Michael Bushnell

In their 1950 book, “City of the Future,” which celebrates Kansas City’s first 100 years, Henry Haskell Jr. and Richard B. Fowler give this description on the inaugural trip down the new and quite precarious Ninth Street incline into the West Bottoms:

“On the trial run of the 9th Street line, a grip-car and two trailers (open air cars) had reached the head of the incline filled with prominent citizens. The occupants took one frightened glance at the precipitous descent ahead of them [it had an average fall of 18.5 feet in every 100] and leaped for safety. The little tram proceeded to the bottom, with the grip-man and brakeman standing in brave, but lonely, grandeur.”

This black and white postcard published by the Union Pacific Railroad shows the view from the top of the Ninth Street line into the West Bottoms and Union Avenue. Designed by celebrated Civil Engineer Robert Gillham, the incline had its share of hair-raising experiences. Patrons who boarded streetcars east of downtown had to first ride past “old wide awake” intersection of Ninth and Main streets, where Traffic Officer Mike Tuite would shout “wide awake” to warn oblivious pedestrians and buggy drivers of the approaching streetcar traveling down the steep hill that approaches Main Street on Ninth Street.

As the streetcar traveled west, passengers prepared themselves for the harrowing ride down the almost 20 percent grade into the West Bottoms. The line was completed in 1885 and was one of Gillham’s more celebrated accomplishments. At the time, the newly constructed incline was one of two direct routes from downtown to Union Depot and the stockyards, the other being through the Eighth Street tunnel.

Gillham, known as the father of Kansas City’s cable railway system, died in 1899 at his mansion at 2106 Independence Blvd. at the young age of 35.

Roughly six years later, the incline he designed and built would be dismantled to pave the way for George Kessler’s West Terrace Park project that included Kersey Coates Drive, designed to spruce up the West Bluffs as part of the then fledgling “City Beautiful” movement embraced by the city’s new Parks Department.

This postcard was mailed on Sept. 21, 1910, to Mr. M. J. Ayres of St. Charles, Ill. The message on the back reads, “Left K.C. at 6 pm. All well. Will be back in K.C. Sunday. Norman.”