My House the Trading Post, The Train Era
On the Fourth of July, 1863, Kansas City celebrated the opening of the first railroad bridge over the Missouri River. In fact, it was the only bridge across the Missouri River. The owner of the Union Pacific Eastern Railway, made a successful ascension in his Balloon from the public square, now known as the present City Hall location. A crowd from Missouri and Kansas cheered amid the firing of a cannon. The Coates House or Broadway Hotel hosted a grand banquet in honor of the railroad.
The first passenger train, in 1864, ran between Kansas City and Lawrence, Kansas. The Topeka stop was added next. By 1909, a trip to Topeka from Kansas City, took two hours with many passenger trains on three different rails. The rails were extended 385 miles West, by the year 1868, and allowed excursions from Kansas City to Denver. The ride required two nights and one day for the trip. At this time, buffalo still roamed in herds, that often delayed the trains which had to wait for the buffalo to cross the tracks. A trip from Kansas City to Denver, cost $45.00. Today, Amtrak will get you there in eleven hours, for $166.
It was a round about journey from Kansas City to the East before the Missouri Pacific railroad. Travelers would leave Kansas City by Steam boat and arrive in Weston, Missouri. At Weston a connection was made with the Platte Valley railroad that went to St. Joseph, Missouri. The St. Joseph railroad would take passengers to Hannibal, Missouri. Passengers bound for Chicago, would board a Steam boat from Hannibal to Quincy, Illinois. Connecting with the Chicago, Burlington & Quincy railway of Illinois. The trip from Kansas City to Chicago was made in forty hours. There was only one train a day, and no choice of route.
The train was established in 1854; Kansas City broke ground for the first rail lines in 1860. Soon afterwards, parents of unwanted children started to use the train to dispose of children. “The Childrens Aid Society of New York Orphan Trains,” ran in the years 1854 to 1929. My grandmother, was one of those children. A note was pinned to a little girl’s jacket by her mother, when she was five years old, most likely announcing her availability to be adopted. The train traveled from junction to junction until at last it stopped for a long time. All the little boys were chosen first. She was an overlooked little girl, she traveled on the train until it ran out of tracks. She was placed on a returning train back to New York. When the train stopped at the train station, a couple decided to adopt her.
The older couple had no children of their own. They had come to the train station to adopt a little boy, but they had been running late. Her name, Dorthy, was the only child left to pick from. It isn’t clear if their intent was to make her their scullery maid, but she spent the next ten years cleaning their house. Soon after Dorthy was adopted, Mrs. Brandt had a child of her own, a son. A year later, the Brandt’s had a daughter. Dorthy’s chores increased with her new bother and sister.
The Brandt’s were a wealthy German family, at the turn of the Century. Mr. Brandt, is known for his architecture. There are several historic homes and apartment buildings that give credit to him in the Chicagoland area. However, the Will that he and his wife bequeathed, left out their adopted daughter, Dorthy. All their wealth, went to her brother and sister, natural-born heirs.
Dorthy, passed away years ago, during the Thanksgiving holidays, in a nursing home north of Kansas City. She had just moved into the nursing home due to a colon problem. She got the opportunity to meet her real mother in the 1960’s. It was a surprise to find out that her mother was a Pennsylvania Amish woman, who had gotten pregnant by an ‘English’ man. Apparently, the young Amish woman and the ‘English’ man, did not stay together. The Amish woman tried to care for her twin children for as long as she could. She had placed the children on the train, in about the year 1910, when they were just five years-old. As the old Amish woman spoke to Dorthy, she remembered she had a twin brother. Her twin later contacted her, after their mother who abandoned him, located him living on a farm in Illinois. He’d been adopted by an Iowa farm family, who were very kind to him. After he inherited the family farm, he bought a bigger farm in Illinois, where he retired and passed away in the same year Dorthy passed.
By 1870, the railroad industry had become a monopoly, as it was the life blood of American commerce. After, competing railroad companies layed duplicate tracks to do business in the popular cities, the railroad companies realized merging operations would increase profits. The railroads were allowed to exist as a “natural monopoly” because multiple companies would be a waste of financial and material resources. The train slowed the amount of business Westport once saw. Hunters no longer needed trading posts. Wagon trains were obsolete like the need for a place to quench your thirst after traveling the dusty trail. Union Station became the hub for business travel and pleasure adventures.
In Ernst Hemingway’s For Whom The Bell Tolls he writes about the angst of farewells at the train station. ” He had taken the train… to go away to school for the first time. He had been afraid to go and did not want any one to know it.” He also wrote, “the Kansas City train stopped…There was nothing in sight but the road and few dust-grayed trees. A wagon lurched along through the ruts, the driver slouching with the jolts of his spring seat and letting the reins hang slack on the horses’ back…”
Ernst Hemingway arrived in Kansas City by train. Hemingway came to Kansas City when he was 17 years old. It was in October of 1917. Ernst’s brother had gotten him a job at the Kansas City Star as a cub reporter. His brother Tyler Hemingway was living in Kansas City and had a friend who was the Star’s chief editorial writer. Although, Hemingway only stayed in town for six months, Kansas City likes to take credit for being mentioned in 5 of his novels, 4 published sketches, and dozens of short stories. He reported on the activities at Union Station. The train station had people coming and going. This is where he got introduced to ‘shady characters’ and celebrities.
His story, In Our Time, resembles the work he did for the Star. Another one of his passages describing Kansas City is found in, God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen.
“In those days the distances were all different, the dirt blew off the hills that now have been cut down, and Kansas City was very like Constantinople. I was walking from the Woolfe Brother’s Saloon where, on Christmas and Thanksgiving Day, a free turkey dinner was served,”
The fact that he writes about the Woolfe Brother’s Saloon has never been related to my house, a Westport Saloon, but it should. The owner of my house in 1917, had a nephew staying here who was friends with Hemingway. The two of them got drunk frequently, it was his secret hide away from the adults and associates of the Kansas City Star. Westport has always been the part of town that would have attracted a young man who wanted to hang out with creative individuals, drink, and party.
It is interesting to consider which characters that may have passed through the doors of this Westport saloon, or inhabited an apartment upstairs. I truly believe that Doc Holiday, Bat Masterson, and Daniel Boone have been here.
I am also convinced that Ernst Hemingway had a friend who lived here (The boy shown in the B&W picture of the tavern in 1909). The boy in the picture continued to live in this neighborhood until the age of 98. I share many of his stories in this blog. I do not remember the fellow’s name and I am not aware of his exact death (sometime in late 1990’s). If the man says he was friends with Ernst Hemingway, I see no reason why he should lie. There were lots of authors that have lived in Kansas City, he only mentioned being friends with Ernst. It is that old man’s recollection of frontiersman like Doc Holliday, Boone, and Hemingway that I write about.
Kansas City is mentioned in many of Hemingway’s writings. He continued to visit Kansas City over his life. He even had several children born in the hospital in Kansas City. Most likely Truman Medical Center, he describes it in his writings as the hospital on the hill down from Union Station.