Kansas City, Clay County and St. Joseph Interurban Railway

circa 1915

Two car Interurban train that ran to Excelsior Springs shown sitting at 13th and Walnut in Kansas City, Missouri.

Full frontal and side view of Kansas City, Clay County and Saint Joseph Railway, Excelsior Springs route, car loaded with passengers at unidentified urban location.

Side view of Kansas City, Clay County and Saint Joseph Railway, Excelsior Springs car.

Kansas City was an important interurban center in 1914. Eight interurban electric lines, radiating in every direction, operated a total of 297 cars a day. The eight lines brought about 2.5 million passengers here in one year.

One of the lines was the Kansas City, Clay County & St. Joseph railway. Work started on this road in September, 1911, when 1,500 men began grading and doing the heavy concrete work on the right of way. (The line was in operation for 20 years in three counties north of the river).

Two road beds were laid, one from Kansas City to Excelsior Springs, the other Kansas City to St. Joseph. The work was completed a year and four months after the start and on January 12, 1913, The Star carried a front-page story of the first day's run to Excelsior Springs. (The St. Joseph line was opened in May.)

Sixteen passenger cars, five freight cars and one service car comprised the rolling stock of the company. The maroon cars seated 58 persons. A compartment was reserved for packages, express and trunks. Seats were of green plush with white covers on the head rests embroidered with the initials of the company. There were stained-glass panels above each car window.

The car left the Kansas City terminal at the northeast corner of Thirteenth and Walnut streets at 5:30 a.m. At the same time another car left for Kansas City from the Excelsior Springs station. The run was made in a little over an hour, and the schedule called for a car leaving the terminals every hour on the hour. The fare was 75 cents to Excelsior Springs, which included the 8-cent Kansas City fare.

The route to Excelsior Springs was known as the hill route, having been chosen rather than a suggested river route through Missouri City.

A map compiled in 1932 by Mrs. Robert Withers for the schools of Clay County (illustrated with sketches of historic landmarks by Harry Wood, creator of the Intellectual Pup cartoon in The Star) shows the route and some of the stations of the line that meant so much to Clay County, where except for the very few who owned automobiles, the only access to Kansas City was by way of the Burlington railroad or by horse and buggy over dirt roads.

A former interurban conductor, L.L. Morgan, 2003 Clay street, North Kansas City, reeled off the following list by memory:

North Kansas City, (car barn located at 2020 Burlington, now occupied by Hill Brothers Shoe store), Avondale, Moscow, Winwood, Winnetonka, Maple Park, Thornton, Claycomo, Ravena, Hymer, Glennaire, Withers, West Liberty, Main street, Liberty, Jewel, McGowan, Fields, Clarksboro, Brasfield, Stockdale, Froman, Mosby, Pratherville, McKee, Crescent Lake, and Excelsior Springs.

Tracks of the old line are still in place on Mill street in Liberty and the interurban station still stands.

The St. Joseph line had 41 intermediate stations located in Clay, Platte and Buchanan counties. Cars left St. Joseph and Kansas City simultaneously; the run took 70 minutes. The fare was $1.55 one way. Stations on the St. Joseph line, as recalled by Morgan:

North Kansas City, Darby, Schroeder, Brenner, Northmoor, Breen, Diester, Williams, Westdale, Ferrelview, Brown, Sunny Slope, Hoover, Kerrville, River View, Settle's road, Stubbs, Fruit Ridge, Camden Point, Bywaters, Duncan, Ray, Dearborn, Stafford, Ford, Marlin, Lone Star road, Faucet, Willow Brook, Pinkston, Ritchie, Maxey, Kyle, Young, Ashton, Sparta road, Enright, St, Joseph.

In addition to serving the old towns along the line, the new inter-urban service made possible many housing developments. Kansas City and St. Joseph workers, who had always wanted to own homes on small acreages and work in the city, were now able to do so.

In June, 1920, the Kansas City station and ticket office was moved from the original site at Thirteenth and Walnut, to the Railway Exchange building at Seventh and Walnut, where the ticket office and waiting room occupied three rooms on the ground floor.

Business offices were on the fifth floor and here Mrs. Nan Viles of Liberty worked as secretary to the general passenger agent, Ross Mahan. Her work covered a wide range of duties. As she says, I was a girl Friday for the company.

She remembers the special cars, which were available at all times for private trips and which has spacious glassed-in observation platforms at the rear of the cars.

One day I sold a special car to the Larabee Milling company, who had out-of-town guests and wished to take the party to St. Joseph on business. My boss, Mr. Mahan, was out of town, so after making arrangements with these gentlemen, I gave orders to the dispatcher to clear the line for the special.

Mahan happened to be returning from St. Joe when his car was shuttled off on a siding at Dearborn to let the special pass. He didn't know what was happening, but as he looked out his car window the special sped by at 85 miles an hour and all he could see was the flash of four white-coated men on the observation platform.

Another accident, he moaned. Must be terrible with four doctors on their way. Badly upset he returned to Kansas City and his office where he learned that there had been no accident, but that the Larabee Milling special was serving luncheon to its guest, and had procured four white-coated waiters for the trip.

The Line had been plagued with accidents, and according to Mrs. Vile there was much litigation. The schedule was too close, and livestock were killed, automobiles struck, four members of a wedding party were killed at a crossing and a boy driving a wagon was struck and killed.

The company did well financially during most of its existence, but as the years progressed the automobile, busses, hard-surfaced roads and the depression all took their toll in customers.

In May, 1933, the last trips were made, right of ways sold and bridges removed. Harold L. Wymore of Liberty purchased the entire block with the station and switch tracks in Liberty for $1,750 and still owns the property. It is now used by the Missouri Public Service company which furnishes electricity to the Liberty area.

Many still remember with pleasure the old days of the inter-urban and the scenic rides through open fields and along the streams in the rural counties north of the river. They remember the peaceful hour on the comfortable cars with no traffic and the relaxed time with daily newspapers, a pleasant interlude between the big city and a little place in the country.

Kansas City Star

June 6, 1970

source: http://www.kchistory.org/ barcode #20000120

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