Riverfront Heritage Trail, Berkley Riverfront Park, River Market, hiking, Francois Choteau, Town of Kansas, Octave Chanute, Broadway Bridge
The Town of Kansas Bridge, an architectural masterpiece that begins at 1st and Main Streets in Kansas City’s historical River Market neighborhood, commemorates our nitty, gritty birth along the Missouri River. The bridge stretches from the foot of Main Street over railroads and a floodwall to end at a platform overlooking the choppy, brown waters below. Taut shadows splay down from the bridge’s arched top and mimic the shape of the Broadway Bridge just upstream. Three flights of wooden and concrete stairs lead below the platform to the start of the Riverfront Heritage Trail, a 15-mile pedestrian and bike path along the river leading to Richard L. Berkeley Riverfront Park.
This is it. This is where it all began. Where the natives had lived in harmony with the forests and water for centuries before the French fur trappers carved a community out of the woods and settled post near the natural levee just beneath the platform at the end of the bridge. That post led to a developing river community pioneered by Berenice and Francois Choteau, which eventually spread south over the bluffs and into what we now know as downtown Kansas City. The river was their livelihood. It brought in steamboats and large-scale trade, and eventually, railroads. The current location of the Hannibal Bridge can be seen looking west from the Town of Kansas bridge. Its original location was located 200 feet upstream until a tornado struck and it had to be rebuilt. This original bridge was the first to span the Missouri River, marking Kansas City as a major railroad hub for the developing country. Many people considered the success of spanning the unpredictable Missouri River a miracle, but not its designer, Octave Chanute, who dreamed big. When the first train steamed over the river on July 3, 1869, thousands stood slack jawed on the hazardous banks to witness such a sight.
Our city sounds here, with cooing pigeons under the bridge’s platform, trains rusting across the old Hannibal bridge, horns barking on the Broadway Bridge, and dirty waves lapping against boulders along the river’s edge. It’s not hard to imagine the keel boats of Lewis & Clark or hear the festive instruments and voices of the French river community. We were born here, the children of these visionaries: the Indians who kept the land alive, the explorers who saw the land’s potential for communal growth, and the men, women and children who made good on the promised land. At first, our founders couldn’t settle on a name (Rabbitville? Possumtrot? Kona? Cances? Kunseas? Kons? Kauzaw?), but we eventually answered to the name Town of Kansas in 1839 that later developed into City of Kansas in 1853, and eventually turned into Kansas City by common tongue.