[School History Logo]

The History of our Public Schools
Wyandotte County, Kansas




Site Navigation: History Homepage / Biographies Index / Building Index of Libraries and Schools / Ethnic History of Schools / FAQs - Did You Know? / First Things First / Historian's Roundtable of Wyandotte County / Maps and Land Records / One-Room Schoolhouses / Picture Gallery / Publications, Online Transcriptions, Links / Queries / Copyright/Disclaimer

Contact the History Webmaster - Patricia Adams

Page Divider Bar

The Story of Kansas City, Kansas

"Other Wyandotte Cities, Places and People"


When you ask for a "float" at the soda fountain, the clerk serves you a soft drink.  You surely would never expect to have a section of land handed to you!

That is what happened, though, to some of the Wyandots when they asked the government for a float.  A number of the Indians had land owing them since Ohio days.  In addition to the forty acres each person received in 1856, these members were permitted to select a section of land owned by the government, provided no Indian tribe occupied it.

Because the Wyandots chose their land in various spots and could sell when they please, their holdings were called floats.  Silas Armstrong selected government land in the Central Industrial District [called the West Bottoms in later times].  Lucy B. Armstrong's float was near the tracks of the Northwestern Railroad.

It is just possible that the house you live in is built on a Wyandot float.  Your father can check by reading over his abstract.


As we drive along on our streets and highways today, it is almost impossible for us to imagine what life would be like without paved roads and automobiles.  There were no cars in early Wyandotte and the roads were passable only in dry weather.

The road to the farms started at Third and Nebraska and wound around Fourth and Fifth Streets to a ridge back of the rose garden at the library.  This was also the road that led to Leavenworth.  Quindaro had a road in good condition that connected it with the city of Lawrence.

The first bridge in the county was built in 1858.  It was located three miles up the Kansas River from Wyandotte.  The Old Southern Bridge crossed at the same spot later.  [Annotation:  When bridges were built across the rivers, this eliminated the ferries. In 1858, the first bridge across the Kansas River was built at the crossing of the Santa Fe Road. The toll bridge was known as "The Southern Bridge."]  [Annotation:  The first bridge across the Kansas River, the Southern Bridge connecting Wyandott to Shawnee Town, had been built in 1858 some seven or eight miles downstream from the Grinter ferry. This apparently did not affect the ferry greatly, as the two crossings served travelers on different routes. But in 1867, a railroad bridge across the Kansas River at Wyandott was completed, and the ferry was becoming obsolete after nearly forty years of operation. It was also in 1867 that the Delaware finally gave in to continuing pressure and sold their reservation in Kansas, moving to Indian Territory in what is now Oklahoma the following winter. The town of Secondine soon disappeared, its departure hastened by the removal of the station to Muncie a mile further east. By 1870, the Grinter ferry, unlike several other ferries further upstream, was absent from the official map of Wyandotte County that was published in that year. "Secondline" was the Stony Point area near Muncie.]

When the Union Pacific Railroad came to Wyandotte in 1863, it built a bridge over the Kansas River near where the Intercity Viaduct (Lewis & Clark Viaduct) crosses.  When it was washed away in 1866, the railroad had to bring passengers across in boats.


The Civil War was going on when Wyandotte residents put aside their worries to celebrate a special day.  On September 7, 1863, ground was broken for the first railroad.  Now the Union Pacific, it was then called the Kansas Valley Railroad. 

The railroad foreman handed axes to A. B. Bartlett and Silas Armstrong.  The two men were to see who could chop down a tree first.  The winner would have the honor of driving a post into the ground to mark the spot where the railroad began.  The contest was declared a tie.  The foreman settled it by driving in the post himself.  This was on the state line about a mile from Fifth and Minnesota.  On the Missouri side of the post he wrote "Slavery,:" and on the Kansas side, "Liberty."

There was no ceremony when the first rail was laid for a spur from the river to a point on the levee.  Materials for the tracks had to be brought in by boat.  Even the first locomotive, an old woodburner from Virginia, was shipped in on a barge.

The workmen cut a hole in the river bank and laid rails to the deck.  They fired up the engine.  But it ran too near the edge of the river and plunged into the water up to the headlights.  It took several days to get the engine upon the rails again.

Other cities, among them Leavenworth, had wanted the railroad.  While the men were hoisting the engine out of the water in WYandotte, Leavenworth papers were teasing the people here about the poor start the railroad had made.

By 1864, the Union Pacific had been completed to Lawrence.  The first locomotive was named "Wyandotte," and citizens here marveled as it steamed out of the city.  The Kansas legislature in 1865 adjourned for several days so the members could take an excursion from Topeka to Lawrence and Wyandotte.

The first Union Pacific shops were located on the levee in the block where Constitution Hall had stood.  The railroad moved then to Armstrong in 1870.  [Annotation:  Armstrong was a It small community resting on the hill above the Union Pacific Railway shops that had been built south of Wyandotte in the 1860's and 1870's.  In later years, Armstrong formed a connecting link between Wyandotte and Armourdale by growing in between the two.]

In 1864, the Missouri River Railroad was built from Wyandotte to the state line to meet the Missouri Pacific.  The Missouri Pacific ran north under the bluffs almost to Leavenworth.  The Santa Fe laid tracks south of the Kansas River, and by 1870 had reached Emporia.

Other railroads followed, serving the towns and villages near Wyandotte.  The trains were later replaced by trolley lines, which today have given way to paved roads and automobiles.  Twelve railroads pass through Kansas City.   Few trains atop anymore and the stations are closed.  Passengers must go to Kansas City, Missouri to board the trains.

[Annotation:  The Kansas Pacific was a southern branch of the Union Pacific. In September 1863, the Kansas Pacific Railroad began building the main line for passengers (immigrants) westward across the Great Plains -- from Kansas City--Wyandotte to Denver, CO. The Kansas Pacific was the long-line railroad in the state for two or three years.

  • The first 40 miles was open in 1864 (from Wyandotte to Lawrence).
  • (Oct./Nov. 1866) -- One thing that added greatly to the growth and importance of Junction City after the completion of the Kansas Pacific Railroad to that point, was the fact that it was made the end of the first division of the road. This of course, necessitated the building of a roundhouse, and other workshops at that place which naturally drew a good many people to settle in the town.
  • Leavenworth became one of the termini, connection with the main line being made at Lawrence. In November 1866, trains commenced to run from Leavenworth to Junction City.
  • Through the efforts of Col. William A. Phillips, the Union Pacific Railroad was extended to Salina in 1867.
  • In 1868 it became the Kansas Pacific so that it was easier to refer to it.
  • Building starts to slow up possibly due to financial problems 1867/1869.
  • On April 3, 1870 the division was changed from Junction City to Wamego.
  • It remained the Kansas Pacific until it was consolidated with the Union Pacific in 1880 and takes that name again.
  • Hoxie, Kansas was named for a vice president of the railroad when the Union Pacific decided to come through Sheridan County.
  • Skiddy, Kansas was named for a railroad man, Francis Skiddy of New York, a magnate of the Union Pacific Railroad.
  • Annotation information found at Railroads in Kansas.]


Some day when you drive north on 27th Street to look at old Quindaro, you will pass a group of six buildings.  Fire has damaged one, and the windows in all of them are broken.  They look lonely and deserted, but they once were part of a busy school known as Western University

Quindaro  and Western University Virtual Tour

Years ago several hundred Negro young people attended school there.  They helped to lay the brick for the buildings and to raise their food on the surrounding land.  In their classes they studied high school and college subjects, or worked in the industrial arts shop.  When boys and girls completed their work at the school, they had a profession or trade for earning a living.

In the late 1850's a colored minister, the Reverend Ebon Baltchley, heard Horace Greeley speak to the people of Quindaro.  Greeley published a newspaper in New York, and often mentioned Quindaro in the news.  He told the residents that their town would grow to be a great city some day.  Mr. Blatchley wanted to establish a school for his people in so promising a location.

The state of Kansas helped the little school with a gift of money.  When the founder died in 1877, the Reverend W. T. Vernon took over the leadership.  The name was changed to Freedman's University.  By 1896 the school was a junior college.  In later years it was known as Western University and regarded as a second Tuskegee Institute.  Graduates carried on the fight for the education of their people.

The schools in Kansas opened their doors to Negroes.  As a state school was cheaper to attend, the number of students dropped until the college had to close in 1933.  Empty buildings are all that are left today of old Western University.

[Annotation:  Please remember that this book was written in the early 1960s.  In 2003, only a cornerstone of Western University remains on the ground at 27th and Sewell where the John Brown Statue stands.  The buildings, including the Douglass Hospital, are no longer there.  The old Vernon School building is still standing and there was a large white community building built on the old Western University ground; but they are becoming derelict as they are unoccupied and uncared for.  It is a sad thing to behold that our history in this area - an area greatly destroyed due to Interstates, etc. - is being lost.  Perhaps someday, a person or organization or group of people will care enough to begin a drive for preservation of this area before everything is lost to time.]


John Brown moved to Kansas to help in the fight against slavery.  He gave up his life for the cause of freedom when he went to Virginia at the beginning of the Civil War.  There are two statues of John Brown in our state and one of them is on the campus of Western University.

Reverend Abraham Grant, a bishop of the African Methodist Church, collected the money for the statue.  The Negroes of Kansas City gave sums ranging in amounts from fifty cents to $10 until they had donated about $2,000.  The fourteen-foot statue was carved in Italy from Carrara marble by a sculptor who had only a photograph of John Brown as a model.

On June 1, 1911, a large crowd gathered on the campus to take part in the dedication ceremonies.  The statue is still in good condition and is located just west of 27th Street on Sewell in front of one of the buildings.  It bears the inscription:  Erected to the Memory of John Brown by a Grateful People.

[Annotation:  Brown Avenue in the Quindaro area of Kansas City, Kansas was not named for the abolitionist John Brown, but in honor of Nancy Quindaro Brown Guthrie's father, Rev. Adam Brown, an early pioneer of Wyandotte County, Kansas. Another street named for the Quindaro area is Quindaro Blvd.]


In the midst of the troubled Civil War days, the Kansas legislature found time to provide for the blind citizens of the state.  It appointed a commission in February, 1864, to select a place for the school.

A tract of ten acres was needed.  Wyandotte had set aside land for a park to be called Oakland.  The city offered almost ten acres of this park to the state.  The offer was accepted.

When the first buildings were ready in September, 1868, seven pupils enrolled.  The state wanted its blind children to become self-supporting, useful citizens.  The teachers were hired because of their fitness for teaching the blind.  The government furnished the text books.  The children were taught crafts and industrial arts.

The School for the Blind has increased in size and enrollment since those first years.  You can see the buildings and the large yard surrounding them, as you drive down State Avenue or Washington Boulevard from Eleventh to Twelfth Streets.


The African-American Mosaic
A Library of Congress Resource Guide for the Study of Black History and Culture

The Exodus to Freedom

During slavery days Kansas people gave refuge to slaves who escaped from their masters.  When the Civil War ended, the slaves were free to move from one place to another.  Many came here to live because Kansas was known to them.

Suddenly, in 1878, the colored people began to come in great numbers from the states in the South, especially those bordering on the Mississippi River.  They arrived in such crowds that there was no place for them to live or to work.  One boat in 1879 pulled two barges up the Missouri River.  Hundreds of Negroes crowded the barges, along with their household goods, mules, and dogs.

The people were unloaded near the levee a few blocks north of where the Intercity Viaduct [Annotation:  Intercity Viaduct in 2003 is called the Lewis and Clark Viaduct.] is now.  Churches tried to provide shelter for them.  Barracks were built.  Kind people in the city brought food.  The Santa Fe Railroad lent freight cars for homes, and organizations in the East sent boxes of clothing.

Five hundred colored people were taken by the Santa Fe to Topeka where they founded Tennessee Town.  Another group established the Negro town of Nicodemus in Kansas.  As they had no money, families built shelters of any materials they could gather.  In a period of four year, 1878 to 1882, twenty thousand former slaves landed at Wyandotte.  Residents of the city found it almost impossible to handle so many newcomers.

You may wonder why families without money or jobs chose to leave their homes and come to a strange place.  Negroes who settled in the North after the Civil War wrote to relatives and friends, urging them to follow.  A crop failure in the South discouraged farm workers.

Dishonest persons made false promises to these poor Negroes.  Some of them were told that 40 acres and a mule awaited them here.  Others spent the last of their money for four painted sticks with their initials on them.

"Just drive the sticks into the ground anywhere in Kansas," directed the tricksters, "and the government will give you all the land you want."

Five dollars was a large sum of money in 1879.  A colored man who paid five dollars for a ticket was told that the conductor on a train going north accept the ticket for the family's fare.  He learned the truth, of course, after he had boarded the train.

The migration of the Negroes from the South in those four years is known as the Exodus, and the people as the Exodusters.  During the time they lived on the levee the Exodusters were said to have been honest and law-abiding.  Many settled around the vicinity of Jersey Creek in what became known as Rattlebone Hollow.  Others found homes in Quindaro.  They established churches and became part of the community.

[Annotation:  It was on the northeast corner of Sixth Street and Rowland Avenue where Dunbar North School was constructed.  This area which was located in the northeast part of Kansas City, Kansas was also known as "Rattle Bone Hollow."]


Quindaro is known as a lost city.  There was once another city, near the downtown section of old Wyandotte, that today is lost except in the memory of old residents.  It was known as Juniper.  No one knows why, because there were no juniper trees in this vicinity.  Another name for this settlement was Mississippi Town.  We may guess that Mississippi was the home state of some of the colored Exodusters who settled there. 

Juniper is said to have been one of the strangest settlements in the United States.  It was located within two blocks of the western end of the Intercity Viaduct, east of Third Street and north of Everett Avenue.  At one time about 500 Negroes were living there in shacks made of any available materials, such as old lumber or scraps of iron and tin.  These squatters put stilts under the rickety shelters to escape the water when the river overflowed.  Planks were laid across the mud to the doors of the huts.  Because this section, which was part of the levee, was crowded, the crooked streets were no more than five feet wide.

Mr. Fowler, who owned a packing company, offered the men jobs.  Mrs. Fowler visited the women to bring food and clothing to the families.  She taught them better ways to cook and to keep house.

A so-called doctor, a preacher, and a lawyer were the leaders in Juniper.  Unfortunately they were uneducated and gave little real help to their people.  The lawyer, who could neither read nor write, hung his sign on the outside of his two-room shack.  He rode around in a buggy pulled by a skinny old horse to impress Juniper people, but never brought a case to court.

For over forty years the Exodusters lived in Juniper.  Families grew up married, and raised their children there.  Progress finally drove them away.  White people wanted the fishing places.  The Missouri River built up land to the north, forming the Fairfax District.  Railroads and factories moved in.  By 1927 only a few houses remained, and today "Juniper" is no more.

Although the old town is gone, the name Juniper will not be forgotten.  On December 14, 1960, ground was broken for a few housing section to be known as "Juniper Gardens."  This is the first public housing project in Kansas.  The ceremonies were held on a snow-covered hillside at Third Street and New Jersey Avenue.  A large sign was erected by Mayor Paul F. Mitchum and John Anderson, governor-elect of Kansas.  The sign read:  Juniper Gardens, Low Rent Housing Project, Kansas 1-1.

Juniper Gardens will extend from First to Third Streets and From New Jersey to Stewart Avenues.  The 390 dwelling units will cost about $6 million.  News article on Juniper.

[Annotation: "Fairfax District Once Known as 'The Willows.'" Fairfax Bomber . Kansas City, KS: Bomber Publishing Co., n.d. (K978.1/-W97/Pam.v.2/no. 5). ]

[Annotation:  1879--- Nearly every boat on the Mississippi and Missouri rivers is laden with former slaves who have the mistaken belief that free land awaits them in Kansas. The "Exodusters," some with absolutely no money, land at Wyandotte. Rough board shelters and tin shacks go up on the river levee across from Kansas City. The African Methodist Episcopal Church, Mayor George M. Shelley, and Fort Leavenworth provide food and clothing.   On April 25th, the Wyandotte Commercial Gazette reports that more than 1,000 destitute people, many from Mississippi and Louisiana, have arrived. Some stay on, settling Juniper Town and Rattlebone Hollow.]

[Annotation:   In 1955, the voters had their say. For the first time in 24 years, the only incumbent commissioner to be returned to office was Finance Commissioner Earl B. Swarner. He was a former police chief who had been appointed to fill out the late E. W. Becker's term of office in 1952, and was untouched by the scandals of that year. In addition to the defeat of the incumbents, for the first time since 1932 the political affiliation of the three commissioners began to reflect that of the majority of Kansas City, Kansas voters.

Much needed to be done if the city was to break away from its long period of stagnation. In 1956, the city undertook its first annexation in thirty-one years. Additional small annexations followed in 1959, 1960, 1961 and 1963, adding areas to the city that for the most part had long been developed. The reason most often given by previous administrations for the protracted delay in the much needed expansion of the city was that they wished to have the issue of annexation of Fairfax resolved first.

The development of the Fairfax Industrial District was begun in 1923 by the Kansas City Industrial Land Company, a subsidiary of the Union Pacific Railroad, on the Missouri River bottom land northeast of the older sections of the city. The Depression hindered development, but the late 1930s and '40s saw Fairfax grow extensively. Originally, the architectural design of the buildings was controlled (most of it being done by a single architect, Charles E. Keyser) and landscaping was required, making Fairfax a model industrial area. During the McCombs years, a so-called "gentlemen's agreement" had kept the City from any attempt to annex Fairfax, but the agreement apparently expired with McCombs' retirement. The City first tried to annex the area in 1949, beginning years of litigation. The principal attorney in the fight against the City was Joseph H. McDowell, who had been elected state senator in 1948 following his defeat in the mayoral race. Final settlement in favor of the City did not come until 1962, well after the shift in the City's political makeup.

In 1964, Mayor Paul Mitchum died in office and McDowell was appointed as his successor, resigning his state senate position to take up the new office. McDowell was a liberal Democrat, and his term of office was a period of change somewhat like that which swept the country in those years. Minorities and trained professionals both became more evident at city hall, while growth, development, and urban renewal became major goals for the city.

By 1966, the City completed the first phase of its long annexation effort, moving the city boundaries as far west as 86th Street to take in most of the platted and developed area of Wyandotte County. The City also began organizing a full-time, professional planning department, and carried out the first significant public works projects in the city's parks since the W.P.A. work of the '30s. In 1968 a new Master and Comprehensive Plan, dealing with such issues as land use, zoning, housing conditions, parks, streets and capital improvements, was adopted by the City. In that same year the voters approved $15,000,000 worth of bonds for major capital improvements that were called for in the plan, including the development of Parallel Parkway and the improvement of Jersey Creek. With the bond money and other funds as leverage, the city in ensuing years aggressively pursued federal funding assistance for an ongoing program of park, street, and sewer development.

The above information is from the Kansas City Planning Commission web site. ]

Other Wyandotte Cities, Places, and People

Return to Index for "The Story of Kansas City, Kansas" by Nellie McGuinn

Page Divider Bar

Download Adobe Acrobat ReaderLinks using reader are marked ( pdf ).
Click icon to download reader.
Use browser's back button to return

Contact the History Webmaster - Patricia Adams

History Site created on December 02, 2002
Page last updated: 02-Jan-2012

Visit the KCKs Public Schools Homepage