Interurban rail lines a popular regional travel option

By Michael Bushnell

The message on this Hall Brothers color postcard, mailed on April 24, 1917, to Miss Lula Mercer, care of The Hotel Washington, room 516, Portland, Ore. reads: “Dear Lula, I am leaving here this morning for Clovis, New Mexico. Write to me there. I will write you full details in a few days. I am headed back for the coast. I expect to be in New Mexico about two months.” Signed, “J.A.B.”

The card shows Car 22 of the Kansas City, Clay County and St. Joseph Railway – or Interurban – assigned to the Excelsior Springs or Clay County routes.

The K.C.C.C. St. J. Ry. Interurban had two primary routes between Kansas City and Excelsior Springs and Kansas City and St. Joseph.

Financed by philanthropic investors from New York and Boston, the line began operation in 1913 and was spurred on by the success of electric Interurban railways in other cities.

The cars were designed with steam railroad specifications instead of standard streetcar specifications, meaning the massive rail cars measured close to 60 feet in length and nine feet wide. The initial fleet of railcars, purchased from the Cincinnati Railcar Manufacturing Company, included 16 passenger cars, five express cars and five freight cars.

The line was an instant hit among area travelers who could now travel to St. Joseph in a little over an hour in the luxurious, high-speed electric train cars.

The line carried a variety of nicknames such as the Excelsior Springs Line or the “Red Line” after the car’s maroon coloration. The main line traveled north across the Armour-Swift-Burlington Bridge from roughly Eighth and Walnut where the ticket office and depot were located. It then traveled up Swift Avenue in North Kansas City, splitting near present-day Macken Park.

The Clay County route traveled east through Avondale, then following roughly the route of 69 Highway — Vivion Road — through northern Claycomo, Glenaire, Liberty and ultimately Excelsior Springs. The St. Joseph route traveled west along the bluff near the Kansas City water works, through Riverside and Northmoor adjacent to AA Highway — present day Waukomis Drive — up to the 68th Street intersection. The line then continued north-northwest toward Drennon Stables, Ferrelview, Camden Point, Dearborn, Faucett and ultimately entering St. Joseph near Eighth Street and Angelique. In an area known as “the flats,” north of Dearborn the trains often reached speeds of 80 miles per hour.

Subdivisions often sprang up along the line and developers used the rail line as a marketing tool to attract families to the suburbs. Interurban Heights in Glenaire is one such example.

The K.C.C.C. St. J. Ry ran its last scheduled train in March 1933. With the advent of the automobile and the improvement of roads between Kansas City, Excelsior Springs and St. Joseph, ridership dropped drastically, tanking the company’s profits. The company’s assets were auctioned off and Interurban cars were used for everything from diners to chicken coops throughout the area. 

Today, in some areas the old Interurban route can clearly be seen. Between Ferrelview and Dearborn, an 18-mile stretch of the old roadbed was graded and paved and named Interurban Road. The road runs through such old landmark railway stops such as Settles Road, Todd Creek or Sharp’s Station. North of Dearborn, the abandoned line becomes more obscure, traveling northwest under present day I-29 toward Faucett and ultimately paralleling Sparta Road on the south side of St. Joseph. Parts of I-229 in St. Joseph run on the old roadbed.

If you’d like additional information on the Interurban go to www.interurbanroad.com.

In 2006, local author and Historian Ed Conrad completed a book entitled “Heartland Traction: the Interurban Lines of Kansas City” that chronicles the birth, life and ultimate death of the Interurban lines that served Kansas City. 

Black and white photo, courtesy of Missouri Valley Special Collections, Kansas City Public Library, Kansas City, Mo.

Interurban Heights map, from Heartland Traction by Edward A. Conrad, c. 2006, Heartland Rails Publishing Company, Blue Springs, Mo.

Want Northeast News articles sent straight to your inbox each week? Subscribe below!
Enter your email address and click on the Get Instant Access button.
We respect your privacy

Comments are closed.

  • Goetz Country Club Special, the Bright Beer!

    August 10th, 2022
    by

    Michael Bushnell Publisher The new $750,000 M.K. Goetz Brewery wasn’t built in Kansas City until 1936, but it’s long, storied […]


    Remember This?

    August 10th, 2022
    by

    Dorri Partain Contributor Who you gonna call, when you want to decorate your wall? Ghostbusters! Movie posters have long been […]


    Remember This?

    August 3rd, 2022
    by

    By Dorri Partain The pure spring waters of San Antonio, Texas, were used for decades to produce a variety of […]


    Private Label Branding: Katz Beer style

    August 3rd, 2022
    by

    By Michael Bushnell If a product bore the Katz label, consumers could be sure they were paying the lowest price […]


    Boomer Throwback: Heidel Brau

    July 27th, 2022
    by

    Michael Bushnell Publisher Chances are, if your parents shopped at Milgram’s Food Stores here in Kansas City, you probably had […]


    Remember This?

    July 27th, 2022
    by

    Dorri Partain Contributor Hi, neighbor! Hi, neighbor! What do you know, and what do you say? A catchy tune from […]


    When America Went Dry: Prohibition in the 1920s

    July 20th, 2022
    by

    Michael Bushnell Publisher Mention the word prohibition to a room full of brewers and distillers and you’ll likely be met […]


    Remember This?

    July 20th, 2022
    by

    Dorri Partain Contributor The 18th Amendment to the United States Constitution caused breweries to devise new products to stay in […]


  • The Beer that made Milwaukee famous

    July 13th, 2022
    by

    Michael Bushnell Publisher The Joseph Schlitz brewing company entered the Kansas City market in earnest when they built a depot […]


    Remember This?

    July 13th, 2022
    by

    Dorri Partain Contributor “Don’t say ‘beer’- say ‘Bull’” was the long-time advertising slogan for Schlitz Malt Liquor. Malted barley is […]


    Remember This?

    July 6th, 2022
    by

    Dorri Partain Contributor Pocket-sized sports schedules are a handy way to keep track of when the hometown team is playing […]


    Scandal, suicide part of Lemp Brewing history

    July 6th, 2022
    by

    Michael Bushnell Publisher While William J. Lemp Brewing Company did not have a brewing presence in Kansas City, the Romanesque […]


    Remember This?

    June 29th, 2022
    by

    Dorri Partain Contributor Whether you use it under your beer glass to collect moisture or on top to keep your […]


    Oldest brewery west of the Hudson River

    June 29th, 2022
    by

    Michael Bushnell Publisher Royal Brewing Company of Weston, Mo., was founded in 1842 by John Georgian. Upon his death in […]


    Northeast’s own, Heim Brewery

    June 22nd, 2022
    by

    Michael Bushnell Publisher This week we continue our summer postcard series featuring early local brewery operations and their families. No […]


    Remember This?

    June 22nd, 2022
    by

    Dorri Partain Contributor Centuries before the bottling and canning process improved the sanitation of beverages, German laws stipulated that drinking […]


    Remember This?

    June 15th, 2022
    by

    Dorri Partain Contributor The opener that is most often known as a “church key” was developed to easily open beer […]


    Hotel linked to city’s rich beer brewing history

    June 15th, 2022
    by

    Michael Bushnell Publisher This summer The Northeast News will be spotlighting local beer history through our weekly historic postcard column. […]


    Remember This?

    June 8th, 2022
    by

    By Dorri Partain Primetime television viewers were invited to, “Meet George Jetson, Jane his wife, daughter Judy, his boy Elroy,” […]


    Refinery integral to early Sugar Creek development

    June 8th, 2022
    by

    By Michael Bushnell This early hand-colored postcard shows the Sugar Creek Refinery, Standard Oil Co., near Kansas City, Mo. The […]


  • Northeast Newscast


  • Faces Of Northeast


  • Remember This?


  • Want articles sent directly to your inbox each week? Subscribe below!
    We respect your privacy and will not distribute your information.