From the collections at the Leavenworth County Historical Society and Museum. Reprinted with permission from The Leavenworth County Historical Society and Museum and the Leavenworth Times. Donated by Debra Graden.
The recent collapse of the Catlin and Knox building on Main Street, ended visible evidence of Leavenworth's once importance as a river commercial metropolis of territorial days.
In the late 1850's Leavenworth was the point of supply for a large part of Kansas and the West. Merchandise and supplies of all sorts came up the Missouri River from St. Louis. These goods were unloaded at Leavenworth and then distributed to settlements further west by overland freighters.
It was but natural for a row of two and three story buildings to develop at the closest point was the east side of Main Street between Delaware and Shawnee streets.
The buildings housed wholesalers and jobbers--many early firms known over the West for years to come.
The merchandise was hauled from the steamboats up ramps from the levee directly into the east basement entrances of these structures. Hand powered elevators lifted the goods to street level and higher floors.
Overland freight wagons would lead out of the West Main Street level floors. When trail conditions were dry and favorable it was not unusual for these freight wagons to be backed up, hub to hub, taking on supplies for the long haul, often to Santa Fe.
A Leavenworth bride of the early 1860's, a girl who came from New England, told of her astonishment at discovering most of the team drivers of the freighters to be Mexican. She and her husband occupied rooms in the southwest corner of the Planters Hotel which offered a grandstand seat to watch the freighting activities.
She recalled that in the summer, with open windows, she received a continuous education in conversational Spanish as those trail Mexicans jabbered to each other and it included an almost complete vocabulary of Spanish profanity as they shouted at their mule teams.
As river traffic diminished with the coming of the railroad, a spur track, elevated above the main track by grade from the north was built to serve the east basement entrances of these wholesale buildings. And reshipment by railroad supplanted overland freight hauling to the west.
In 1910 these early day structures were still intact. Some still housed wholesale firms--some became small manufacturing plants and others, storage warehouses.
But their primary value, as riverfront structures, had vanished. One by one they disappeared due to fire or razing.
The Catlin and Knox structure survived all of the others by a good 25 years. But time finally caught up with it, also.