Kansas City, MO

Uncovering the hidden stories of your city's local history

CJ Coombs

Local history is the history of a particular town, city, or region. It is often overlooked, and I suspect that’s why some people think it is unimportant.

However, local history is essential to understanding the past and the present. For one, local history is a way of understanding how our ancestors lived. It can tell us about their customs, their traditions, and their beliefs. 

History can also give us insight into the events that shaped their lives. Secondly, local history can help us understand the present. By understanding how our ancestors lived, we can better understand the challenges we face today. We can also learn from their mistakes and make our own community a better place. 

Local history is a way of connecting with our community. "Local history matters because a city is not a community without an understanding of its past." When I started my own research about my city and state as well as surrounding counties, I wasn't just amazed, I was interested. I live in Kansas City, but I wasn't born here. Through research, I understand more about the growth of Kansas City now than I had known in most of my adult years.

When we learn about the people and the events that shaped our town, we feel a sense of pride and belonging. We also have a better understanding of the people we share our community with. So why is local history important? There are many reasons. 

Maybe this is why I’ve been obsessed with historic buildings and places that have been added to the National Register of Historic Places. If you look at the architecture of buildings, you get a sense of what building practices were taking place in a community. You learn about the people who immigrated to the United States to build a life and how they struggled to build their lives. Some of those people established towns.

Local history is often seen as unimportant or irrelevant. But the reality is that local history is essential to understanding the present and shaping the future. Local history can help us understand who we are and where we came from. 

The large map of the United States, while beautiful, doesn’t shed much light on the story of your family’s history. It isn’t until you zoom in on the map that you see individual counties, obscure railways, and small towns. (Source.)

Learning about historic buildings is important because it helps us understand the history of a place and its people. It gives us insight into the lifestyles and cultures of past generations and provides clues to how our ancestors lived and worked. Because I live in Missouri, I focus on little pieces of history a small chunk at a time in each county.

By understanding the history of a place, we can better appreciate and protect its heritage and culture. Historic buildings can also provide a sense of identity and pride in a community, as well as a connection to the past.

When I began writing about history, I started out with a person by writing about Hawaii’s Olympian Duke Kahanamoku. I reflected on where I lived as a child and where I visited as an adult. I had heard about the surfer, Duke, but I didn’t know that much about his history. I researched, learned, and told a story. It also keeps that part of history alive.

Eventually, I gravitated toward researching local buildings in my city. I quickly learned there were stories in the stories about the buildings. There were stories about people too. 

When you research the history about old buildings, you learn about the architects. You discover other buildings that were designed by them too. Likewise, when you learn about historic homes, you learn a lot about the people who lived there, their stories, and sometimes about where their ancestors came from. You learn about how the character and strengths of some of these people shaped villages and towns. 

I learned how Kansas City used to be called the Town of Kansas growing from businesses run from the banks of the Missouri River. Then, the city kept growing, changed its name, and the building never stopped. I wrote about the four tallest buildings that shape Kansas City's skyline.

When you learn about local history, the information helps to explain how a town grew into a metropolitan city by providing insight into the events and developments that shaped the town’s growth. This can include identifying major milestones such as the founding of the town, the arrival of new industries that spurred economic growth, and any other changes that had a significant impact on the growth of the city. 

By understanding the events that led to the growth of the town, it’s possible to gain a better understanding of how the town evolved into a metropolitan city. You also learn about the European influences into your city or state. 

History keeps moving forward. It’s constantly being shaped and reinterpreted by the people living in the present. Every generation has its own unique set of experiences and perspectives, which they use to view and understand past events. As this understanding changes, the way we interpret history changes as well and creates a new narrative. This narrative can then be used to inform future decisions and events, thus continuing the cycle of history moving forward.

The more you study local historic buildings, you begin to develop an affinity for structures that are over 100 years old still exist and were repurposed. What’s depressing is when an old building is razed. There are a couple of instances when I was writing about a building after having performed the research and learned later the building had recently been torn down. There’s a building in Kansas City that’s over 100 years old and it’s still being used. I wrote about it: 109 year old building that housed the Liquid Carbonic Company that made and sold soda fountains was repurposed.

How can you research your city's local history?

1. Visit your local library or archives: Libraries and archives are great resources for finding out local history. They often have a wide variety of books, documents, and other materials on local history. For example, the Kansas City Public Library has a Local History Blog. The Central Library downtown houses the Missouri Valley Special Collections room where you can find historic information.

2. Read local newspapers: Newspapers are a great way to learn about local history. Many small towns have newspapers that have been published for years and can provide you with a wealth of information. You can also research newspapers online. 

3. Visit historical sites: Visit local historical sites to learn more about the past. Many historical sites have plaques or markers that explain the history of the area. Some historic houses are living museums where you can learn a lot about the people who lived there. For example, the Shoal Creek Living History Museum in Clay County, Missouri is like a window in the past.

4. Reputable resources on the internet: You might be amazed how much history is online now including books. Some information about historic buildings and places can be discovered in nomination forms for the National Register of Historic Places, which are all online. 

5. Talk to local historians: Local historians often have a wealth of knowledge about the history of their area. Seek out local historians who are willing to share their knowledge with you.

6. Attend local events: Local events such as fairs, festivals, and lectures can be great ways to learn about local history.

7. Join a historical society: Historical societies are a great way to learn more about local history. Many of them offer lectures, tours, and other activities related to local history.

When everything is said and done, we all become stories.

Thanks very much for reading!

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Multi-genre writer and indie author with a BA in Eng Journalism & Creative Writing. My working career has been in law firms, and I retired early so I could be a writer all day. You could say I'm from Louisiana, Idaho, Kauai, Nebraska, South Dakota, and Missouri because I was born into the Air Force life. I love family, art, reading, history, true crime, travel, and research.

Kansas City, MO

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