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The Centennial History of Independence, Mo. by W. L. Webb

Chapter 2:
Torchlights on the Towers of History


Independence put forth two of the most heroic efforts that any city ever put forth to checkmate her rival.  Nature took a hand in the contest.  The Big Blue and Missouri River gave Kansas City first aid and saved her life.  In the early spring the Big Blue was so swollen that wagon trains from Independence could not cross it.  Traders to Santa Fe who outfitted at Westport got the start of those that had to wait at Independence for the Blue to run down.  Steamboats plying the Missouri River discovered at the foot of Main Street, in Kansas City, a Bethany Falls limestone ledge projecting into deep water, the best boat landing between the mouth of the river and the head of navigation.  That landing was but four miles from Westport.  Independence saw the impending danger and sought to avert it.

     The capitalists jumped in and built a railroad from the river to the public square in Independence with  the hope of  thus articulating the river traffic with the Santa Fe traffic.  This railroad was the first ever built west of the Mississippi River.  It was a grand undertaking and for a grand purpose.  It was a link in a trans-continental system of transportation.  It connected directly the voluminous river traffic with the trade and travel across the plains.  Again the Missouri River, bete noir of Independence, issued an edict in favor of the daughter of Independence.  The river threw up a sand bar in front of the Independence landing and boats were compelled to pass on to the aforesaid Bethany Falls limestone ledge.  The heroic little railroad thus was rendered useless and went into the hands of the receiver.  Dim traces of the roadbed of this primitive railroad may be seen to this day long the valley between Independence and Sugar Creek.  This little old nondescript railroad, with its three or four mule-drawn cars, was the forerunner of all the railroads that now radiate into our out of Kansas City.

     But romantic and picturesque as was this very remarkable railroad, it nevertheless failed to meet the overwhelming requirements of a trade that was largely international in character.

     A bridge across the Big Blue on the Independence and Westport road would have done more for Independence than that heroic little railroad did.

     But Independence was not a quitter.  She held to the good old pioneer motto:  "Pick your flint and try again."  And she did try again in one of the most sensational episodes known to the entire west.  She brought on the first real estate boom in the country.  Independence was the first in railroad building and the first in real estate booms.  The Kansas City spirit was born in Independence and we lay claim to the parentage of it.  This real estate boom, the pioneer of all western booms, was the work chiefly of one man, Maj. William Gilpin, a resident here, who distinguished himself as an author, a soldier, an explorer and as the originator of Isothermal theory, whereby he pointed out the sites of great cities on this and all continent, including Centropolis, the central continental city which he located at Independence.  He created the wild enthusiasm.

     The city limits of Independence were extended to the Missouri River and the intervening region was laid off into streets and boulevards bordered by palatial residences, universities and colleges, industrial buildings, factories, mercantile emporiums -- all on paper.  Having thus laid the foundation for this great city, and having created tremendous local enthusiasm for the enterprise, Major Gilpin departed for Washington City, where he was well acquainted, and to New York, where he anticipated another financial excitement in his great scheme.  He returned empty-handed to Independence and found that in his absence his town company had been called into court for final settlement.

     The public square was occupied originally by a heavy forest, through which ran an Indian Trace-Trail afterwards.  The trees were cut down by Adam Christianson, as I have been informed, related to the Rowe family of Blue Springs.

     Within five years after the founding of Independence, the Santa Fe trade began slowly and in small volume to foregather here, the fur traders to the west outfitted here, a few steamboats appeared on the river, traffic  with the Indians became important.  In this same half decade the Mormons arrived and Joseph Smith, their leader, prophet and seer, located Temple Lot, and Dr. Josiah Gregg departed over the plains and so found material for his great book, one of  the first books ever written in the west and one of the greatest.

     Independence history is studded with men who tower well above the mass level, both statesmen and military men.  Independence has produced two Governors, one for Missouri and one for Kansas, L. W. Boggs and John P. St. John.  Two Independence men went to Congress, Judge Samuel Sawyer and Abraham Comingo -- and the brilliant Col. John T. Crisp, who nearly went to Congress, but did not.

     The first white man to visit the site of Independence was probably Morgan Boon, son of the immortal Daniel Boone.  It is a fair inference that Morgan Boone passed over the site of Independence, not only once, but many times.  For twelve years he trapped beaver on the Big Blue and Little Blue.  One of these streams is five miles west of Independence and the other is five miles to the east.  An old Indian trail, or trace, from one of these streams to the other, cut diagonally across the public square.  It is a fair inference that Boone frequented this trail and drak at the public spring on the east side of town -- probably sometimes camped there.



The Centennial History of Independence


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