Kansas City In Perspective

title art

What began as a flat, muddy place on the bank of the Missouri River where trade bound for the new West was offloaded from paddle wheel steamers and hauled up to Westport and the Southwest trails, grew into a mighty transportation and production center by the end of the nineteenth century, eclipsing and engulfing its neighbors.
riverlandingPhoto-K.C.Pub.Lib. Special Collections

Like many other cities across the country, our history has been buried under our present day. There was, for years, little incentive to preserve our architectural history. Progress and prosperity were the mantra of Post-War America. We saw nothing useful or nostalgic in the old buildings and arcane transportation systems of our younger days. Suburbia and the automobile were the waves we would ride into the future.
By the beginning of the twenty-first century, much of what remained of that progressive and wild era was falling into decay and disuse. It looked like most of the property that was once the industrial heart of the city had been converted to parking lots to accommodate the relative handful of new businesses that occupy the area known as the West Bottoms. Which brings to mind another major change that has occurred in the last half century. Street cars and trolleys once connected the West Bottoms to the wealthiest and poorest parts alike. Even as late as 1957 an innovative system of tunnels, elevated iron railways and cable car lines (Kansas City was the third city in the nation to use cable cars, San Francisco being first in the 1870's Chicago in 1883 then Kansas City in 1885) were operating in the city. They are all gone now. Innitiatives to revive some lines have been raised and have been brought down again.

9th Street Incline

For a number of years, my brother and I have been wanting to make some kind of record of the West Bottoms of Kansas City. Christmas, 2004, we were touring the bottoms once again and once again vowed to do something before these historical structures were gone forever. It might be, we thought, interesting to see these areas as they once were and as they are today. There are still a few of the old buildings just west of Union Avenue, whose fading signage recalls a simpler time. Of course, much has been lost. This project had only just begun when fire consumed the Western third of the K.C. Nut and Bolt building on 12th Street, a well known landmark to us old fading sign buffs. The original Union station that was the heartbeat of the district has been gone since 1915, the stock yards, once second only to those of Chicago, have been gone at least 30 years and the site is now occupied by the American Royal and Kemper Arena.

West Bottoms Skyline
To begin with, we started compiling some old photographs. The Kansas City Public Library, Special Collections contains a wealth of historical information and is the source of most of our black and white images. Also of interest is the American Memory collection of the Library of Congress. Links to both of these sites can be found below along with various local historical society web sites. Other sources include, "The Trains in the Gully" by William R. Luse, and "A Splendid Ride {The Streetcars of Kansas City, 1870-1957}"/Monroe Dodd. Kansas City Star books,[2002]. The next step was to make a digital photo record of the old places as they are today. While we began with a plan to do a now and then theme, we soon uncovered so much fascinating history that it was difficult not to expand the scope of our project. We in no way, intend this to be a comprehensive history of the city. There are many fine sources available that cover these areas in greater detail than our project can. We do hope to bring some of this history into perspective for those who share our interest.

To tour the West Bottoms, click on a destination from the station menu. Remember, you can always find a shortcut back to this page at the bottom of every page you visit. We are constantly making changes. Check back often.

kansas city mapPanoramic map collection - Library of Congress American Memory Home
Old Union Station
Street Cars and Trolleys
Images of 12th Street
Warehouse District
The Railroads
Livestock exchange/Stockyards

Press the buttons below to visit some interesting sites

Library of Congress - American Memory Home
Kansas City Public Library - Local History Collections
Digital History Home
History of Overland Park
Westport Historical Society
Heritage League of Kansas City
Kansas City, Kansas "Then and Now"

This page is maintained by amatures. We are always open to suggestions and corrections. Contact us; our email is (tftlmt@gmail.com).