In an article about "a brief transit dream" Joseph Popper, staff writer for the Kansas City Star, wrote (2/03/96): "There was once a time when you could board an elegant trolley car in Olathe and, with a single transfer, ride all the way to St. Joseph, 75 miles away. It was easy and cheap back when hundreds of single-car electric trains hurtled across the landscape from one edge of the booming metropolis to the other. It was Kansas City, 1914…"
Articles have told many times the story of the electric rail systems from 80 or 90 years ago in Kansas City. The "Interurbans" were also a thriving industry nation wide, from New England to southern California. This nation’s dependence on gasoline, cars, trucks and even the demand for tires, batteries, and parking spots is a story journalists and historians will write one day with reports of vanished species like the Arctic polar bear.
My essay is about one bridge in Platte County, just within the Kansas City’s northern boundaries, about three miles northeast of the airport, KCI. I certainly hope this is not an Obituary for the old bridge, but most likely it may be.
On NW Interurban Road, Kansas City, Mo., a new two-lane bridge is being builtalongside the existing one-lane RR Bridge used for general traffic over Todd Creek since 1933. This double arched concrete bridge "of the Luten design" itself dates from 1911-12 with the construction of the Kansas City, Clay County and St. Joseph RR. The enterprise was built to Class 1 railroad specifications, with heavy steel rails, ballast, and the finest equipment available. Writers have called it "the monarch" of Kansas City early light-rail systems.
Todd Creek at Interurban Road is one of the most scenic spots remaining in rural Kansas City, Missouri—The Northland. This beautiful waterway is not well known because road traffic narrows down to one lane. Nearby roadside parking is impossible.
To construct the new bridge at Todd Creek, Kansas City public works purchased nearby property for the expanded right-of-way. If someday KC Parks and Recreation creates a park or nature preserve at Todd Creek, which should be done, farmland will also have to be purchased. As long as the old bridge stands, a public foothold exists for any future park. If it is just routinely destroyed, the former RR right-of-way will be private property again. An opportunity is here, lets not let it slip away.
A bridge has been saved in Clay County. At the Martha-Lafite Thompson Nature Sanctuary of Liberty, Missouri, a proud 60-foot single arched bridge looms over Rush Creek. "The McGowen Bridge" was named after Hugh McGowen, a Clay County native, by the Indiana speculators who built the KCCC&StJ. His legacy in transportation was the streetcar network of Indianapolis, and McGowen’s career is of special interest to Missourians. He began his working life as a Kansas City horse-car driver, in the 1870s.
The new bridge over Todd Creek is now in place. At present, work on the new roadway is preliminary, the majestic old arched bridge is still in use. Here's the rub. A communications officer for Kansas City’s planning department is quoted in the Platte County Citizen, (2/7/07) saying that if the KC&St.J RR bridge is "anywhere near historic we would have been mandated to look into that."
Near historic? The bridge itself should be treasured just as the legendary covered "Bridges of Madison County" are today. To repeat, the practical reason NOT to destroy the bridge is to "inventory" it as the basis for a City Park creek nature preserve.
In retirement, and in use only by bicyclists and strollers, the old bridge can be prettied-up at some future time. But when its gone, its gone forever. Just why is it, America seems so determined to erase from the public consciousness this nation's rail transit history?
Write Kansas City's Mayor Mark Funkhouser—Urgent! Tell him to "Save the Todd Creek Bridge."
June 11, 2007
"It would run eighty miles an hour. You could hear the wires sing as it went down the road. They just sang you a song."
"It was all upholstered inside, you know. It wasn't like a streetcar."
"It was such a thrill to ride it, seemed like it went so fast . . ."
If you were traveling to Kansas City from St. Joseph, Missouri, along Interstate 29 in a car, you would cross, several times, the old rail bed of The Kansas City, Clay County, and St. Joseph Interurban Railway, an electric interurban "light" railroad, that existed from 1913 to 1933. This website offers a look at what you could have seen while the interurban was running and what artifacts you could see now along that railroad bed. Ed Gentry has been documenting, on video, these remains along with interviews of people who rode the train.
Last Updated: June 2007
Webmaster: Deborah Gentry