A new fountain in the Northland will send locals back in time almost 200 years to Kansas City’s fur-trading days — a history that many don’t know exists on their front doorstep.
The Francois Chouteau Native American Fountain will span 7,000 square feet on the west side of Chouteau Parkway between Northeast 39th Street and Northeast Russell Road, an area neighborhood activists say is in need of a facelift.
“This entire area is rich with history when you really get to digging into it,” said Keith Nelson, a member of the Chouteau Fountain Founders committee and a self-acclaimed history buff.
“We still suffer from the lack of infrastructure and amenities, and one of the other things we lack is any art or culture in our area.”
The Kansas City Parks and Recreation Committee approved the $1.6 million plan Aug. 23.
Francois Chouteau, a French-American fur-trader whose family founded St. Louis, established a fur trading post in 1821 on the north bank of the Missouri River near the Chouteau Bridge. There, he traded fur and European goods with Native Americans.
Kansas City’s trade business dates back 350 years, said Nelson, and the fountain will examine that history while memorializing one of the city’s founding fathers.
“At the same time, we wanted to celebrate the Native Americans who were in the area trading with Francis Chouteau.”
The structure will include three 8-foot bronze sculptures of Chouteau and two Osage Indians conducting trade on top of a running fountain —what would have been the Missouri River. In a nearby stream, a Kansa Indian is depicted hunting a beaver.
The fountain will sit in front Buckeye Creek, a picturesque backdrop surrounded by trees, Nelson said.
Local artist Kwan Wu — whose resume includes George Brett’s bronze statue at the Kauffman Stadium — designed the sketches for the fountain’s bronze sculptures.
Nelson, president of the North Bennington Neighborhood Association, lives near Winnetonka High School and proposed the plan to Northland Neighborhoods Inc. in May 2015. Last fall, council members funded $50,000 in Public Improvements Advisory Committee money to evaluate potential sites for the structure. The Kansas City Art Commission approved the artwork sketches July 11.
Funding for the project will come from private donors, said former Councilman Dick Davis, also a member of the Chouteau Fountain Founders committee. Davis will lead fundraising efforts.
Kansas City is home to more than 200 fountains, according to the City of Fountains Foundation. The Northland has the Northland Fountain on North Oak Trafficway and Vivion Road and the Children’s Fountain at 32nd and North Oak Trafficway.
“This fountain gives historical significance to our part of town. For the first time we will have a destination in our neighborhood,” said Doug Green, president of the Chouteau Estates Neighborhood Association in the Northland.
Green said the project would also help recruit younger people to the surrounding neighborhoods, some of the most neglected areas in the city, he said.
Local schoolchildren will reap the benefits as well. The site will provide activities outside of the classroom, advocates said.
“This is a great educational opportunity for field trips to learn about the community in which these kids are living,” said Councilwoman Heather Hall. Information signage is included in the plans as well as a bus drop-off area.
Fundraising efforts will begin in late September.