Kansas and Missouri lawmakers push to get KCK Underground Railroad site more resources

Tammy Ljungblad/

Before the Civil War, when slavery was legal in Missouri and illegal in Kansas, enslaved people in Missouri would try to cross the river. Their destination: Quindaro.

More than 150 years later, three lawmakers from Kansas and Missouri are pushing to make the ruins of the town — the stone and brick remains of what used to be a Civil War era boomtown and stop on the Underground Railroad — into a National Historic Landmark.

“Quindaro is a vital part of our nation’s history and served as a beacon of hope and freedom for Americans fighting to end slavery in the mid-19th century,” said Rep. Jake LaTurner, a Kansas Republican who represents the part of Wyandotte County where the ruins are located.

LaTurner teamed up with Rep. Sharice Davids, a Kansas Democrat, and Rep. Emanuel Cleaver, a Missouri Democrat, to introduce a bill that would name Quindaro a National Historic Landmark — a step above its current status as a National Commemorative Site.

The change would potentially bring something volunteers looking after the site have pushed for — more resources. A Historic Landmark designation would mean a higher status — there are only about 2,500 landmarks across the country — which would mean more help from the Department of the Interior and easier grant opportunities.

“We’ve been trying to get it for a long time,” said Rev. Stacy Evans, who helps take care of the site.

And those grants could help fund the vision of those who currently volunteer their time at the site.

Evans said she wanted to see a world class tourist destination, with an archives interpretive center where they could showcase some of the artifacts that are currently at the Kansas Historical Society. She also said she wanted to see more accessible trails and to revitalize a levee that was part of the Underground Railroad.

Getting money for the site has been difficult, both from the federal government and the state — where internal politics among Democrats caused Gov. Laura Kelly to reject funding for Quindaro from this year’s budget.

The bill is still a long way from becoming law. It would have to get a vote in the House and then be approved by the Senate. But Cleaver, who represents Kansas City, said earlier this year preserving the site is important. Not only does it connect the history of Kansas and Missouri, but Cleaver said there are few sites of its kind left in the country.

“Our children and their children and the next generation ought to be able to walk down the street, even after it’s rained, and get a vision of what happened,” Cleaver said.

Star reporter Katie Bernard contributed to this article.