Several dignitaries to attend Quindaro townsite celebration April 23

The Quindaro Ruins, as seen from the Quindaro Overlook, will be the site of a celebration of its designation as a national commemorative site at noon April 23. (File photo)

by Mary Rupert

Enthusiasm is growing for the recognition of the Quindaro townsite for its historic value and also, for its tourism potential.

An event at noon Tuesday, April 23, at the Quindaro Overlook will celebrate the Quindaro townsite’s federal designation as a national commemorative site. The Quindaro Overlook, 3507 N. 27th St., is north on 27th near the Missouri River in Kansas City, Kansas.

The overlook provides a view of the Missouri River and the area where Quindaro, an abolitionist port town founded in 1857, served as a site on the Underground Railroad.

On April 23, a prototype of a sign for the national commemorative site is expected to be unveiled, according to Freedom’s Frontier National Heritage Area.

The designation establishing the Quindaro Townsite National Commemorative Site was signed into law on March 12. The event on April 23 will be sponsored by Freedom’s Frontier National Heritage Area, the Unified Government and the Kansas City, Kansas, Convention and Visitors Bureau.

Among those who are planning to attend the public event are U.S. Sen. Pat Roberts, R-Kansas, U.S. Rep. Sharice Davids, D-3rd Dist., former U.S. Rep. Kevin Yoder, Judge Duane Benton of the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, Janith English, principal chief of the Wyandot Nation of Kansas, the Rev. Stacy Evans, Western University Association and Historic Allen Chapel AME Church, and Mayor David Alvey.

Others who are expected to participate include Kansas Department of Wildlife, Parks and Tourism Secretary Brad Loveless and a representative of the National Park Service.

“Part of the process for the eventual plan is to turn the site into connecting the Ruins with trails and walkways that would allow people to experience the splendor of the bluff overlooking the river, while having interpretive signs there, what it meant in the past and what it could mean in the future,” said Jim Ogle, executive director of Freedom’s Frontier National Heritage Area.

A national historic landmark designation is one of the next goals for the historic site. Ogle said Freedom’s Frontier and others working with the project are currently in the process of review with the Department of Interior and the National Park Service. They have filed a formal application on behalf of the Quindaro partners to make the Quindaro Ruins a national historic landmark. That process sometimes takes years.

If the national historic landmark designation is successful, and he believes there is every reason to think it will be, then the Quindaro Ruins may receive more funding for interpretive work from the National Park Service, he said.

“National landmark status is the highest level you can get National Park Service participation in without it owning the property,” Ogle added. Freedom’s Frontier is not working toward anything that would suggest changing the ownership of the property just to enhance the ability to receive more money to develop it and tell the Quindaro story, he said.

Another element that is in the future for the Quindaro Ruins are efforts involving the northeast development plan, as part of the EPA’s grant for the area, Ogle said.

“The EPA has started a process of evaluating the area to see if there are any historic sites within the Ruins where they may need to investigate core samples to make sure there’s no environmental hazards that exist there,” he said.

Last Thursday, members of the community came together at Allen Chapel AME Church, which has been looking after the site for many years for the Western University Association, the owner of the site, he said. They shared their ideas about what should happen after the initial surveys and after the site is brought to a certain level so people could use it as a park space, he said.

Overwhelmingly, the people who attended that meeting supported tourism and telling the story of Quindaro, he said.

“It may take a few years to go through the EPA process and then begin the process through the parks and Western University Association, all these groups, to develop a physical plan for the park area to be on the Western University grounds,” Ogle said. “But in the interim, there is also a smaller working group to address how to make Quindaro tourism friendly as quickly as possible.”

The group will discuss signs to help people find their way, upgrades at the overlook site, upgrades for the Underground Railroad Museum, the old school and the Old Quindaro Museum, he added. Signs providing directions, interpretative signs, brochures, and audio walking tours will be discussed, he added. The Kansas City, Kansas, Convention and Visitors Bureau will be providing information on what makes a site tourism-friendly.

Ogle said that while he knows of no further archaeological plans for the site at this time, given the extensive work that had been done 20 years ago, and materials that are already on file with the Kansas State Historical Society, that he expected others to make proposals along the way to investigate some of the sites that they were not able to investigate earlier. “I’m very hopeful about that,” he said.

About 80 percent of the Quindaro Ruins area that received designation as a commemorative site is owned by the Western University Association, and about 20 percent of the area, including the Quindaro Overlook, is owned by the Unified Government, and is maintained by the Parks and Recreation Department.

The AME Church and its members make up the Western University Association, and as owners they have a lot of say over what will happen to the Quindaro Ruins, he said. “They have been extraordinary partners over the last two years,” he added.

The Quindaro town site is only the third national commemorative site, Ogle said.

The town was named after Quindaro Nancy Brown, a member of the Wyandot Nation, who married Abelard Guthrie. During its heyday, Quindaro was an anti-slavery town with stores, businesses, a school, a church, homes, hotels, a saw mill and a newspaper, according to an article in the 1857 Quindaro Chindowan newspaper.

Persons fleeing slavery could find a haven there, as they stopped on their way to freedom, although they still had to avoid bounty hunters. In 1865, Western University was established in the Quindaro area and operated through 1943.

Quindaro was abandoned after the Civil War and its buildings were overgrown through the years. When there was a proposal to put a landfill on top of the Quindaro Ruins in the 1980s, archaeologists discovered significant historical value in the Quindaro Ruins.

Freedom’s Frontier is a 41-county area in eastern Kansas and western Missouri covering about 31,021 square miles. Established in October of 2006, it was the result of legislation introduced in 2005 by Sen. Roberts and then Sen. Sam Brownback, and signed into law, establishing the heritage area.

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