The Little Gathering Place That Could

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City Market, River Market, marathons, live entertainment, River Market Community Association, William Gillis



City Market. Photo courtesy of David Remley
City Market. Photo courtesy of David Remley


Since Kansas City was merely the Town of Kansas, and long before a Parks & Recreation department had any say in the matter, there has stood a gathering place: City Market Park. The River Market has always been a neighborhood that thrives on public shoulder-rubbing. With a lively farmer’s market that dates back to 1857, the area has endured and endeared to city hearts for its open-air trade and play.


Even with the bustling bazaar that lures crowds every weekend in the proper market square, the need has remained for a patch of multipurpose green space next door in City Market Park. Whether it is for young families looking for a weeknight community space or merchants looking for a makeshift Saturday shop, the City Market Park remains a vital piece of property.

Kansas City in 1830


Francois Choteau settled on the banks of a convenient river convergence in 1826, and by 1839 there stood the Town of Kansas. Direct steamboat access from the east and down to Mexico, as well as westward roaming entrepreneurs and fur trappers, led to growth and expansion at a blistering speed. By 1853, it had grown up to the City of Kansas. With hotels and housing and municipal buildings quickly stacking up and stretching to the city’s ever-expanding borders, community members saw the need to preserve open spaces. City founder William Gillis donated the City Market property in 1858, declaring it “for public use forever.”


City Market Park has made it this far, while the city limits expand to the south and north and the built environment evolves, due to its own adaptability. The square served as a public gathering place for socials and celebrations in the 19th century; in the middle-20th century, there were political rallies and protests. During the seedy River Quay redevelopment project in the 1970s, the public space became associated with drifters and druggies.


Today, the City Market Park reflects the changed community that surrounds it. For the converted loft buildings on Delaware Street, the park is a backyard—a convenient place to take the dog out to do business. For the River Market Community Association, it’s a place for neighborhood meetings. In the summer, there are outdoor movies shown; in spring and fall, the park often serves as a start or finish line for charity runs.


With its panoramic skyline view and convenient centrality to the surrounding residential properties, City Market Park assures that through versatility it will remain a treasured public space for as long as Gillis hoped. In 2013, a group of activists rallied in City Market Park to protest the impending construction of the Keystone XL pipeline, decrying its contaminating threats to the Missouri River. It’s a reminder of the continuing connection the River Market has to its namesake Big Muddy, and the grounds on which they will fight to preserve it.