Kansas City is home to a treasure trove of history. Our town boasts historic sites that convey epic struggles, innovations and triumphs. And some of the history is rather unsavory. This month, visit these sites, and ground yourself in the history that made us what we are today.
1. Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception
416 W. 12th St., Kansas City, MO
With its distinctive dome, cupola and cross covered in 23-karat gold leaf, this cathedral traces its roots back to the beginning of European (French, in this case) settlement in Kansas City. It stands one block from where the Rev. Benedict Roux built a log church in 1835.
The cornerstone for the cathedral was laid in 1882, and the first mass in the church was celebrated here in 1883. Built on the highest ground in Kansas City at that time, it can be seen from miles away. The gold leaf was added to replace deteriorated copper in 1960. A major renovation was completed in 2003.
2. Paseo YMCA/Buck O’Neil Center
Located in the 18th and Vine area, Kansas City, MO
The history of baseball and the African American experience in the United States converged here nearly 100 years ago, when the Paseo YMCA resided in this building. On Feb. 13 and 14, 1920, talks led to the establishment of the Negro National League and the National Association of Colored Professional Baseball Clubs.
The Negro League came into existence because blacks were barred from playing on professional baseball teams with white players. Amid the racism and discrimination that hemmed in their lives, the Negro League teams played legendary baseball and produced famed players such as Satchel Paige, Jackie Robinson and Buck O’Neil.
Today, the building is home to the Buck O’Neil Education and Research Center.
3. John Wornall House
6115 Wornall Rd., Kansas City, MO
One of the few surviving pre-Civil War houses in the Kansas City area, this house was built by John Wornall in 1858 on his 500-acre farm. Wornall made his living selling crops to wagon trains heading west on the Santa Fe and Oregon trails. Part of the Santa Fe Trail followed the current path of Wornall Road and would have passed directly in front of this house, which features large Greek columns and solid brick construction. One of the builders recalled that Wornall wanted his home to be “the most pretentious house in that section.”
4. Kansas City Athenaeum
900 E. Linwood Blvd., Kansas City, MO
This building is a good spot to contemplate the history of Kansas City women and their achievements. It was built in 1914 by the Kansas City Athenaeum, a women’s organization founded in 1894.
Members of the club raised $50,000 for the construction. According to Wikipedia, they “sold canned vegetables and needlework. Some members even charged their husbands a nickel to iron their shirts or a quarter if the husband or grown son came home from work for lunch. Additional funds were raised by producing extravagant musical productions, including the operetta, ‘The House that Jack Built.’”
The building was sold in 2015 to the Foundation for Delta Educational and Economic Development.
5. Pacific House Hotel
401 Delaware St., Kansas City, MO
Frank and Jesse James reportedly slaked their thirst and shot pool at the bar of the Pacific House Hotel, which was built in 1861. It was occupied by Union troops during the Civil War. One of the most infamous acts of the Civil War occurred in the lobby on Aug. 25, 1863, when Union Gen. Thomas Ewing Jr. issued General Order No. 11. The order forced the evacuation of rural areas in four western Missouri counties, including Jackson County. While meant to cut off aid to pro-Confederate guerillas, historians say the harshness of the order actually boosted support for the guerillas.
6. Quindaro Townsite
In the vicinity of North 27th Street and the Missouri Pacific Railroad tracks in Kansas City, KS
The town Quindaro was founded by abolitionists in 1856 during the Bleeding Kansas border war between pro- and anti-slavery factions. It played an important role in resisting the westward spread of slavery, and its residents helped slaves who escaped from Missouri. Quindaro Freedman’s School (later known as Western University), the first black school west of the Mississippi River, was launched here in 1865. The town gradually declined and was abandoned, but it was rediscovered during a 1980s archeological study. The site features a landmark statue of abolitionist John Brown that was erected in 1911.
7. Loose Park, site of the Battle of Westport
5200 Wornall Rd., Kansas City, MO
As you walk, jog or bike around this beautiful park, it’s hard to imagine bullets flying, cannon balls exploding and men killing and maiming each other.
But all of that happened here on Oct. 23, 1864, during the Battle of Westport, also known as the “Gettysburg of the West.” With more than 30,000 men engaged, it was one of the largest Civil War battles fought west of the Mississippi River. The Union soldiers won the battle, and their victory put an end to Confederate Maj. Gen. Sterling Price’s campaign for Missouri. Incidentally, the nearby John Wornall House was used by both sides as a hospital during the battle.
8. Livestock Exchange Building
1600 Genessee St., Kansas City, MO
This edifice, in the heart of the city’s historic West Bottoms, evokes the era when the Kansas City Stockyards made our town an economic powerhouse.
When completed in 1911, this was the largest livestock exchange building in the world — and rightfully so. Kansas City was home to the second-largest stockyards in the country after Chicago.
Business in our stockyards dropped off after the flood of 1951, followed by changes in the meat industry that eliminated the need for big city stockyards. The Kansas City stockyards closed in 1991, but the Livestock Exchange Building has been renovated and is once again a bustling office building.
9. Pendergast’s Old Headquarters
1908 Main St., Kansas City, MO
Most passersby don’t realize it, but this building once served as the headquarters of Tom Pendergast, the machine boss who presided over politics in Kansas City and much of Missouri during the 1920s and 1930s.
Like many political bosses of his day, Pendergast was a mixed bag. His legacy includes big construction projects, helping the poor and getting Harry Truman into politics, but his penchant for corruption extended to alliances with hardened criminals and widespread voter fraud accompanied by violence.
In 1939, Pendergast was arraigned for failing to pay taxes on a bribe received to pay off gambling debts, and he served 15 months in the U.S. Penitentiary in Leavenworth.