Steamboats on the riverfront.

The Riverfront Heritage Trail was designed to follow the earliest and most historic parts of this region. It links all of the most significant sites in the development of this region. By following the trail one can literally walk the paths going back to 1804 when Lewis & Clark explored the area. Beautiful vantage points and exciting parks and rest stops allow visitors to literally let their imagination soar.

Each sliver of time brings forth new appreciation of the heritage of the region. Kansa Indians, trappers, explorers, river captains, train engineers, homesteaders, soldiers, cowboys, escaping slaves and more. Each time had its icon and each left an imprint. The fun is in the discovery of this unique archeology.

The Riverfront Heritage Trail emphasizes the waterfront, but it also highlights our heritage. We think a person is so much richer if they can look off the bluff and imagine log cabins doting the forest all along the great bend of the Missouri. If you only see the buildings and freeways we think you haven't begun to live. Come explore the trail. It will take you to wondrous places.

Missouri Riverfront in 1869
Missouri Riverfront, 1869
2nd and Wyandotte Streets, 1890
West Terrace Park, 1929
West Terrace Park, 1929
  Stockyards, 1950
West Bottoms Stockyards, 1950

Riverfront Heritage Trailhead

Spirit Mall with Santa Fe Caboose

The Spirit Mall Riverfront Heritage Trail Head is located in:
8th and Madison
Kansas City, Missouri, 64101

History of the Area

In this area, the Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe railroad ambitiously staked out a southwest route that followed the wagon ruts to the southwest. This route would eventually become America’s busiest railroad transportation corridor. Indeed, the ATSF southern route linking Los Angeles and Chicago became the nation’s most significant transcontinental route. While the Santa Fe railroad was laying tracks to the southwest the Union Pacific – Eastern Division a.k.a. Kansas Pacific was working equally as hard developing a competitive rail line between Kansas City and Denver.

River Barrier to the West

To connect the prosperous cities in the northeast railroads with the new railroads in the west, a way had to be found to cross the Missouri River. Kansas City became the logical point to bridge the Missouri River as a crossing here enabled the railroad to avoid the flood prone Kansas River while it opened up the whole of the southwest to rail expansion.

The Spirit of Kansas City

The Spirit of Kansas City demonstrated itself in the construction of the first bridge over the Missouri River. Construction of the bridge began in 1866, one year after the end of the Civil War. At this time, our country was economically devastated by the Civil War. In spite of the crippling post Civil War economy, funds were acquired to build this bridge.

Hannibal Bridge

Building a railroad bridge over the Missouri River was not an easy undertaking. Such a structure would have to resist the swift current and ever changing bottom. Octave Chanute, a noted bridge designer (and mentor to the Wright brothers) adapted a German bridge design that would resist these elements. On July 3rd, 1869, the Hannibal & St. Joe railroad bridge over the Missouri River was completed.

With the completion of the Hannibal Bridge, revenue began to stream in from the transportation of Texas longhorn cattle to packing houses in Chicago. Prior to the arrival of the railroads long cattle drives were the order of the day. However, longhorn cattle carried a disease fatal to domestic cattle. In fact, the Kansas Legislature passed a quarantine law that restricted cattle drives to the area in Western Kansas, which was then mostly Indian territory. A number of cattle towns emerged outside the quarantine area. Among them were Dodge City, Ellsworth, Caldwell and Hays.

Impact on Kansas City

The income from the cattle industry helped provide funds to extend the rails expansion to Santa Fe and the southwest ending forever the Santa Fe Trail. Eventually, Kansas City became the hub of the packing house industry and agribusiness. Kansas City’s trade in livestock leapt from 167,000 head a year in 1871 to 100,000 head a day in 1908 generating over $1 million a day.

Santa Fe Waycar 999508

One of the highlights of the Spirit Mall park is the restored Santa Fe Waycar 999508.

Waycar Specifications:
Manufacturer: AC&F
Construction: Steel
Roof: Peaked & Radial
Number Owned: 223
Years Built: 1969 - 1970
Series Numbers: Caboose 999508, 1 of 36, 500 series car Weight: 58,000 lbs empty
NE: Non-Revenue

Inside a Santa Fe Waycar 999508
An inside look at Santa Fe Waycar 999508

Freedom Mall with Exodus Family Artwork

The Freedom Mall located at 8th & Belleview on the Riverfront Heritage Trail is dedicated to the courageous men and women -- both free and enslaved -- who faced unimaginable tribulations in their pursuit of freedom.

The Freedom Trail that follows the route of the Lewis & Clark Viaduct in Kansas City, marks the path of many slaves as they made their way across Missouri to the free state of Kansas.

Illustration of the Exodus Family Artwork

History of the Area

The border between Missouri and Kansas was once the most contested dividing line in the nation. It was here in the first half of the 19th Century that abolitionist jayhawkers from Kansas and irregular pro-slavery troops from the swing state of Missouri were in a life and death struggle. For many slaves in this area, one ideal rose above all others- not just running away from something, but running to something- freedom!

Slaves in Missouri hoped to escape to any of the four free border states or territories through the system of safe houses known as the Underground Railroad. Legends exist about abolitionist activities in Westport, Weston and Parkville, home of the anti-slavery newspaper, The Luminary. The most important documented area site was the town of Quindaro, in what is now Kansas City, Kansas. Founded in 1856 on the banks of the Missouri River, Quindaro became a destination for free blacks and served as an important "station" on the Underground Railroad during its brief six years of existence.

Freedom Trail

The Exodus Family depicts a group of slaves as they attempt to cross the West Bottoms on their journey to the “free state” of Kansas to a new beginning. The slaves’ exodus through the south and along the Lewis & Clark Trail was dangerous and full of hardships. The Riverfront Heritage Trail through the West Bottoms follows the route of these slaves to freedom and is thus called the Freedom Trail.

About the Artist

Edward Hogan - Artist

The sculptor, Edward Hogan, used the “scrap and weld” technique as an interpretation of the slave family unit. Slave families were traditionally “scrapped” together from various locations as the journey to freedom ensued. Some families included blood relatives, but many did not. The scrap mentality is further interpreted as a means upon which the slave families survived, including the daily meal, which were scraps of leftovers from the master’s kitchen, and clothing which was typically hand-me downs from the master’s belongings.

Hogan’s work reflects his heritage and a passionate interest on Kansas City’s past. He has extensively researched the slave migration movements of the mid-1800, the slave’s role in the settlement of the original Missouri towns of Kansas, and the slaves’ interaction with the Huron and Wyandotte Indians. The research material is the central subject matter for his art and the rich narratives he created for each member of the family depicted at Freedom Mall.

When viewing the Exodus Family, the artist Edward Hogan hopes that people will see the determinations, fear, courage and hope that characterized the slave movement.