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  • Dustin Wolfe

Exploring Kansas City’s Early History Through Museums and Sites!

Coming to Kansas City soon? Self-proclaimed history buff? Maybe not, but just curious about the KC area’s early history and how the city was first settled? You’re in luck because KC is chock-full of museums and historical attractions that dive deep into all of this. Let’s explore KC’s early days through the various places you can visit!

The Kansas City area’s first residents were the Native American Kansas and Missouria tribes, of which the states Kansas and Missouri get their name! The first western settlers to discover the KC area were French traders and explorers who moved frequently up and down the Missouri River, which runs through present-day downtown Kansas City. The first official explorer was Sieur De Bourgmont who was commissioned by King Louis XIV. He set up a trading post in KC and named it “Chez Les Canses” (think Canses to Kansas!). Today you can find a waymarking sign overlooking the Missouri River in downtown Kansas City, MO to see exactly what Bourgmont saw.

After the Louisiana Purchase, Kansas City was one of the most popular stops for goods and supplies for westward venturers. Life was tough in those days but those first settlers got by and you can explore how they did so at both the Shoal Creek Living History Museum in Clay County, MO or at the Mahaffie Stagecoach Stop & Farm Historic Site in Olathe, KS. Just a bit northwest of Kansas City in Leavenworth, KS you can also find the famous Fort Leavenworth which houses the Frontier Army Museum. The Frontier Army helped secure the American Frontier west of the Mississippi and Fort Leavenworth was one of its first outposts. Goods for these pioneers to purchase had to be shipped into Kansas City and one of the most famous methods was by Steamboat! The Steamboat Arabia Museum in the River Market district of Kansas City, MO tells the tale of one specific steamboat that sank and was excavated not too long ago with all of its artifacts totally preserved!

As pioneers began choosing instead to settle more in more in the Kansas City Area, the various townships and cities began to take place. Wyandotte County area was one of the popular destinations to make a home and it’s first four Townships are detailed at the Wyandotte County Historical Museum in Bonner Springs, KS. Most famous of these townships was Quindaro which was settled by abolitionists and African-Americans in now Kansas City, KS. Visit the Old Quindaro Museum and Information Center to learn more. The Lanesfield Historic Site in now Lansing, KS also houses a preserved limestone schoolhouse from 1869 that taught settler children.

As Kansas City moved into the 20th-century townships turned to cities and the region continued to thrive. Cities were settled less by pioneers from the east and more by international immigrants! The Strawberry Hill Museum and Cultural Center in Kansas City, KS showcases the cultures of immigrants from Croatia, Germany, Ireland, Russia, Serbia, Slovenia, and Sweden that settled in the Strawberry Hill District. Fun fact: Strawberry Hill is most commonly known for its namesake Strawberry Hill Povitica! Check out their bakery in Merriam, KS for a free tour and to learn this history of this very famous and delicious treat.

Shawnee and Lenexa were two popular destinations that grew rapidly in the mid-20th century! Both situated in central Johnson County their early stories are told at Shawnee Town 1929 in Shawnee, KS and at the Legler Barn Museum in Lenexa, KS. Kansas City continues to grow to this day and is considered one of the best places to settle and to visit! We encourage you to explore these sites to learn more about the history of the Kansas City area!

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