Everything's Up-to-Date!

updated 19 December 2016
Kansas City, MO
(Part I)

from Google Street View

Kansas City welcomes rail passengers in fashion, as it always has. Here is a Street View exploration of the area around the site of one of its elegant former train stations. Join us for this this brief tour and please comment if you can add something of interest!

Published by Ward Bros., Ph. V., Columbus OH
sometime in the early 20th century

From "Bottoms Up" by Dr. Jason Roe which appeared on the Kansas City Public Library site on Monday, 6 April 2015 comes this excellent brief history of Union Depot and its neighborhood. As you will see, Kansas City MO experienced phenomenal growth in its population during the end of the 19th century:

"The major drawbacks to Union Depot all stemmed from its location in the West Bottoms. While an excellent place to pick up packaged meat and cattle for shipment to the North and East, the West Bottoms was one of the more unseemly parts of town for passenger traffic. Coming from certain angles, passengers actually had to avoid trains on the tracks. Visitors to the city left the relative comfort of their railroad cars and were greeted with nearly four square blocks of the saloons, gambling centers, billiard halls, tattoo parlors, and brothels that surrounded the depot. The smoke of the coal-fired trains coated nearby buildings with black soot. Traveling from the depot to Quality Hill and Downtown involved a nerve-racking ride on the cable cars of the steep Ninth Street Incline.
To make matters worse, the entire West Bottoms area was prone to flooding. The 1903 flood swamped Union Depot, giving the city an impetus to construct a new and larger depot in an area free of flooding and more convenient for passengers. On October 30, 1914, the new depot, named Union Station, opened to a crowd of 100,000 people. The next day, October 31, the last train passed out of old Union Depot. The building was razed in 1915, and the bawdy area surrounding it quickly vanished."

Union Avenue has changed in the last 100 years. Here's what the Depot site (lower right to center) looks like in the 21st century:

As can be seen from the Google view of the area above, there are lots of remains of old structures.
"West Bottoms," the Union Depot's neighborhood, stripped of its importance by the abandonment and demolition of the Depot in 1915, evolved in the absence of much of the notorious commerce which had once been part of this flourishing community. Factories and warehouses moved in ... and then moved out. Periodic flooding has taken its toll on any industry that has chosen to locate here. Nobody tells the story of West Bottoms better than H. Darby Trotter, PhD, whose oral history of the area is riveting. Hear the audio here.

Finding the site of Union Depot was challenging, as most of the landmark buildings in the Ward Bros.photo above had been wiped out either by the aftermath of a 1903 flood or the second catastrophic flood to hit the area in the 1950s.

The following series of maps helped me pinpoint the location:

Four years after the military phase of the Civil War concluded, Kansas City's West Bottoms area looked like this:

1869 from Library of Congress holdings:

Bird's eye view of Kansas City, Missouri. Jan'y. 1869.
Contributor Names
Ruger, A.
Christy, A. C.
Merchant's Lithographing Company.
Ruger & Stoner.
Created / Published
Madison, Wis., Ruger & Stoner [1869]
A topographic map of the area confirms the bowl shape of the terrain. West Bottoms is a part of the Missouri floodplain:

Kansas City grew like a weed after the Civil War. Here's how the city was portrayed in 1895:
The very long Union Depot is at the center of this map. (original from Library of Congress)

Panoramic view of the west bottoms, Kansas City, Missouri & Kansas showing stock yards, packing & wholesale houses.
Contributor Names
Koch, Augustus, 1840-
Created / Published
[n.p.] c1895.
Holsum encouraged you to "add the touch of genius to your meals."
In 1977 Honeymead acquired Holsum Foods and two years later consolidated margarine production in a new plant in Olathe, Kansas. The margarine operations were supervised by Holsum Foods staff based in Waukesha, Wisconsin. 

Weathering from a century of rains, storms, floods and baking temperatures
gives a distinctive look to many warehouses in West Bottoms.
Haunted house enterprises are a common use for some of the warehouses. Here the Google
Street View camera catches its shadow as it passes a haunting.
West Bottoms' future is uncertain. As the wealth and population of the region has increased, so has interest in this historic district. Periodic flooding, however, will continue and those who invest without paying attention to the history of West Bottoms as they build new structures or renovate the old should be prepared for a loss.

Meanwhile, on the bluffs around West Bottoms, Kansas City is prospering. The contrast is remarkable! See Part II.