Kansas CityFebruary 17, 2021
Though St. Louis may claim the “Gateway to the West” moniker, it is the city on the opposite side of the state of Missouri that has the more “western” feel and probably the more enviable self-proclaimed title of “Heart of the Nation.” Kansas City has come a long way from its humble beginnings as a dusty cowtown and today boasts a lively metropolis with world-renowned restaurants, music, and professional sports. It also boasts a slight identity crisis as it literally straddles two states–Missouri and Kansas. In fact, its not actually even a single town–it’s two!
While Kansas City, Missouri is the bigger of the two towns, the economies are inextricably linked and for most practical purposes, the metropolitan area is one in the same. Indeed, many simply refer to it as KCMO, or Kansas City Metropolitan Area. Taken together, the entire urban area surrounding KCMO boasts a population of nearly two million residents straddling the border of the two states.
A Rich History
To fully understand the Kansas City of today, it makes sense to explore the roots of the city and what forces propelled it into its current mold. Among the first non-native settlements in the Kansas City area was that of the Church of Latterday Saints, or Mormons, as they are more commonly known. The Mormons’ time in the Kansas City area was limited, however, as conflicts between them and southern Missouri residents eventually led to their continued migration westward.
It was around the same time of the Mormon departure from the area that a dock was established on the banks of the Missouri River to unload supplies for Westport Landing. The settlement around this dock quickly gave rise to the the town of Kansas and subsequently the city of Kansas upon incorporation by the state of Missouri. A little over 30 years after incorporation, the townspeople adopted a new city charter which changed the name of the town to Kansas City.
Perhaps the most significant boon to the success of the city was its physical location in the center of the United States. Take a peek at a map of the U.S. and you will quickly see that Kansas City is truly at the “Heart of the Nation.” This location made it an obvious choice for a major railroad hub that remains the second largest in the nation, behind only Chicago. By 1914, Union Station was one of the largest passenger terminals in the country. Though falling into disrepair in the latter part of the 20th century, Union Station has since enjoyed a renaissance of sorts and today is known for its museums, shops, restaurants and adjacent art district aptly referred to as the “Crossroads.”
Into the Present
When people refer to Kansas City as a former “cowtown,” they are not merely poking fun at its rough-and-tumble roots. Indeed, Kansas City once had one of the largest cattle markets in the free world, and the last stockyards in West Bottoms did not close until 1984 (much to the relief of those living downwind!). Today, the odors of Kansas City offer the distinctly more pleasant aroma of sweet barbeque roasting in one of the hundreds of famous BBQ houses dotting the landscape.
One of the most distinguishing characteristics of the town is the plethora of fountains found throughout the metroplex. Numbering at just over 160, the city of Kansas City boasts more fountains than any city in the world save Rome, Italy! That is pretty good company for a “cowtown” in the American heartland! The glow of illuminated fountains placed along the many parkways and landscaped medians truly add an air of elegance to the city.
Those visiting the Kansas City area for the first time are often pleasantly surprised at the rich culture and vibrant city life that the area offers. The multiple parks and walkways make the city center easily accessible on foot. Swope Park, for example, is one of the largest urban parks in the country and features a zoo, a lake, a camping area, and no less than two golf courses! Whether it’s world-class sports, world-renowned jazz, or fall-off-the-bone barbeque ribs, everyone can find something in Kansas City.