Wednesday, January 3, 2018

Forgotten Brewery Caves - A Kansas Ghost Town.

The brewery cave series usually features places I can conveniently visit from my home base in Wisconsin.  Among other reasons I always want to have a personal look see so as to not put people onto the trail of a potentially dangerous site.  One cannot rely on common sense in such matters.

But I do run across tales of brewery caves from other places and sometimes I have to pass them along.  Kansas seems to have some especially interesting ones.

In the golden age of brewery caves, say 1850 to 1870, Kansas was simply a more interesting place than Wisconsin.  It was on the front lines of the Fugitive Slave controversy that led up to the Civil War.  It was the site before and during the war of an ongoing guerrilla conflict.  And then post war it was a booming part of the Western Frontier. Cowboys, Indians etc

Quindaro Kansas pretty much has all of that.

It lies on the Missouri river, right across from the then slave state of the same name. While it no doubt had earlier inhabitants the first organized settlement came in 1843 when Wyandot indians from Ohio were forced to relocate there.  It was not exclusively a native community, one major land owner was Abelard Guthrie.  The town was named after his Wyandot wife, Quindaro.

In pre-Civil war Kansas much of the local government was in sympathy with slavery, or at least not willing to fight over it.  In the 1850's Quindaro developed as a "Free Port" where escaped slaves would find friends and hiding places.  

It developed along the lines of most Western Boom Towns....exuberant, impractical growth.  It had a newspaper, stores, a hotel...and a brewery.  This was a little unusual since the area was officially "dry" and saloons were not allowed to operate openly.  Perhaps the ferry across to Missouri took slaves one way and kegs the other.

Quindaro did not flourish for long.  A financial panic hit in 1857, drying up investment. The violence between pro and anti-slavery forces resulted in pitched battles and massacres.  The 1850's closed out with a two year drought.

And then came the Civil War.  Of course most of the young men enlisted. And the westward tide of new settlers slowed.  With the Emancipation Proclamation slavery was clearly done for, although some fugitives still made it to Quindaro during the war.

By this point there was a healthy African American community on the bluffs above the dying river town.  Some were former fugitives, others just came to be in a supportive place. Old Quindaro slowly decayed into ruin.

In the 1980s there was a proposal to make the site into a landfill.  Archaeological excavations in advance of this showed the significance of the site and the plans were scrapped.  Ironically this led to considerable rancor on the part of the owners of much of the site, an African Methodist Church founded by the runaway slaves.

You can still visit Quindaro.  It is on the river in the northeast suburbs of Kansas City. The site is said to be quite overgrown but at least sufficient stabilization of the ruins has been done to prevent immanent collapse.

This is the brewery site.  The steel beams support the stone walls and give the rough outline of the structure.  Of course you can see the classic arched brewery cave exiting from the back of the brew house.

The site was excavated by students from Washburn University.  Below is an image of them at seems the reconstruction was extensive.

For more information on the excavations at Quindaro, and the odyssey of the "orphan artifacts" found there, have a look at this edition of Kansas Preservation . The Quindaro section is pages 15 - 20.

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