Archive for Thursday, January 9, 2003

Before planes, trains and automobiles

De Soto residents learned to get around as new transportation became available

January 9, 2003

How do you get there from here?

In De Soto, the answer depended not only on where you wanted to go, but in what time period you asked the question. If you were in the De Soto area and wished to go to Lawrence, you could have possibly boarded a steamboat and made your way upstream to Lawrence. A newspaper account reported the presence of six steamboats docked at the riverfront landing in the 1860s.

If you arrived here from the east in the 1850s, you would have traveled on foot, on horseback or on wagon train over the California Road through Shawnee Indian land the United States government deeded to the tribe in 1825. At that time, there were no improved roads, and existing roads periodically shifted as reasons or weather changed. The most accurate location for these early byways was compiled in 1856, when government surveyors located and marked section line corners and also recorded precisely where any roads crossed the section boundaries.

Roadways not only changed locations, but they were also known by many different names. The east-west California Road was known as the Kansas City, Westport, Lawrence and Lecompton roads. The same basic road was known as the Midland Road in 1927, when my great-grandparents who lived at what is now 83rd Street and Mize Road signed a petition to have the road paved in brick. When completed a few years later, it became Kansas Highway 10's first route. The brick surface ended at the top of Cedar Creek Hill and was completed in concrete through De Soto and on into Lawrence. A street dance celebrated the paving's completion through De Soto's business district in about 1932.

Lexington Avenue was paved through the center of town during World War II by the thousands of workers employed at the Sunflower Ordinance Plant. After Johnson County land was bought by white settlers, roadways were relocated and -- where the terrain made it possible -- were oriented north-south and east-west. Of course, no landowner wanted anyone traipsing through his or her property.

These section-line roads with square corners were not a problem until the advent of automobiles and higher speeds.

Kill Creek Road is one of the older roads leading south and was known as the De Soto-Paola Road. Kill Creek Road north of Kill Creek Farm at one time was located on a course straight north and south to 89th Street, then west 100 yards to the current roadway.

The present course eliminates the two right-way angles with a 45-degree shortcut. What makes this common sequence of road changes unique is that the road is now back to its original location when it was used as a wagon road.

If you traveled De Soto from the very crest of Cedar Creek Hill prior to it being paved, you would have traveled straight west. The old road bed is still visible, and one of the stone bridge abutments remains on the west bank of Cedar Creek. The bridge itself was salvaged for scrap metal during World War II. In a short distance, the roadway dropped down to the Kansas River Flood Plain, avoiding the hills and valleys until joining the present 83rd Street east of Kill Creek Road. It is designated 82nd Terrace now but earlier was referred to as the Bluff Road.

  • Much of the information contained in this article was taken from the booklet "De Soto, Kansas is 100 years Old: 1857-1957" by Dot Ashlock-Longstreth. The exploration of De Soto's transportation past will continue next week.

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