans, W. M. Chick, and J. C. McCoy. It is said that about 150 lots were then sold at an average price of $55.65 per lot. This was the nucleus of the old town and the beginning of its most picturesque history as a real estate market. In the years between 1878 and 1888 (the "boom" period) the city grew extraordinarily, the excitement over real estate transactions reaching a point probably unprecedented in this country. An enormous acreage of what never can be anything but farm land was platted and sold as city property, and prices for all classes of real estate reached figures which will probably never be reached again, at least until the city has a population greater than now seems possible.

At the close of the war in 1865, Kansas City had three banks, one insurance company, one daily and two weekly English newspapers, one German weekly and one bi monthly mëdical journal. The churches were two Methodist, one Baptist, two Presbyterian, one Roman Catholic and one Christian. There were two lodges of Masons, two of Odd Fellows, one of Good Templars, a Turn Verein, a Shamrock Benevolent Society, a girl's school, a rectory school, and a German school. The census of 1860 showed a population of Now the city stands first among the cities of the land in the agricultural implement trade, first in the Southern lumber trade, second in the livestock trade, first in the horseand mule trade, second as a railroad centre, second in the meat packing business, tenth in bank clearings, nineteenth in the value of its manufactures. It has 50 public school buildings, 626 teachers and 34,142 pupils. It has the second largest park system in the country, having over 2000 acres. It handled in 1900 $130,824,270 worth of live stock; 32,625,850 bushels of wheat; 7,290,000 bushels of corn; 3,035,600 bushels of oats; 156,000 bushels of rye, and 12,000 bushels of barley. It did a wholesale business of $265,000,000, its packing houses turned out $100,000,000 worth of products, slaughtering 1,000,000 cattle, 2,900,000 hogs and 650,673 sheep. Its bank clearings were $698,755,530. Its banking and trustcompany capital was $8,000,000; it had two hundred miles of paved streets, twenty seven grain elevators with a storage capacity of 6,484,000 bushels.

On the non material side the city has made a progress even more remarkable. It is not devoted entirely to money getting. The humanities have been remembered. There are some thirty four hospitals, asylums, and benevolent homes. It has eight hospitals proper for the reception of the sick, disabled, and diseased, the Missouri Pacific Railroad Company maintaining one. There are five children's homes, and one industrial home. There are three homes for the aged, one of which is for colored people entirely. There is one convent and an institution each for the Sisters of Charity and the Sisters of Mercy, besides others of lesser importance. In some cases the buildings may not be pretentious, but they are all ample in size, and in many instances would not discredit the cities of the largest population. The exceptional intelligence of the people is proved by other unmistakable signs. Strong, clean newspapers, beautiful opera houses, first class hotels, hundreds of churches, modern schools, great libraries, charming clubs, beautiful parks and streets, fine hospitals, fine public buildings, admirable public utilities, and above all an enormous proportion of beautiful homes, these are some of the signs that tell of the fruition of the highest hopes of the hardy pioneers who first gave battle to savagery and the wilderness at this point.

That the city has a much greater growth before it is the opinion of all who are familiar with the conditions there. The vast agricultural, mineral, and manufacturing region surrounding it and directly tributary to it for a thousand miles in every direction is sure to push it steadily forward among American cities until it ranks at last with Boston, Baltimore, and St. Louis.

Historic towns of the Western States

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