Last Updated on July 30, 2020 by Janet Frost
“Everything’s up to date in Kansas City.
They gone about as fer as they can go”Lyrics from Oklahoma by Rodgers and Hammerstein
My Dad loved to sing this phrase from the Rodgers and Hammerstein musical, Oklahoma. To this day it runs through my head whenever anyone mentions Kansas City. Years later, as a young couple living in Omaha, my husband and I would enjoy romantic getaways to Kansas City. Now, even more decades later, I had the opportunity to rediscover the truly “up to date” Kansas City.
Let’s Go Learn Things about that up to date town, Kansas City…
Kansas City History
My initial destination was the Old Santa Fe Trail. This trail originally started in several alternate spots along the Missouri River east of Kansas City. Eventually, Westport, MO (renamed Kansas City, in 1889) provided the high ground necessary to accommodate the Santa Fe Trail and most other westward trail traffic… Kansas City was born.
Later in the 19th century, the Santa Fe Trail gave over to the Atchison, Topeka & Santa Fe Railroad. A group of forward-thinking land speculators pulled political and financial strings to build the necessary bridge across the Missouri River. This bridge would lure the railroad contracts to the “City of Kansas” rather than any other possible river crossing towns.
After the trains arrived, the decade of 1860-1870 saw the population of Kansas City grow from 8,000 to 32,000. In the following decade, 6 other railroads joined the Atchison,Topeka & Santa Fe in the Midwest crossroads of Kansas City. Positioned centrally in the Midwest, Kansas City became a preeminent market for meat packing, wholesale distribution and the hospitality industry. It only made sense to build a Union Station to serve all this rail traffic. The original Union Depot was built in 1878 in what is now the West Bottoms district.
Within a decade this boom town had outgrown Union Depot and started looking for a new home for the railroad. Serious flooding of the West Bottoms region in 1903 was the impetus to build the “up to date” Kansas City Union Station.
Twentieth Century Kansas City
As with many Midwest cities, Kansas City history follows the rise and fall of the railroads and industry over the 20th century. Kansas City underwent the typical urban plight of suburban expansion, leaving the inner city impoverished. This also led to the extensive expansion of the metro region spanning both Missouri and Kansas sides of the Missouri River.
Of course the history of Kansas City includes more than just railroads. The beef industry put Kansas City on the map as BBQ capital of the Midwest. The American music phenomenon, jazz, found a home in Kansas City. Straddling northern and southern cultures gave Kansas City a beautiful and unique elegance.
Everything Is up to date in Kansas City
Today things are truly up to date in Kansas City. The city embraces its past while focusing on the future. Modern boutique shopping nestles into elegant plazas. Foodies can enjoy trendy eateries or traditional bbq. The craft beer scene is flourishing (on the Missouri side of things). Accessible museums welcome all to discover the Arts and History. Professional sports teams entertain in modern structures sharing space with historic and stately architecture. To truly explore Kansas City and the metro region you need at least a week. But a weekend is a great way to start. I recommend a little history, a little art, some beer and some barbecue.
Museums are up to date in Kansas City
I love museums, they fit right into the theme of Go! Learn Things. Regardless of the theme, I can always find a new tidbit of information or factoid. Kansas City is a town full of museum opportunities.
I talked a lot about trains in the history of Kansas City. Today the spectacular Union Station is a working Amtrak station. It stands in glorious testimony of a bygone era of elegance. It offers dining and entertainment an impressive model train collection and a Union Station History Museum.
The glory of this edifice has waxed and waned. It fell victim to declining rail traffic and urban decay. By the 1990’s it was abandoned and left to die. At the turn of the century it was giving new life. The Union Station Museum in the mezzanine of the station tells the story. You have to go looking for this display, but is well worth exploring. It was here that I was introduced to Fred Harvey, the symbol of hospitality across the rails and the burgeoning West.
Of course an up to date city will have plenty of opportunities for residents and visitors to experience art in a variety of forms. The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art is the stately institution that opened in 1933. Today, the Nelson-Atkins maintains collections of more than 35,000 works of art and welcomes 500,000 visitors a year. All are welcomed with free admission.
The city also offers the modern Kemper Museum of Contemporary Art and the ArtSpace of the Kansas City Institute of Art. Even the up to date art form of street mural art is well represented in Kansas City.
Sadly, the sacrifices and losses of World War I are often overshadowed by subsequent wars. The Liberty Memorial was constructed in and dedicated in 1926 to remember and honor the American participation in World War I. Eventually, in 2004, the memorial was expanded to include an extensive and poignant museum. In 2014, the Museum and Memorial received the designation from Congress, effectively recognizing it as the National WWI Museum and Memorial.
“The National WWI Museum and Memorial is America’s museum dedicated to remembering, interpreting and understanding the Great War and its enduring impact on the global community.”
– Mission Statement, National WWI Museum and Memorial
If you are a World War I buff consider also visiting the First Division Museum in Wheaton, IL
All this history I have mentioned is represented in a wide variety of museums. Some highlight the early trail history of Kansas City, some feature the cultural history of the region and some honor historical figures.
Mahaffie Stagecoach Stop
Frontier Trails Museum
Harry S. Truman Presidential Library
Food and Craft Beer are up to date in Kansas City
Kansas City did not disappoint the craft beer lover in me. The brewery scene is vibrant and eclectic. Several offered traditional German styles, I found a couple with the new trendy sours, BKS Artisan Ales and my favorite was the vast and hopping Boulevard Brewing.
Do Not leave Kansas City without partaking of their famous BBQ. Kansas City takes great pride in their BBQ offerings. However, I found it difficult to ask anyone which was best. There was always a heated conversation that ensued after that question. The answers were strong and lengthy. Apparently, one needs to be specific about which BBQ meat, style and atmosphere one is seeking. I finally went on instinct and chose Q39. My instincts did fail me. This was a pulsing atmosphere with incredible food and drinks! Just be patient with the parking situation, it is worth the effort and walk.
Yes Sir, Everything is Up to Date in Kansas City!!
I visited Kansas City along my cross country trip from Milwaukee to Tucson. If you are snowbirds looking for adventure along your migration, be sure to plan a stop in KC. If you are planning that family road trip to the West be sure to include Kansas City. If you are simply looking for a bustling Midwest destination, check out the up to date Kansas City!!