History of Kansas City
Kansas City, Missouri has been incorporated three different times and has had three different names throughout its history. First, in the 1830s John McCoy established Westport Landing, at what is now Westport Road and Pennsylvania. At that time the town was essentially a boat dock. Soon after in 1850, a group of 14 investors settled in the area and changed the name to the Town of Kansas. When this happened McCoy was forced to move a couple miles up the Missouri River and establish a new settlement. The last change happened in 1889 when it became Kansas City
Kansas City straddles the border between Kansas and Missouri, and is situated on both the Kansas and Missouri rivers. This prime location easily attracted settlers, especially after the Louisiana Purchase in 1804. French fur traders arrived by the Missouri River, building cabins alongside it and creating the town of Kansas. The area was explored by Lewis and Clark, and later settled by a group of Mormons from New York in 1831 who built the first school in the area. Two years later, Westport Landing was established, bringing in more investors to settle the area. Westport Landing and the town of Kansas were located on the three main trails driving westward expansion—the Oregon Trail, California Trail, and Santa Fe Trail. The city of Kansas was officially created by combining the two towns in 1853, with an initial population of 2500.
Leading up to the Civil War, Kansas City was located in the slave state of Missouri, but was not far from the border with Kansas, a free state of the Union. However, Kansas City was under Union control and during the Civil War the city served as the Union’s District of the Border headquarters, which added to conflict locally. In 1862 the Confederates won a crucial battle there, following this with another victory, but in 1864 Kansas City remained under the control of the Union. The Battle of Westport, also in 1864, was fought within the limits of modern Kansas City and was one the largest battles west of the Mississippi River. This forced Confederate leader Sterling Price to retreat and end his Missouri Expedition. After the war, and the victory of the Union, Kansas City flourished and expanded rapidly due to cattle trade and railroads (Civilwaronthewesternborder.org).
Charles N. Glaab in his work, Kansas City and the Railroads: Community Policy in the Growth of a Regional Metropolis, argues that Kansas City became a leading commercial city mainly because of clever entrepreneurship in determining the locations of the railroads. One of these influential men was Robert Thompson Van Horn. Glaab writes that, “From [Van Horn’s] arrival in 1855, he insisted that the future of the young town depended on its doing something about attracting or building railroads. For the next twenty years, he was to be intimately associated with nearly every railroad effort involved in the city” (Glaab 1993, 13). The railroads allowed Kansas City to flourish and become a successful economic city.
In the late 1800s, with the aid of railroads, African Americans began moving to Kansas City and settling in the area of 18th and Vine Streets. By the 1920s the intersection of the these streets became a commercial, residential, and entertainment center. Everything one needed could be found at 18th and Vine. The intersection of these two streets became known for its nightlife, and specifically its reputation for Kansas City Jazz. Many legends were born in the area of 18th and Vine, such as Bennie Moten, Big Joe Turner, George and Julia Lee, Count Basie, and Charlie “Bird” Parker (KClibrary.org). During the Prohibition era the city was under the control of Tom Pendergast. He allowed alcohol to flow during this time, which made Kansas City unique among American cities. This encouraged many migrating musicians to move to the city and the jazz scene there, enabling the city to flourish while many others struggled through the Depression. However, after Pendergast was indicted on tax evasion, many reforms were instituted and consequently nightclubs and cabarets were forced to shut down. Many musicians were forced to retire or move out of town. By 1942 many musicians had been drafted for the war effort, and by 1944 the pulse of Kansas City Jazz had significantly slowed (VisitKC.com). However, Pendergast was a very influential character during the hard times of the Depression. Today, Kansas City is home to the American Jazz Museum, Negro Leagues Baseball Museum, and the Gem Theater (KClibrary.org).
In the past 60 years or so, Kansas City secured a reputation for public housing such that socioeconomic status, demographics and population patterns were not necessarily discriminatory. The methods Kansas City used to achieve this are illustrated in Kevin Fox Gotham’s work, A City Without Slums: Urban Renewal, Public Housing, and Downtown Revitalization of Kansas City, Missouri. In 1940, all the residents of Kansas City lived within 60 miles of downtown but, “Two decades later, urbanized development extended over 100 miles around the central city and contained a mix of independent cities, decentralized housing and business patterns, sprawling suburbs, and the emergence of outlying centers of metropolitan dominance not controlled by the central city” (Gotham 2001, 288). Downtown was no longer the economic center of the city. Today, the suburbs are separate from the city, boasting the sort of schools, job opportunities, shopping, politics, professional services and entertainment that once drew many residents to the downtown area.