Old Tensions At Issue In Plans For Next Phase Of Old Quindaro In Kansas City, Kansas

Aug 19, 2015

It's not that there's a problem with plans to develop the Quindaro Township site in Kansas City, Kansas — some feel it's the way they're being executed.

Community members want to make sure what they consider the sacred ground around the Quindaro site is well preserved.
Credit Laura Ziegler / KCUR

The African Methodist Church owns nearly 100 acres of  the Quindaro site, once an important spot on the Underground Railroad, a thriving business and cultural community, and site of the first African American University west of the Mississippi.

In an ambitious effort to preserve the site, the church plans to develop it with a $20 million project laid out in a glossy multi-colored folder. The plan includes a multi-media center, convention space, and  trails. Maybe even restaurants and hotels.

The Rev. Stacy Evans co-chairs the development project for Quindaro.
Credit Laura Ziegler / KCUR

Co-chair of the project, Stacey Evans, pastor of the Allen Chapel of the AME church, says the plan will create a destination out of Quindaro.

"What we want to build is a national archives interpretive center that houses artifacts excavated from land in the 1970s and now in the custody of state of Kansas," she says. "There were lots of  buildings there once upon a time."

And therein lies the rub.

That excavation took place because the church wanted to bulldoze the site for a landfill.

The church had leased the land to Browning-Ferris Industries, a national waste-treatment company.

In response to community opposition, the landfill was delayed pending returns from the archeological dig.

The dig yielded a treasure trove of information and artifacts — state archeologists reportedly called the site "the Pompeii of Kansas" because of its historical significance.

After a full court press involving Congressional representatives, state lawmakers, national preservationists and community activists, the landfill was stopped. But not before millions of dollars went to Browning-Ferris and some of the site had already been defaced.

Animosity has simmered between the community and the church ever since.

Families who have been in Quindaro for generations, whose relatives escaped across the river from slavery in Missouri, and who've been engaged in the struggle to maintain the site mistrust the church's intentions.

Among them — Anthony Hope. Hope and his brother Jesse established a museum documenting many of the families who lived in Quindaro.

Jesse passed away in July and now Anthony is carrying on the work.  

Anthony Hope in front of the remains of the Quindaro brewery, also said to have been a site on the Underground Railroad.
Credit Laura Ziegler / KCUR

"I don't know nothing about (the development plan)," he says, overlooking Jesse's fresh grave in the Quindaro cemetery. "We've been over at the museum eight years now. (The church) hasn't sent an usher, they've given us no support. It's kind of upsetting. (Our family) built that church. My mother played music there for 60 years."

For her part, Pastor Evans says she was at Jesse Hope's memorial and hopes to work with Anthony as well as everyone interested in developing the Quindaro site.

The next stage is to raise funds, she says, for a $150,000  feasibility study.

This look at the Missouri River is part of KCUR's months-long examination of how geographic borders affect our daily lives in Kansas City. KCUR will go Beyond Our Borders and spark a community conversation through social outreach and innovative journalism.

We will share the history of these lines, how the borders affect the current Kansas City experience and what’s being done to bridge or dissolve them.