Streetcar history shows Kansas City development

Streetcar workers at a stop at Linwood and Main in 1899. Photo courtesy Missouri Valley Special Collections, Kansas City Public Library, Kansas City, Missouri.

Over at the NextRailKC website, there’s an interesting history of the Kansas City streetcar lines. The history also gives a glimpse of how and why Kansas City developed as it did around the streetcar routes.

NextRail is the city-sponsored study of 8 potential streetcar extension lines, including potential Main Street and/or Linwood/31st Street routes in Midtown.

“Spanning the years from 1869, when Nehemiah Holmes inaugurated the first railway line, to 1957 which marked the end of the streetcar era, Kansas City has employed every available form of mass transit including horse and mule-drawn cars, to cable lines, electric traction, and trackless trolleys,” the article says. It goes on to say that Kansas City had a more varied transit system than other cities of its size, including the third largest cable system in the country.

Some of the highlights of the history involve transit lines in Midtown:

  • One of the earliest street transport systems in Kansas was the Kansas City & Westport Horse Railroad Company with established routes throughout Kansas City reaching Linwood Boulevard by 1871. This and other horse lines operated for nearly two decades before cable lines eventually replaced them.
  • During the mid-1880s, cable lines began replacing the outdated horse lines. The lines began going east on Independence Avenue to Woodland in 1886. The Southwest Boulevard Line from 19th and Main to Edith Avenue in Rosedale, Kansas was the first to be electrified in 1896.
  • In 1911, the Metropolitan Street Railway Company decided to tackle the difficult grade on Main Street, between 24th and 27th Streets. It was not until 1919, when the project was completed, that the streetcars could finally use the new Main Street Route.
  • Independence Avenue was the first line to introduce the trolley bus, which was more economic to run than either the streetcar or bus. By 1948, “seven trolley bus lines had replaced existing streetcar lines,” and “in the early months of 1954, the first of these lines was replaced with motorbuses. All [streetcar] lines were gone by 1959.
  • The Dodson Line, a steam-power, dummy freight line, ran on an eight-mile track from 85th and Prospect to 40th and Summit. This historic railway was the only facility for transferring freight cars to and from the Westport Industrial District. It was later electrified and used as both a passenger and freight line until 1957.

(Disclaimer, the Midtown KC Post’s Mary Jo Draper is on the NextRail KC project team).

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