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The Exploding Western Metropolis Carving Out a City on the Bluffs, 1856 to 1870 13 Chapter One Never shall I forget the early morning on the 13th day of April 1856, when my husband and I stepped ashore from the steamer William Campbell, after four days and five nights of tedious travel on the “Big Muddy” and the thirteenth day after our departure from Philadelphia. Weary and worn with travel, any kind of resting-­ place was a welcome sight. But alas! How my heart sank when the thought passed through my mind, “And this is to be my home!” “Be brave,” said the spirit within me, and instead of sitting down and weeping, as most women would have done, I immediately went to work to investigate my new and strange surroundings. —­ Laura Coates Reed, In Memoriam: Sarah Walter Chandler Coates Sarah Coates, a newly married woman from eastern Pennsylvania, left her well-­ established surroundings in the East to venture with her husband, Kersey Coates, to their new frontier home. Many thousands of people experienced the strange world Sarah W. Coates encountered when she stepped from the steamboat onto the landing at Kansas City. Coates would become a moving force in organizing women in her new hometown for the purposes of benevolence, reform, and equality in the decades ahead. Through her influence and that of many other women who engaged in civic activities, Kansas City became a more hospitable place and one that modeled itself after established cities in the East. During the period from 1854 to 1870, the people of the region became embroiled in bloody conflict, suffered through the Civil War, and then rebuilt the community at the war’s end. The opening of the Hannibal Bridge that spanned the Missouri River and provided a rail connection to markets in Chicago in 1869 sparked rapid population growth in Kansas City. Over 14 Chapter One the course of the sixteen-­ year period, the city’s character shifted from a southern to a northern orientation due to the migration of northerners into the area. The transplanted northern men assumed positions of economic and social leadership that they often shared with elite southern men. Northern women brought with them ideas about moral reform, benevolent relief for the poor, and concepts of expanding roles for women in society. These women were familiar with the relief structures that operated in their hometowns and brought that knowledge with them to their new and emerging urban environment. They provided the know-­ how that allowed them and the generations that followed to claim public and political space in the growing metropolis. Even in the face of this transition, the commercial elite of Kansas City held tenaciously to a consensus view, unique among its peer cities in the region, that economic progress should hold sway over political or sectional differences.1 This new city had a somewhat older past. The roots of Kansas City can be traced to the arrival of French trader François Chouteau, who arrived in the area in 1821 and established the first non–Native American settlement on the Missouri River at the base of what is now Troost Avenue. In the decade that followed, John Calvin McCoy established Westport in 1833 as a trading post and city on the busy Santa Fe Trail four miles south and west of Chouteau’s settlement. McCoy later identified a rock landing on the river north of present-­ day downtown from which goods were off-­ loaded from steamboats and hauled to Westport for sale. In 1838 McCoy and thirteen other men formed the town company, which was incorporated as the Town of Kansas in 1850.2 While the popular narrative of Kansas City history holds that the great period of population growth occurred in response to the building and opening of the Hannibal Bridge in 1869, the city, in fact, experienced an earlier period of even more rapid expansion. By 1858 Kansas City began to overtake more established towns such as Independence, Westport, Weston, and St. Joseph, among others, that had grown up along Missouri’s western border in the 1830s and 1840s to serve the western trade. Kansas City outpaced the other communities as a commercial center after Kansas Territory opened for settlement after 1854.3 The population of the city grew from a mere 700 people in 1854 to 7,285 in 1858, just two years after the Coateses’ arrival, and to 8,000 in 1859, for a growth rate of more than 1,000...


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