Midtown Bookshelf: “The Big Divide” helps Kansas-Missouri border history come alive


Diane Eickhoff and Aaron Barnhart live in the Volker neighborhood, just a few blocks from the state line. The historian and former TV critic have written a book about the significance of the border between Kansas and Missouri, which they argue could be the most influential border in the United States.

It’s easy to drive down State Line Road without reflecting upon its historical significance.

But once you delve into a new book by two Volker residents, you may see that line in a whole different light.

“The Big Divide: A Travel Guide to Historic and Civil War Sites in the Missouri-Kansas Border Region” by historian Diane Eickhoff and journalist and former Kansas City Star TV critic Aaron Barnhart tells the long and complex history.

It is intended as a guided tour of the region surrounding the important border between the two states. As they began writing it, they realized they had found an important historical theme that hadn’t been written about in an organized way.

“There is a really big story to tell. It’s probably the most influential border in the United States,” Eickhoff says.

The couple decided to tell the story of the region through its 130 historic sites, monuments, museums, parks, cemeteries and shrines. The region has what Barnhart calls a “bunch of first rate and emerging sites,” as well as border war, Civil War, African American and Native American history.

They organized it so you can take a road trip for a day or visit the region for a week and make the best use of your time breathing in the history.

Eickhoff  wrote the chapter beginnings, which pull together the diverse periods of  historical activity: the importance of the land itself; the first people, Native Americans and missionaries; the border war; the Civil War, and the post-civil war period when, Eickhoff says, the nation was defending liberty abroad and fighting for justice at home.

By visiting the different sites in the book (and using its outlines to understand how they fit together), you get a sense of some of what’s behind the division that continues to separate Kansas and Missouri.

Eickhoff and Barnhart say they’re not the only ones thinking the area is a rich place to explore history. They say the idea that the area could be a cultural heritage district is beginning to take shape and could contribute to increased tourism in the area.

They hoped to create a book that tied together the significance of the many sites.  “We decided right away to do a different type of travel guide,” Eickhoff says. “There are already plenty of travel guides about where to go to lunch or spend the night.”

Barnhart says he couldn’t help but approach the sites with a critic’s eye.

“I became struck by how well interpreted some of the sites are,” he says.

The book (there’s also an ebook) offers eight driving tours, ideas for parents and teachers, and lists of top sites so readers can make their own plans. But Eickhoff says “only a really ambitious person would try to do all 130 sites.”

For the Midtown reader, even one without a car, there are several important sites within easy access. Grab a copy of the book and head out to see what all the fuss is about.

  • Harris-Kearney House, 4000 Baltimore – home to Westport Historical Society
  • Battle of Westport visitor center – 6601 Swope Parkway
  • Union Cemetery – 227 East 28th Terrace
  • John Wornall House Museum – 6115 Wornall Road
  • Thomas Hart Benton State Historic Site – 3616 Belleview


Get the book 

Comments are closed.