The History of Westport:
Where The West Began
Kansas City is home to four of the Congressionally designated National Historic Trails of the National Trails System (Oregon, California, Santa Fe and Lewis & Clark). In addition, we have several other historic trails and routes for exploration, emigration, commerce and military purposes. Within Kansas City, the Oregon, California and Santa Fe Trails are one and the same. In fact, they are designated as the Independence Route or the Westport Route in town.
Why Did The Overland Trails Begin in The Westport Area?
1. The Missouri River has a bend in it here. In the early days, the travelers would come up the river as far as they could in boats, and then they had to “jump off” the river and travel over land. The bend in the river was a logical jumping-off place.
2. The western border of Missouri was an early western limit to the United States (it became a state in 1821), and it stayed that way for over 30 years. The Missouri border was the “limits of civilization.” The reason it stayed that way for so long is because of the Indian Removal Act of 1830 (which designated the lands west of the Missouri River as Indian territory) established the law that no towns or supply points could be located within that area, and white people could not live west of that border. This changed in 1854 with the Kansas-Nebraska Act.
This bit of legislation is probably the major reason for the Kansas City area being a “jumping-off” point than the bend in the river. It wasn’t so much a matter of geography as it was politics. Independence was the first viable jumping-off point for the Overland Trails. But it wasn’t ideal. By the 1840s, the Westport Landing had emerged as the leading jumping-off point simply because it was easier. The landings in Independence were not terribly convenient. The Westport Landing, however, had a nice rock landing right at the river’s edge, which is now at the foot of Grand Avenue in Kansas City.
3. In addition, Westport was simply farther west than Independence. And every mile counted in a wagon train … they went as far west as they could. In addition, no one had to cross the Blue River if they were outfitted in Westport and took off from there. The Blue River was a severe river crossing.
4. Westport became a resource for wagon trains. Outfitting the wagon trains was a big business: That’s why Westport became such a prosperous town and what drew people to the area, which eventually became so large that Westport and the Town of Kansas eventually evolved into Kansas City. The overland outfitting trade fulfilled all of the traveler’s needs, supplying everything: foodstuffs, wagons, animals and other provisions. Most people took only the most essential needs from their homes back East, and then getting everything else they needed in Missouri.
5. The other reason (and perhaps the primary reason) for the prosperity of Westport was the Indian trade. The Indians who were removed in the 1830s from the eastern United States and moved to the west were given money in their treaty. That money was spent in white towns and forts.
Seizing on a perfect opportunity, the Reverend Isaac McCoy brought his wife Christiana and their family to the Western area on December 28, 1831. Isaac came to this area as a Baptist Missionary to the Indians. A large log house was built as the McCoy home on a hill now the site of St. Luke’s Hospital. With the family was their 19 year old son, John Calvin McCoy, who was destined to become the founder of Westport and one of the fourteen co-founders of the Town of Kansas, now Kansas City, Missouri.
Reverend Isaac McCoy
Christina Polke McCoy
John Calvin McCoy
Prior to the arrival of the McCoy family the Daniel Yoacham family came from Tennessee and built a log house that became the first hostelry and tavern. It was located on the northwest corner at the intersection of Westport Road and Mill Street. At that time a stream called Spring Branch ran south through the area.
By 1833 young McCoy had built a two-story log building on the northeast corner of Westport Road and Pennsylvania to serve as a business structure and residence. He entered into business with J. P. Hickman and J. H. Flourney to trade with the Indians, the mountain men, and sold supplies to wagon trains going west. After purchasing land from Dr. Johnston Lykins, McCoy platted the town in 1834 and called it Westport. The name likely denoted it as a port of entry to the largely unknown west.In May 1834, a post office was established as West Port (two words), and John Calvin McCoy was appointed Postmaster. McCoy filed his town plat at the courthouse in Independence on February 13, 1835. Westport was incorporated on February 12, 1857. Lot #1, Block One, of McCoy’s plat is the northeast corner of Westport Road and Pennsylvania. This historic site can truly be said to be the birthplace of Kansas City.
All three of the western trails – the California, the Oregon and the Santa Fe passed through the town on present day Westport Road. Prior to the Civil War, Westport prospered as the eastern portal of the western trails. The population probably peaked in 1858 at about 2,000. After the Civil War, Kansas City, which was platted in 1839 by McCoy, became the dominant community and Westport declined. It was annexed to Kansas City in 1897, but a court challenge to the annexation was not settled by the Missouri Supreme Court until 1899.
Today as a part of Kansas City, Westport still retains its own identity. The historical legacy of Old Westport remains with us. Very little original frontier village is left, but the heritage and history of this community shall be preserved.
Here is a cultural and historical resources survey.