FAMILIES THERE NINETY YEARS AGO - WESTPORT A GREAT TRADE CENTER - WHEN THE TOWN WAS BORN - A REAL ESTATE, BOOM - AN UNPROMISING TOWN - WHEN CHOLERA STRUCK THE PLACE - THE FIRST MAYORALTY ELECTION - BENTON'S FAMOUS PROPHECY - A TRAVELING POST OFFICE - STEAMBOAT AND TRAIL TRADE - FIRST PUBLIC IMPROVEMENTS - THE CIVIL WAR BROUGHT RUIN - RETURN TO PEACE - HOTELS ON THE LEVEE - THE HANNIBAL BRIDGE HELPED - BENTON'S PROPHECY VERIFIED.
It would be difficult to write of the early history of Wyandotte county and of its cities and towns, without dealing with topics connected with the early times of the whole community comprising those settlements round about the junction of the Missouri and Kansas rivers on both sides of the line which separates the two cities that bear the same name. Hence this chapter shall have reference particularly to those things that have to do with Kansas City, Missouri, which is intimately associated in its early history with Kansas City, Kansas.
Daniel Morgan Boone, third son of the great pioneer, was probably the first white man to really appreciate the advantages of this neighborhood as a good place in which to live. He pushed his way out here in the early part of 1790. Though but eighteen years old, he left his home in Fort Hamilton, just west of Cincinnati, and after a thirty days' trip reached what was then the trading post of St. Louis. There he stayed a month or so, and then set out westward again, proceeding all the way to the "great American desert." He liked the looks of the western lands and it was because of his glowing descriptions of them that his father afterward emigrated to Boone county, Missouri. As for young Boone, he cleared a home place for himself near where Westport is now. And there he lived. And there he died full of years. And his body rests in an unmarked grave -in the old Westport burying ground.
About the time the Boones were setting out for Boone county, a Frenchman, Louis Grandlouis, with his family, left the French village of St. Charles and came to what was one day to be Kansas City. His wife was the first white woman of the new settlement at the mouth of the Kansas river. As late as 1845 she lived in a log cabin in the bottoms, about where the Loose-Wiles factory is today. The Grandlouis family arrived here about the year 1800.
There was another woman, however, to question priority with Mme. Grandlouis. This was Mme. Berenice Chouteau. Whereas the Grandlouises lived for three or four years after their first arrival at the present site of the Randolph bridge - and so scarcely in "Kansas City" - the Chouteaus lived in a cabin on the Missouri river front in Kansas City, Missouri. The honors of being the first white woman are therefore somewhat divided.
In 1820 there was a strong tide of emigration from Kentucky, Virginia and North Carolina to Missouri, but up to this time the settling had mostly been done by the French. For example, in 1820 most of the people at what was to be Kansas City were of five families, the Grandlouis, the Prudhommes, the Chouteaus, the Sublettes, and the Guinottes. But now came the Chicks, the Campbells, the Smarts and McDaniels, the Jenkins, the Lykins, the Rices, the Scarritts, the McGees, the Gillises, the Mulkeys, the Gregorys, the Troosts and the Hopkins.
In 1823 there were two settlements - one in the West bottoms, called "Kansasmouth," the other at about what is now Second and Guinotte streets. In these days Independence was growing and flourishing. It had a thriving trade and everything seemed coming its way. Its enterprising merchants established the first railroad in Missouri in the thirties, from their town to the river. For some reason this railroad did not pay and now even the route it took has been forgotten.
It was about the time its railroad was fizzling that Independence began to realize it had a rival. Westport had been established in 1833, by John C. McCoy, four miles south of the river. And Westport grew at a famous rate. Trade ran to it as water runs down hill. And embryo Kansas City grew and flourished, too, as Westport Landing. It was a trading point in the state for the various Indian tribes west of the border, consisting of the Shawnees, Delawares, Kickapoos, Ottawas, Chippewas, Peorias, Kaskaskias, Piankashaws, Weas (pronounced Weaws), Kansas and Osages, and the various wild tribes of the plains. A few years later came the Pottawotomies, Wyandots, Sac and Foxes and smaller bands. The western border of Missouri was now being rapidly settled and the trade of the new comers and the Indian tribes made Westport a prosperous town. All articles of merchandise came into the country by steamboats on the Missouri river, and landed at Chouteau's warehouse about two miles east to the north end of Grand avenue, near where Cleveland avenue intersects the river.
In 1838 Kansas City, which was then known as Westport Landing, was located on the Missouri river one mile east of the state line. Westport Landing was, in 1838, a queer little hamlet, altogether on the levee - mostly between what is now Main street and Grand avenue. W. B. Evans had kept the first warehouse, in 1834-5. He had been succeeded by P. M. Chouteau. In 1838 Gabriel Prudhomme died, and in settling his estate, in November of that year, the first steps toward the Kansas City of to-day were taken. Prudhomme had owned 256 acres, which would today be described as bounded by the river on the north, Cherry street on the east, Missouri avenue on the south and Broadway on the west. This land was sold at auction to a company, which bought it as a site for a town, paying for it the handsome sum of $4,220. Notice of this sale, and a tempting advertisement of the beauties of the land for home and business purposes, was published in the Liberty Far West and the Missouri Republican of St. Louis. The first town company was comprised of W. L. Sublette, Moses G. Wilson, John C. McCoy, William Gilliss, Fry P. McGee, Abraham Fonda, W. M. Chick, Oliver Caldwell, G. W. Tate, Jacob Ragan, William Collins, James Smart, Sam C. Owens and Russell Hicks. The "town of Kansas" was incorporated, and on May 1, 1839, the first sale of real estate was held. The "town of Kansas," that was in due time to be the "City of Kansas," was thus put on the map.
At this first sale but few lots were disposed of. There were knockers even then. They declared that it was preposterous to suppose that there would ever be a town built on such a corrugated piece of landscape as Kansas City's site presented. Besides, they urged, that the town had been irregularly incorporated; that certain very essential matters of legal detail had been overlooked; that a number of things had been done which really should have been left undone, and so on, and so on, at such length that the sale stopped. The courts upheld the knockers, and it was eight years before the next sale of realty in the "town of Kansas" came off.
At the first sale, however, when, whether regularly or irregularly the "town of Kansas" got its definite location and its name, the first lot was bought by W. B. Evans for $155. Lot No. 3 went to J. H. McGee for $70; lot No. 5, to F. Kleber, for $52. These lands were sold on six years' time, interest at 10 per cent. As has been said, this sale of 1839 was interrupted by the knockers. Nothing more was done until April 30, 1846, when another sale was held and 124 lots were sold at prices ranging from $25 to $341 per lot. The average was $55 the lot. These lots were 60 feet front with a depth of 142 feet. The sale brought $6,820, and was considered a big thing. During 1899, sixty years after the town was started, Kansas City's realty transfers totaled $18,000,000.
On May 3, 1847, the town of Kansas held its first election and Fry P. McGee was chosen "collector."
At a town meeting held May 8, this same year, is the first mention of a newspaper, The Western Expositor was voted twenty dollars for advertising.
On July 19, 1847, the shareholders in the townsite drew lots for the lands left unsold and the new town was fairly under way.
The new town was unpromising enough at first sight. It was almost entirely confined to the levee - off the levee there was no business at all until 1851. From the farms of Westport and the region about it, the landing, was reached by way of a lane that utilized the cut made by a small stream to get through the bluffs at about where Grand avenue now is. This lane was known then as Market street. The first step in public improvements by the new town was the cutting of a wagon road through the bluff at Main street. Then, as the levee became rather crowded in a year or so, the smaller stores began to climb over into the present north side district.
It was a decidly[sic] rugged site for a town; Kansas City is as level as a floor to-day, by comparison. There were practically no flat places then. The whole town at the outset was made up of steep, muddy, rocky hills, covered with towering timber, and slashed with deep ravines, plowed out by rushing streams. One of these gorgelike ravines began about where Twelfth and Broadway now is and extended in a northwesterly direction, cutting deep through clay and rock to the river, at a point just west of the present foot of Broadway.
Another similar ravine was the course of a stream that started at Twelfth and Walnut, flowed northwesterly to about Ninth and Delaware, thence northeasterly across the public square to Fourth and Grand, where it united with a spring branch from the south and ran to the river. This stream has been utilized by the builders of the city. It is now the main sewer. At the public square it is one hundred and eighty feet beneath the surface. This same gully was responsible for Main street's crookedness. It followed the old valley to avoid, as far as possible, cuts and hills.
Some idea of the landscape in Kansas town may be gathered from an excerpt from the Reverend Father Bernard Donnelly's reminiscences. He was Kansas City's first priest. In 1839 he was established in a little log church and parsonage in a clearing at what has become Eleventh and Penn. He wrote: "I strolled through the tall forest of the ten acres. The site was romantic, retired and solitary. The manners and habits of the woodpeckers, paroquets, jaybirds, black and rattlesnakes, coons and squirrels were a source of amusing study to me."
In 1849 the town of Kansas met with its first serious setback. It was a terrible one. The cholera came. The first day it is said to have taken off thirty of the three hundred population. A Mormon colony on "O. K." creek was almost completely wiped out. In those days it was McGee creek, by the way, getting the name of O. K. from the "O. K. House" saloon that was established about this time just where the Westport road, now Grand avenue, crosses the creek. The cholera drove everybody who could get away out of the town. Scarcely enough people were left to bury the dead. Nearly thirty per cent of the people of the town died. But after the dread scourge had passed on the people began to come in great numbers. By March, 1853, less than three years after the plague, the trees about the town were one morning found placarded with notices to the effect that John M. Richardson had granted a charter to the "City of Kansas," and that an election for mayor and members of the council would be held on the first Monday in April.
Of course the knockers knocked. "Old inhabitants," we are told, could see no reason why their property should be saddled with the expense of a city government. They submitted that the nature of its environments was such that the town of Kansas could never in the world become a real city. They were for continuing the economical town government as all that was either necessary or reasonable.
But notwithstanding the knocks the progressive citizens went ahead and held an election. Sixty-five votes were cast. William Gregory, the Whig candidate for mayor got thirty-six votes, against his Democratic opponent's, D. Benoist Troost, twenty-seven. Gregory was declared elected, but after he had been duly inaugurated it was found he had not lived in town long enough to be eligible and so the president of the council, Dr. Johnston Lykins, who had been connected with the Shawnee Baptist mission, was called on to take his place and served out the term.
The first council was Democratic. Its members were Johnston Lykins, T. H. West, W. G. Barkley, Thompson McDaniels and M. J. Payne.
To the new city treasurer, a Mr. Chouteau, who was appointed by Mayor Lykins, Samuel Geir, who had been treasurer of the "Town of Kansas," turned over a full accounting of the town's affairs and its cash, $7.22! Kansas City's total revenue for the first year was estimated at $5,000; and during the year just closing the city has been cramped with $790,000.
One of the very first things the new council did was to invite Thomas H. Benton to visit the "City of Kansas." And "Old Bullion" accepted and soon after came up the river on a packet, was met at Randolph with much ceremony by Mayor Lykins and Councilmen M. J. Payne and W. G. Barkley. It was during this visit that Benton made his prophecy as to Kansas City's future which has been pointed to with pride by every Kansas City boomer. It follows:
"There, gentlemen, where that rocky bluff meets and turns aside the sweeping the current of this mighty river there, where the Missouri, after running its southward. course for nearly two thousand miles, turns eastward to the Mississippi, a large commercial and manufacturing community will congregate, and less than a generation will see a great city on those hills."
Colonel M. J. Payne was elected mayor in 1855 and re-elected for the years 1856, 1857, 1858, 1859 and 1862. There is no telling how many more times he might have been mayor, had he kept on running.
Business in the new city was good from the first. Even while it was only "Westport Landing" the town had been a lively little place, rather like one of the far western mining camps of later times. There was business from the start. The pioneer white man was a trader. The first "general store" in the modern sense was started about 1846 by A. B. Canville. This was on the levee, of course. Canville ran it about a year and then sold out to W. J. Jarboe.
The post office was first established in 1845 - and never to this day has there been a defalcation or a robbery in connection with it. W. M. Chick was the first postmaster. The mail used to arrive and depart weekly, via Westport. Up to 1860 the office was on the levee. Francis Foster was the "war postmaster." He was appointed by President Lincoln. The first thing he did was to remove the office to a building specially fitted for it on Main street, just south of Third. This office had boxes and other regular postal fixtures - the first the city had had. In 1869 the post office was removed to Main, near Missouri avenue. In 1872 John S. Harris, appointed postmaster by President Grant, removed the office to the northwestern corner of Seventh and Main.
It was here that Colonel T. S. Case found the office when he was appointed postmaster in 1873. He broke all official records, for he, after his first appointment by President Grant, was re-appointed by Presidents Hayes and Garfield and served for twelve years, until President Cleveland was elected and superseded him with George M. Shelley.
Postmaster Case removed the office, during his third term, to the northwest corner of Sixth and Walnut, and then in 1884 to Ninth and Walnut, in what was then the "new" Federal building. Now it occupies three floors of the great Federal building on Grand avenue from Eighth to Ninth street, and back to McGee street.
The first general store, started by Mr. Canville in 1846, did not long hold a monopoly. Other stores soon followed. The Mexican trade over the Santa Fe trail was growing fast, and already amounted to about $5,000,000 a year in the early forties. The wagon trains naturally started from here, as the farthest west reached by the Missouri river boats. While at first Independence and Westport were the recognized towns and Kansas City was a mere landing, the superior advantages of the landing steadily asserted themselves.
In 1850 the record shows that 600 wagons started from Kansas City. Ten years later, in 1860, the trade had become enormous, and amounted to 16,439,134 pounds of merchandise. To handle this there were required 7,084 men, 6,147 mules, 27,920 yoke of oxen and 3,033 wagons.
The levee was a lively place, five or six big river steamers lying there loading or unloading every day. During the nine months' navigation of 1859 there landed at the Kansas City 1,500 steamboats.
The railroads made short work of this river trade, though they made ample return for it. The first railroad to reach Kansas City from the east was the line that is now the Missouri Pacific. Its first train came in September 21, 1865. Other roads followed fast.
And in 1873 the annual steamboat arrivals had fallen off from 1,500 to 130. Since then there have been attempts to restore the boat service. In 1890 there was a general popular uprising against railroad rates. A steamboat line, the Kansas City and Missouri River Navigation Company, was established, and three first-class packets ordered. The first of these, the "A. L. Mason," arrived at the Kansas City levee in the fall of 1890. This craft worked a revolution. As The Times of those days put it: "Every turn of her wheel cut freight rates in two." The rates came down and stayed down, and the boats were sent to other more promising territory, where the water was deeper and the railroad competition less vigorous.
Now there is another great movement for the restoration of river traffic to which a million dollars has been subscribed; boats are being built and the river is being improved.
FIRST PUBLIC IMPROVEMENTS.
Things were booming in Kansas City in the later fifties. A tidy part of the millions involved in the Santa Fe trade stuck in town. In 1855 the little city began to feel ashamed of its unkempt appearance, and besides the mud streets - hub-deep a good part of the time - were hindrances to trade. The council decided on a grand spurt of public improvement. That first year Market street - now Grand avenue - was graded. And Contractor Michael Smith got $1,200 for the job.
Then the knockers took a hand and it was nearly two years before they were quieted. But in IS57 the wheels of progress began to move again. The city spent $26,229 in street improvements, as follows: On the levee, $10,387; Broadway, $4,771; Wyandotte street, $5,539; Delaware street, $715; Commercial street, $2,918; Main street, $893; Third street, $285; Second street, $721. Besides all this the city invested $4,637 more in a new city hall and court house building on the public square.
In this same year (1857) the old town grave yard, in front of the present Jackson county court house, and of late years known as "Shelley park," was seen to be altogether too small and too near the center of population. Westport had been making a similar discovery. A committee of representative men of both places met and discussed the problem. A company had just finished grading and macadamizing the Westport turnpike between Westport and Kansas City, along what is now Grand avenue. It was decided to establish a cemetery on this pike, midway between the two cities, for the use of both. This was done, and from the idea that both cities were to use it the new burying ground was called the "Union cemetery." This cemetery was in those days thought to be far beyond the reach of either city - and it is now only about ten minutes from Kansas City's busiest center, considerably further inside than it used to be outside the city limits.
When the war began, according to the census, Kansas City had a population of 4,418. It had three banks and an insurance company, all sorts of stores and warehouses, one daily and three weekly newspapers (one German) - all was bright and promising. But the war paralyzed everything. The city was almost ruined. The bitterest sectional feeling divided the people. At the spring election the issue was "north or south?" The northern element won by 109 votes, electing Colonel Van Horn mayor. But from the narrow margin it can be appreciated that Kansas City was not then the pleasantest place in the world to live in. Business stopped. The Sante Fe trade was closed. All the newspapers in town went broke and shut down. All school children were dismissed on holiday - no money for teachers.
A military post, Fort Union, was established at the southwest corner of Tenth and Central streets and about all the northern sympathizers in the city used to assemble there and drill. One or two companies of them went out to battle - at Lexington and other nearby points.
The population dropped about 25 per cent, to 3,000 or so. City warrants tumbled to 50 cents on the dollar; and at that figure there were almost no buyers. The city treasurer published a statement showing that the municipal assets were $16,120.20 and its liabilities, $13,090.84; balance in favor of assets, $3,029.26; cash actually on hand, $87.73.
Things reached the lowest ebb in the winter of 1862. After that they began to pick up. In 1863 the government sent troops to protect the Santa Fe traders and that business began to thrive once more; in six months it amounted to $1,000,000. The chamber of commerce was organized. Real estate became salable once more. A vacant lot on Sixth near Main brought $500; another on Walnut near Fifth sold for $305.
But at the close of the war the city was in deplorable shape, after four years or more of absolute neglect. The streets were perfect quagmires, hub-deep with mud even weeks after a rain, and on all the hills there were washouts and gullies that made traffic almost impossible. Peace came none too soon. But in the spring of 1865 the city negotiated a loan of $60,000 for public improvements; the money was spent in opening and grading Third, Fourth, Fifth and Ottawa (Twelfth) streets, and leveling the other thoroughfares, and once more things began to hum.
In the spring of 1865 the city's first local bank was established by the Kansas City Savings Association, with a capital of $10,000. There had been two banking houses before; founded since 1849, but both were mere branches of two St. Louis institutions - the Mechanics' and Union banks. Kansas City's new bank flourished finely from the start. In five years it doubled its capital and shortly after raised it again to $50,000. In 1881 it had become too big for its savings-bank charter, which limited it to a capital of $100,000, and it took up a state charter and later still became a national concern. Kansas City's banking institutions to-day have a combined capital of more than $20,000,000.
Kansas City's first hotel was established in 1846 by Thompson McDaniel. It was a two-story frame at Main and the levee. This was followed by a second house which Dr. Troost opened in 1849 on the levee, between Wyandotte and Delaware. This last was known at first as the Western hotel. Later on it became the American House, and still later the Gillis. In the season of 1856-7 this house registered 27,000 arrivals.
In 1853 Mine Host McDaniel opened a new hotel, known as the Union house, at Missouri avenue and Main - "away out of town," on the site the Nelson building now occupies. This hotel was considered A No. 1, but was closed by the war and never recovered.
Since the war, Kansas City has held its head up proudly in the matter of hotel accommodations. It has always been far and away superior to other cities of its class.
In those days Leavenworth was a lusty rival of Kansas City and Wyandotte and it was a serious question which would eventually be the great center. The matter was settled in 1866 and 1867. The Hannibal and St. Joseph bridge was projected. The railroad people had little choice between Leavenworth and Kansas City. It became largely a question of inducements, which town would make the best bid. Of course the Kansas City knockers got up and knocked. They were opposed to giving any bonus whatever for anything. If the railroad people really intended to build a bridge, they would build it, bonus or no bonus, and if they didn't - why, Kansas City had worried along very well all these years without any bridge, and it could probably do so in years to come - and all that sort of thing. But, fortunately, the knockers knocked in vain. A few live men pulled together and brought the new bridge to their town, and on August 21, 1867, the cornerstone of the new structure was laid. On the eve of the Fourth of July, two years later, the bridge was opened, amid great rejoicing.
After the bridge matter was decided, new railroads came to Kansas City from all directions, until the present great aggregation of railroad systems was built up and Kansas City's future was assured.
Surely the events of a little more than seventy years have vindicated the judgment of Senator Benton in the building of the great city at the state line on the Missouri side. Of the rest of the history of Kansas City, Missouri, it is scarcely necessary to touch here, save to observe that that city owes much of its greatness to the loyal support of the people of Kansas, and to the many strong men of that state who have given the best of their lives to help make it the great metropolis it now is. The knockers of Kansas City, Missouri, were not Kansans. It was the progressive men of the city that years ago sought to have the state line twisted so their city would be in Kansas - and failed of course. But that is another story, to be told by Hon. George W. Martin in his article in this work in the boundary line fights.
Home Page for Kansas
Search all of Blue Skyways
The KSGenWeb Project