Government & Politics

Quindaro, once a stop on Underground Railroad, gets new life with federal designation

After years of work and determination, Quindaro Townsite established as National Commemorative Site

Supporters celebrate as the Quindaro Townsite in Kansas City, Kansas, officially becomes a National Commemorative Site.
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Supporters celebrate as the Quindaro Townsite in Kansas City, Kansas, officially becomes a National Commemorative Site.

Despite the unseasonably chilly April day, the atmosphere at the Quindaro overlook was warm and cheerful Tuesday afternoon.

Federal lawmakers joined local officials and residents in Kansas City, Kan. to celebrate designation of the ruins as a National Commemorative Site. Over 100 people gathered on a bluff overlooking the Missouri River, which slaves once crossed on their journey to free land.

“We shouldn’t shy away from the ‘s’ word—slavery. It is a part of the history, albeit ugly, of our nation,” Rep. Emanuel Cleaver, D-Missouri, said. “This is the beginning of what I believe will be the complete restoration of Quindaro.”

Located on the Kansas side of the river off Interstate 635, Quindaro was founded by abolitionists in the 1850s and became a Free State port of entry and stop on the Underground Railroad. It was also once home to the native Wyandot people. The site was abandoned and became overgrown, but was rediscovered during an archaeological dig in the 1980s.

After more than three decades of urging from locals, President Donald Trump in March signed legislation designating Quinardo as a National Commemorative Site, one step short of a historic landmark. The bill authorizes the Department of Interior and the National Park Service to enter into financial agreements to help pay for preservation.

The hope is to put in walkable trails where the originals once existed, unearth the foundations of 28 structures that still exist, and build a new museum to house the artifacts found in the ruins.

Marvin Robinson for decades has led the efforts to get Quindaro federal recognition, even testifying before Congress. On Tuesday, he stood in the back of the crowd as the new plaque was unveiled, designating the town site as a National Commemorative Site.

The day left him “speechless,” he said.

The unveiling marks a significant moment for many who grew up around Quindaro and have defended it from development and damage over the decades.

Gayle Townsend, a commissioner for the Unified Government of Wyandotte County and Kansas City, Kansas, was born at a blacks-only hospital which once sat on the land near Quinardo. She said the area is rich in history and deserves to be recognized.

“The residents of Quindaro, many of whom are here or descendents, still hold this area with affection and pride,” she said. “To see it come to life, we don’t know what’s going to happen yet or how it’s going to look, but we can start talking about that with some funds.”

Local and federal lawmakers spoke at the celebration, including Sen. Pat Roberts, R-Kansas, Rep. Sharice Davids, D-Kansas, and the Republican incumbent that Davids unseated last year, former Rep. Kevin Yoder.

“In a world in which everything is so negative and divided, this is the type of thing that brings our country together,” Yoder said. “Now our challenge is to take this designation and reach the ultimate goal and make sure Quindaro becomes a national historic landmark.”

Davids also spoke of unity.

The word “Quindaro,” she said, means “bundle of sticks,” in the Wyandot language.

“The understood meaning of that is that in union there is strength,” Davids said. “And if we’ve seen anything today, it’s that when we come together to do things, there is strength in that and really, that’s what we’re striving for.”

The celebration ended with the unveiling of the official Quindaro Townsite National Commemorative Site plaque. Roberts, the last to speak, said the site represents the overlapping and intertwining of many stories of the American experience.

“Our state’s motto, Ad Astra Per Aspera, means ‘to the stars with difficulty,’” Roberts said. “Boy if that doesn’t apply to this effort than I don’t know what does.”

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