Government & Politics

Quindaro, historic Kansas port and Underground Railroad stop, gets federal protection

Quindaro Ruins a story of freedom, unity, community

Supporters want the ruins near the Missouri River to be designated a National Historic Landmark. They hope to attract more tourists and revive the surrounding area in northern Kansas City, Kan.
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Supporters want the ruins near the Missouri River to be designated a National Historic Landmark. They hope to attract more tourists and revive the surrounding area in northern Kansas City, Kan.

Marvin Robinson has been fighting for more than three decades to have the Quindaro Ruins in Kansas City, Kan. recognized as a national historic landmark.

The Kansas City area activist was one step closer Tuesday after Congress voted to make Quindaro a national commemorative site. While short of landmark status, the designation will still enable preservation and recognition of the once-bustling Civil War-era port of entry into Kansas and stop on the Underground Railroad.

“The national commemorative site is a huge honor. It’s a precursor to a national historic landmark and it allows us to work with federal agencies to commemorate a space that really was important,” said Robinson, a Navy veteran and self-described volunteer researcher, who calls the ruins “the Pompeii of Kansas.”

“I live and breathe the site. This is really incredible,” he said.

The bill authorizes the Department of Interior and the National Park Service to enter into financial agreements to help pay for preservation.

It’s the same federal classification awarded last year to the Indianapolis memorial that commemorates the 1968 speech Robert F. Kennedy delivered in the wake of Martin Luther King, Jr.’s assassination.

The legislation was a small piece of a massive public lands package that designates 1.3 million acres of new wilderness and permanently reauthorize the Land and Water Conservation Fund, a program that uses offshore oil and natural gas revenue to support conservation projects in every state.

Sen. Pat Roberts, R-Kansas, worked to add Quindaro after former Republican Rep. Kevin Yoder’s standalone bill failed to become law last Congress.

“My great grandfathers were outspoken abolitionists during this time period and played a prominent role in the fight to establish Kansas as a free state. I’m proud to have played a role in getting Quindaro the historical designation it deserves,” Roberts said in a statement.

The Quindaro ruins in Kansas City, Kan., have been a source of musical collaboration for America Patton and others who are working on a musical tribute to Quindaro and the Underground Railroad.

The Senate passed the public lands package earlier this month by a 92-8 margin. It passed the House Tuesday on a 363-62 vote and now heads to President Donald Trump’s desk.

Robinson said Roberts was one of the first lawmakers to come to Quindaro’s aid in 1987 when the site, which has significance for both the African American and Native American communities in the region, was in danger of being turned into a landfill.

Yoder, who introduced the Quindaro legislation last year, said in an email that the new designation will create new opportunities for both public and private money to go toward preserving the site. He called the vote “the result of years of work by a group of community members who have dedicated countless hours to ensuring that Quindaro’s legacy is maintained.”

Robinson said he hoped the legislation would enable more excavation of the archaeological material at Quindaro in cooperation with the local universities.

The University of Missouri-Kansas City’s History Department sent lawmakers a letter of support for the legislation earlier this month.

“The Quindaro Ruins represent a unique crossroads in American history. This site was carved out of the Wyandot reservation to become the first free port along the Missouri River,” wrote Diane Mutti Burke, the chair of the department.

Rep. Sharice Davids, D-Kansas, called the site “a significant part of Kansas’ history in the fight for freedom and equality. Sadly, for too long the Quindaro Townsite has lacked the proper investments needed to preserve this important site.”

Bryan Lowry covers Kansas and Missouri politics as Washington correspondent for The Kansas City Star. He previously served as Kansas statehouse correspondent for The Wichita Eagle and as The Star’s lead political reporter. Lowry contributed to The Star’s investigation into government secrecy that was a finalist for The Pulitzer Prize.
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