How a 'Border Ruffian' Who Supported Slavery Got a Monument in a Kansas City Park

Wednesday, May 22, 2024
What's Your KCQ with the Charles Carroll Spalding Memorial in Penn Valley Park

What's Your KCQ? What do you want to know about our community? The Library and The Kansas City Star combine resources to find answers to questions about regional topics. 

On a recent visit to Penn Valley Park, a reader noticed an oddly placed stone along Penn Drive south of the lake. A plaque embedded into its surface reads: “To the author of Annals of the Great Western Plains, Charles Carroll Spalding, who in the day of small things had the bold vision to foresee the future city.” 

The plaque provides the book’s publication date, 1858, and states that the monument was erected in 1918, but provides no additional information. The reader asked What’s Your KCQ?, a partnership between The Kansas City Star and the Kansas City Public Library, to explain its significance. 

The Spalding name is familiar to KCPL’s Missouri Valley Special Collections staff. His book is regarded as the first history of the city, and an 1855 map of Westport drawn by Spalding hangs on the fifth floor of the Central Library in the Missouri Valley Room.

Spalding was born in Vermont in 1826, grew up comfortably in a prominent Montpelier family, and studied civil engineering before seeking his fortune in the American West.

He made his way to California during the gold rush years, but like many, failed to strike it rich, and went on to ply his trade as an engineer. He worked as a land surveyor for railroad firms in several western states, and by 1854, records of his activity show up in the newly created Kansas Territory.

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