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This special series explored the history and impact of the most distinct lines in Kansas City: Troost Avenue, the State Line, the Wyandotte-Johnson county line, and the Missouri River.

How The State Line Has Divided The Kansas City Metro

Eds note: This look at the Missouri-Kansas state line is part of KCUR's months-long examination of how geographic borders affect our daily lives in Kansas City. KCUR will go Beyond Our Borders and spark a community conversation through social outreach and innovative journalism. 

We will share the history of these lines, how the borders affect the current Kansas City experience and what’s being done to bridge or dissolve them.

Though you can't see a physical border between Missouri and Kansas, there is a sense that strong divisions lie between the two states. 

Those divisions reach back as far as the early 1800s, as pro-slavery Missourians and abolitionist Kansans politically and physically clashed. Since that time, streetcars, sports stadium renovations and bistate tax initiatives have divided and occasionally brought together both Kansas City, Mo., and Kansas City, Kan.

Here's a look at the history of the state line, and a look at how it continues to divide the area today. We will continue to look at the complicated and varied ways the state line divides our region over the next few months.

The Civil War, KCK and political divisions

When Missouri was incorporated into the Union in 1820, it was one of the only places in the Louisiana Purchase territory where slavery was permitted. The Kansas Territory started developing nearly 30 years later, but most of the settlers there were staunchly abolitionist.

This social divide is one of the earliest differences between citizens along the state line. Debates about whether Kansas would become a free or slave state were heated. U.S. Sen. Charles Sumner was even beaten with a cane on the Senate floor by Rep. Preston Brooks for condemning pro-slavery interests in the area.

Kansas officially became a sovereign, free state in 1861, but not without continuing struggles. Pro-slavery guerrillas attempted to claim Kansas in the years leading up to the Civil War by sacking Lawrence and fighting U.S. Army troops in battles along the state line. Later known as Bleeding Kansas, or the Border Wars, these battles showed a distinct cultural difference between Missouri and Kansas.

Unification attempts

After the war, Kansas City, Kan., was founded, creating a split metropolitan area. Kansas politicians made numerous attempts in the 1870s to annex the metro into Kansas, and there was great support from the public to do so. The Kansas City Times editorial board even appealed to its readership on the issue.

"Kansas City, Mo., is the legitimate outgrowth of the state of Kansas," the Times wrote in 1878. "In everything but a line on the map she is essentially a city of Kansas."

Though Kansans loved the idea of unifying Kansas City under one state, Missourians didn't want to lose a burgeoning urban area. The annexation movement subsequently lost steam and died out.

The rise and fall of the core

At the dawn of the 20th century, the two Kansas Cities were both moving towards becoming modern Midwestern cities. The first cable car tracks were laid on the Missouri side in 1908, and soon streetcar tracks threaded through the area. At their peak, they reached from Kansas City, Kan., east to Independence, Mo., and as far north as St. Joseph, Mo. 

The West Bottoms, which is split by the state line, contributed greatly to urban growth. The meat packing plants and stockyards there led to the nickname "Cowtown." Until the Great Flood of 1951 crippled the area, the Bottoms brought both states together with regional industry.

At the same time, the area was beginning to expand. Because they were unable to expand the territories across the state line, both Kansas City, Kan., and Kansas City, Mo., grew north-south instead of east-west. By 1961, the Missouri side had tripled in size; the Kansas side doubled.

Along with the urban cores, the suburbs of the metro began to grow due to increased wages and the Baby Boom. White citizens flocked to the edges of the metro area and started driving cars instead of using the streetcars. White flight caused the streetcar system to collapse, cutting off significant ties between the Kansas Cities. 

20th century divisions and collaborations

For anyone who was a young adult in the Kansas City metro before 1987, there was one difference between the Kansas and Missouri side that likely affected your behavior: the legal drinking age. Kansas' requirement was 18, while Missouri's was 21. Though the Kansas side limited alcohol by volume levels, the lowered age still brought many over the state line.

It wasn't all fun and games in the late 1980s though. Union Station, which had once been the hub of rail traffic in the metro, stagnated in the aftermath of white flight. By 1985, it was virtually abandoned, and faced mounting financial and maintenance issues.

This prompted a bistate tax measure in 1996, which managed to pass. The measure pumped nearly $250 million back into the station in one of the largest and most memorable examples of cooperation between the two states.

State line today

Though the first bistate measure was a success, recent attempts at regionalism and cooperation between the two states haven't managed to gain public support. In 2004, "Bistate II" attempted to raise nearly $1.2 billion improvements to Kauffman and Arrowhead stadiums and arts programs.

The initiative needed a majority of both Jackson County, Mo., and Johnson County, Kan., voters to become a reality. Though it passed in Missouri, Bistate II failed in Kansas, with 46 percent of voters supporting it. 

In the wake of Bistate II's defeat, Chiefs and Wizards owner Lamar Hunt sold the Wizards in order to refocus on Arrowhead Stadium. After the sale, the new ownership renamed the team Sporting KC, and started planning a new stadium on Missouri land where Bannister Mall once stood.

But a competing deal from Wyandotte County, Kan., ended up winning over club owners and Cerner founders Cliff Illig and Neil Patterson with the inclusion of a new facility for Cerner employees.

On a larger scale, Kansas and Missouri have continued to engage in the sort of economic "border war" that drew Sporting Park across the line — using tax incentives and deals to lure business owners to one state or another. This summer, Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon signed legislation barring such incentives in an attempt to foster regional cooperation, but Kansas legislators have yet to reciprocate. 

Cody Newill is part of KCUR's audience development team. Follow him on Twitter @CodyNewill or email him at cody@kcur.org.
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