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Uniquely Kansas City | The storied history of Belton, Missouri

Uniquely Kansas City Belton
Posted at 2:00 PM, Feb 18, 2024

Driving along Interstate 49 in Belton, some folks may think "typical bedroom community," but Belton has a storied history and was once part of a plan engineered by St. Louis money interests to keep Kansas City from growing.

The city was chartered in 1872 with a difficult start. The area was largely uninhabited several years following the civil war.

In 1863, Union Gen. Thomas Ewing had issued the infamous Order No. 11. Farms' crops burned. It was known as the burnt district.

As the recovery began, Belton was served by two rail lines. Then, St. Louis industrialists came up with the plan for a rail spur that would bypass Kansas City.

"They were trying to do that in the late 1860s early 1870s to try to stave off Kansas City — the power that was to be," said Matt Friel, president of the Belton, Grandview and Kansas City railroad. "They weren't successful but what that did for Belton was built that line from Pleasant Hill to eventually DeSoto, Kansas. So that was the first rail line through Belton and that was the first one to connect Belton to the greater world other than by the old car path."

Belton's agricultural base remained strong for decades. Then in 1952, what was Grandview Airport became Richards-Gebaur Air Base.

We spoke with Jeff Larkey of the Belton Historical Society.

"That increased the population of Belton immensely as people working at the air force base, as civilians or the actual servicemen brought their families to Belton," Larkey said. "Of course during the 1950s, the other thing happened was the automobile and the better highways."

Belton has ties to several high-profile figures. Old west outlaws, the Dalton Gang, started life just south of the city. Harry Truman became a mason in Belton. Dale Carnegie called Belton home. Temperance movement leader, Carrie Nation, who used her hatchet to break up saloons in the late 1800s is buried in the Belton cemetery — and she's remembered, in a way she probably wouldn't appreciate; Belton is home to Broken Hatchet Brewing.

Uniquely Kansas City is a partnership between KSHB 41 News and retired Kansas City journalist Bill Grady, highlighting the historical stories that make the Kansas City area truly unique through audio and digital storytelling. Is there a piece of Kansas City history you'd like us to share? Send us an email at