EARLY KANSAS CITY SPIRIT. ~ The Real Turning Point in the Destiny of Kansas City, U. S. A.

April 10, 1909

The Real Turning Point in the
Destiny of Kansas City, U. S. A.

To The Journal:

In the spring of 1866 Kansas City had a population of about 3,000. The community had not yet fully recovered from the disastrous effects of the civil war. The corporation was virtually bankrupt; city "scrip," issued to meet current expenses, sold for 50 cents on the dollar.

The sheriff had exhausted his powers in trying to find property on which to levy. He had sold the furniture out of the offices in city hall -- the city scales, and even part of the market square fronting on Main street. Many old timers can easily remember when a block of one and two-story houses extended from Fifth street to the old city hall, built upon sheriff's titles.

Leavenworth, which was Kansas City's great rival, had at that time about 20,000 population and was really the"City of the West," with bright prospects, good credit and large numbers of very wealthy, public-spirited citizens.

No wonder disinterested observers saw little chance for Kansas City. but with that little chance a great opportunity preceded and followed by a fortuitous chain of events, which changed destiny. Both cities had already (before the civil war) expended considerable sums in efforts to obtain rail connection with Cameron station, about fifty miles distant, on the Hannibal & St. Joseph railroad.

During the previous session of the Missouri legislature, Kansas City had the good fortune to be represented by Colonel R. T. Van Horn, M. J. Payne and E. M. McGee, who, by their untiring industry and perseverance, and in the face of sharp opposition, secured the passage of the necessary legislation for a bridge and branch railroad.

Colonel Charles E. Kearney (who had recently returned to Kansas City from New York city, where he had engaged in the banking business, and where he had made wide acquaintance among financiers and other business men all over the United States), was made president the company , and devoted his entire time and energy until all was successfully completed.

In the meantime Colonel Van Horn had been elected to congress and was then in Washington, where he was well favorably known, and succeeded in getting such legislation as was requisite.

Colonel Van Horn was ably assisted by Colonel Kersey Coates, who was a warm personal friend of Hon. Thaddeus Stevens, who, at that time, was the recognized leader of the Republican party. Mr. Stevens, on many occasions during his career, at the insistence of Colonel Coates, had used his influence and good offices in promoting and guarding the interests of Kansas City.

On the 8th of May a public meeting was held in the city hall for the purpose of providing funds to aid the enterprise. At that meeting $60,000 in cash was raised and the city council turned over $23,000 in notes of the Missouri Pacific Railroad Company, given for the right of way of that road along the levee.

This fund became the guarantee on the part of Kansas City on going into the contract for the building of bridge and road.

Immediately after that meeting Messrs. Kearney, Case and Coates began active negotiations in Boston, New York and Detroit. The negotiations had to be conducted with great secrecy --the Leavenworth delegations were continually met, the newspapers and public men of St. Louis did everything in their power to advance, aid and assist the interests of Leavenworth and to hinder, thwart and ridicule the efforts of Kansas City.

On May 24th public announcement was made that the contract had been executed by Hon. James F. Joy of Detroit on behalf of the railroads.

From that day the tide turned in favor of Kansas City, and when the bridge was completed, some three years later, the Kansas City branch became the main line.

Many of the subscribers to this historic fund have been classed as "old fogies," and wanting in public spirit. Others were considered visionary, theoretical, impractical, but all came nobly to the front of this supreme occasion and laid the foundation that makes present conditions possible.

"They built it better than they knew."

The city afterwards, when authority had been obtained, and arrangements made for a bond issue, refunded in full the amount paid by the subscribers.

April 8, 1909