Although the Wyandotte County community of Quindaro began its decline in 1863 after only six short years of livelihood, its story was far from over.
Quindaro continues to fascinate historians and preservationists because of its unique origin and the environmental and preservation issues that still surround it today.
Located on the south bank of the Missouri River in what is now Kansas City (where Interstate 635 crosses the river), Quindaro was developed after the Kansas-Nebraska Act to create a free state port of entry into Kansas Territory. The land was part of an area the Wyandot Indians had purchased from the Delaware. When the Wyandot tribe disbanded, the land was divided among tribal members who wished to remain in the area and become U. S. citizens. Among these people were Abelard Guthrie and his wife, Nancy Quindaro Brown Guthrie, for whom the town was named. Guthrie was registrar of a U. S. land office in Ohio when the Wyandots were removed from there to Kansas in 1843. Guthrie decided to follow Nancy Quindaro Brown and her tribe to Kansas. Guthrie married her and was subsequently adopted into the tribe.
Guthrie was the vice president of the Quindaro Township Company and was its principal promoter. The town’s founders and first residents included other Wyandots and abolitionists. Because it was close to the Missouri River, Quindaro was in an ideal location for helping slaves move to freedom. This was more by design than by chance.
Women’s rights advocate Clarina Nichols was one of many residents who took advantage of the opportunity to help slaves. Nichols was an associate editor for the abolitionist newspaper the Quindaro Chindowan. Years after the Civil War, Nichols recounted hiding a slave in her home in Quindaro in the Wyandotte Gazette.
"My cistern – every brick of it rebuilt in the chimney of my late Wyandotte home – played its part in the drama of freedom. One beautiful evening late in October '61, as twilight was fading from the bluff, a hurried message came to me from our neighbor – Fielding Johnson – ‘You must hide Caroline. Fourteen slave hunters are camped on the Park – her master among them.’ ... Into this cistern Caroline was lowered with comforters, pillow and chair. A washtub over the trap with the usual appliances of a washroom standing around, completing the hiding."
The population reached 600 at the height of Quindaro’s prosperity. But the boomtown quickly went bust, thanks to a nationwide economic depression and the failure of a campaign to attract a rail line to town. Many of the young men in the community left to join the Union army in the Civil War. A few families stayed in the area to continue farming, but the original town site was largely abandoned.
After the war, several freed African American slaves moved to Quindaro and other Kansas River towns. Freedman’s University (later chartered as Western University) was established and its buildings were erected on a bluff west of old Quindaro.
About a century later, in the late 1980s, a company wanted to build a landfill in the area. It encountered an obstacle under the Kansas Antiquities Commission Act. Because Kansas City, Kansas, owned part of the landfill site and held permitting authority, an archeological investigation had to be conducted. Over a two-year period, a cistern, three wells, and the foundations of 22 residential and commercial buildings were discovered. Public outcry over the proposed landfill caused the company to withdraw its interest in the project, leaving no funding for the analysis or storage of the nearly 200 cubic feet of excavated artifacts. An agreement between the concerned parties passed ownership of the collection to the Kansas Historical Society. The artifacts are now being used for exhibits and archeology education.
Continuing interest in Quindaro has inspired a play (Quindaro) and a children’s book (Polly’s Amazing Journey). At the site, there has been restoration of the ruins and an interpretive path and park are being planned. These projects, along with the Quindaro artifacts, help keep this Kansas town’s story from being lost.
Author: Kansas Historical Society
Author information: The Kansas Historical Society is a state agency charged with actively safeguarding and sharing the state's history.
Date Created: January 2010
Date Modified: July 2015
The author of this article is solely responsible for its content.