Kansas City in Jackson County, Missouri — The American Midwest (Upper Plains)
Building Through the Bluﬀs
When Kansas City Mayor Milton Payne took office in 1855 he face an immediate and formidable task: to make his city accessible by cutting streets south from the Missouri River through the looming bluffs along the riverbank.
He authorized almost an entire year’s budget to cut back the edge of the bluff, improve and widen the levee, and pave a quarter mile section of it.
“Main street was open though at an exhorbitant angle. All along the whole levee the Bluggs showed… far above the tops of the highest buildings & ‘Jimpsom’ weeds, Dog fennel & old gnarled trees with three or four houses interspersed were all that were to be seen of Kansas City from the river.” Theodore Case, spring 1857
Kansas City’s First Public Works Project
Irish laborers only with picks and shovels accomplished much of the backbreaking work.
Workers carved 45 feet of rocky earth from the bluff along Walnut Street and used that earth to fill deep gullies elsewhere in the city.
In 1858 and 1859 newspaper ads in Eastern Newspapers sought additional Irish labor from Boston and New York, and finally, the first rough streets – Delaware, Walnut, Main, and Market – rudimentary as they were, cut through the bluffs.
The Main Street engineering feat was feature in Beyond Mississippi, by Albert D. Richardson, 1867. By the 1870s machinery and blasting powder supplemented the sweat of manual labor and the city had its streets.
The towering riverfront bluffs, an obstruction to the city’s founders, had finally been subdued, reduced, and civilized.
Photographs courtesy of the Missouri Valley Special Collections Kansas City Public Library, Kansas City, Missouri.
Erected by National Park Service and Kansas City Area Historic Trails Association.
Location. 39° 6.777′ N, 94° 35.066′ W. Marker is in Kansas City, Missouri, in Jackson County. Marker can be reached from Main Street. Touch for map. On the southwest corner of the Town of Kansas Observation deck. Marker is in this post office area: Kansas City MO 64106, United States of America.
Other nearby markers. At least 8 other markers are within walking distance of this marker. Gilliss House Hotel (here, next to this marker); Hannibal Bridge (a few steps from this marker); Waterfront Town to Metropolis (within shouting distance of this marker); From Steamboat Landing to City (within shouting distance of this marker); City Market (approx. ¼ mile away); W. H. Morgan & Company (approx. ¼ mile away); J. P. Campbell & Company Building (approx. ¼ mile away); The Old Chouteau Trading Post / Le Vieil Etablissement Commercial Chouteau (approx. 0.3 miles away). Touch for a list and map of all markers in Kansas City.
Categories. • Industry & Commerce • Settlements & Settlers •
Credits. This page was last revised on June 16, 2016. This page originally submitted on August 20, 2015, by Michael W. Kruse of Kansas City, Missouri. This page has been viewed 226 times since then and 21 times this year. Photo 1. submitted on August 20, 2015, by Michael W. Kruse of Kansas City, Missouri. • Bill Pfingsten was the editor who published this page.