Visiting Kansas City
Kansas City is a city in the U.S. state of Missouri encompassing
parts of Jackson, Clay, Cass, and Platte counties. It is situated at
the junction of the Missouri and Kansas Rivers (Kaw Point) and sits
opposite Kansas City, Kansas. It is the largest city in the Kansas
City Metropolitan Area, the most populous city in Missouri, the
seventh largest city in the Midwest, and the 40th most populous city
in the United States. As of 2005, the city had an estimated
population of 444,965. The city's tap water was recently rated the
cleanest among the 50 largest cities in the United States,
containing no detectable impurities. Kansas City is also famous for
having more boulevards and avenues in the world than any city except
Paris and more fountains than any other city except Rome.
Kansas City, Missouri was first incorporated in 1850. The territory straddling the border between Missouri and Kansas at the confluence of the Kansas and Missouri rivers was considered a good place to build settlements.
Exploration and settlement
The first documented European visit to Kansas City was Étienne de Veniard, Sieur de Bourgmont, who was also the first European to explore the lower Missouri River. Criticized for his handling of a Native American attack of Fort Detroit, he had deserted his post as commander of the fort and was avoiding the French authorities. Bourgmont lived with a Native American wife in the Missouri village about 90 miles east near Brunswick, Missouri, and illegally traded furs.
In order to clear his name, he wrote "Exact Description of Louisiana, of Its Harbors, Lands and Rivers, and Names of the Indian Tribes That Occupy It, and the Commerce and Advantages to Be Derived Therefrom for the Establishment of a Colony" in 1713 followed in 1714 by "The Route to Be Taken to Ascend the Missouri River." In the documents he describes the junction of the "Grande Riv[iere] des Cansez" and Missouri River, being the first to refer to them by those names. French cartographer Guillaume Delisle used the descriptions to make the first reasonably accurate map of the area.
The Spanish took over the region in the Treaty of Paris (1763) but were not to play a major role in the area other than taxing and licensing all traffic on the Missouri River. The French continued their fur trade on the river under Spanish license. The Chouteau family operated under the Spanish license at St. Louis in the lower Missouri Valley as early as 1765, but it would be 1821 before the Chouteaus reached Kansas City, when François Chouteau established Chouteau's Landing.
After the Louisiana Purchase, Lewis and Clark visited the confluence of the Kansas and Missouri rivers, noting it was a good place to build a fort.
In 1833 John McCoy established West Port along the Santa Fe Trail, three miles away from the river. Then in 1834, McCoy established Westport Landing on a bend in the Missouri River to serve as a landing point for West Port. Soon after, the Kansas Town Company, a group of investors, began to settle the area, taking their name from an English spelling of "Cansez." In 1850 the landing area was incorporated as the Town of Kansas.
By that time, the Town of Kansas, Westport, and nearby Independence, had become critical points in America's westward expansion. Three major trails -- the Santa Fe, California, and Oregon -- all originated in Jackson County.
On February 22, 1853, the City of Kansas was created with a newly elected mayor. It had an area of 0.70 square miles and a population of 2,500. The boundary lines at that time extended from the middle of the Missouri River south to what is now Ninth Street, and from Bluff Street on the west to a point between Holmes Road and Charlotte Street on the east.
The area was ripe with animosity as the Civil War approached. As citizens of a slave state, Missourians tended to sympathize with the southern states. With Kansas petitioning to enter the Union under the new doctrine of popular sovereignty, many from the area crossed into Kansas to sway the state towards allowing slavery, at first by ballot box and then by bloodshed.
Bird's eye view of Kansas City, Missouri. Jan. 1869. Drawn by A. Ruger, Merchants Lith. Co.During the Civil War, the City of Kansas was in the midst of battles, almost all of them victories by the Union. The Battle of Independence in August 1862 stunted a Confederate advance into northern Missouri (settled by pro-slavery Virginians), and the October 1864 Battle of Westport effectively ended Confederate efforts to occupy the city. However, a successful raid on nearby Lawrence, Kansas, led by William Quantrill forced General Thomas Ewing to issue General Order No. 11, forcing the eviction of residents in four counties, including Jackson, except those living in the city and nearby communities and those whose allegiance to the Union was certified by Ewing.
After the Civil War, the City of Kansas grew rapidly. The selection of the city over Leavenworth, Kansas, for the Hannibal & St. Joseph Railroad bridge over the Missouri River brought about significant growth. The population exploded after 1869, when the Hannibal Bridge, designed by Octave Chanute, opened. The boom prompted a name change to Kansas City in 1889 and the city limits to extend south and east. Westport became part of Kansas City on December 2, 1897.
Kansas City, guided by architect George Kessler, became a forefront example of the City Beautiful movement, developing a network of boulevards and parks around the city. The relocation of Union Station to its current location in 1914 and the opening of the Liberty Memorial in 1923 gave the city two of its most identifiable landmarks. Further spurring Kansas City's growth was the opening of the innovative Country Club Plaza development by J.C. Nichols in 1925 as part of his Country Club District plan.
At the turn of the century, political machines attempted to gain clout in the city, with the one led by Tom Pendergast emerging as the dominant machine by 1925. A new city charter passed that year made it easier for his Democratic Party machine to gain control of the city council (slimmed from 32 members to nine) and appoint a corrupt city manager. Several important buildings and structures were built during this time, to assist with the great depression-- all led by Pendergast, including the Kansas City City Hall and the Jackson County Courthouse-- both added new skyscrapers to the city's growing skyline. The machine fell in 1939 when Pendergast, riddled with health problems, pleaded guilty to tax evasion. The machine, however, gave rise to Harry S. Truman, who quickly became Kansas City's favorite son.
Post-World War II sprawl
After World War II, the city experienced considerable sprawl, as the affluent populace left for suburbs like Johnson County, Kansas, and eastern Jackson County, Missouri. However, many also went north of the Missouri River, where Kansas City had incorporated areas between the 1940s to 1970s. The population of the urban core significantly dipped, while the city as a whole gained population.
The sprawl of the city mainly took shape after the "race riots" of the Civil Rights Movement in Kansas City. At this time, slums were also beginning to form in the inner city, and those who could afford to leave, left for the suburbs and outer edges of the city. The post-WWII idea of suburbs and the "American Dream" also contributed to the sprawl of the area. As the city continued to sprawl, the inner city also continued to decline.
In 1940, the city had about 400,000 residents; by 2000, the same area was home to only about 180,000. From 1940 to 1960, the city more than doubled its physical size, while increasing its population by only about 75,000. By 1970, the city had a total area of approximately 316 square miles, more than five times its size in 1940.
The future for sprawl in Kansas City is uncertain. Johnson County has continued to sprawl at a constant rate, and Clay County, Missouri, also has begun to sprawl once more. However recent revelations in urban planning have slowed sprawl and focused instead on the inner city, existing infrastructure and housing, as well as reviving the city's formerly blighted downtown. Uses of the New Urbanism style of planning is now also occurring in some of the most prominent suburban projects.