The Kansas City Public Library is preparing to shine a light on one of the most iconic chapters in the city's history - the more than 100-year era of the Kansas City Stockyards - transforming a vast assortment of historical documents into a new, catalogued collection that will be made available to researchers.
The documents, featuring long-lost original blueprints and vintage photos of the sprawling, city-within-a-city Stockyards, also will be featured in a public exhibit opening at the Library's downtown Central Library in spring 2014.
The two-year project entails the cataloguing of nearly four dozen cartons of historical records donated by West Bottoms businessman Bill Haw, and will be funded, in part, by a $101,000 grant from the Council on Library and Information Services. The Washington, D.C.-based nonprofit organization promotes public access to "items of potentially substantive intellectual value" through its Hidden Collections program.
The Kansas City Public Library is one of 22 libraries, museums, and other institutions and organizations across the country identified Tuesday as recipients of CLIR grants, which are underwritten by The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation.
"This was a highly competitive process," said Eli Paul, manager of the Library's Missouri Valley Special Collections, "and receiving this grant is a perfect fit with our long-range goals of collecting, preserving, and making accessible Kansas City's history."
His department will oversee the cataloguing project and help develop the 2014 exhibit. Lucinda Adams, lead archivist, co-wrote the grant and will serve as project manager.
The Stockyards collection encompasses some 5,000 documents dating from the 1890s to the 1950s, spanning Kansas City's heyday as a livestock capital. Included are drawings, maps, and photos believed to have come from the office of the chief engineer who supervised the Stockyards' original construction and development.
Haw - now the owner of the Kansas City Livestock Exchange building that served as the Stockyards' headquarters - came across the items while renovating the historic structure in the city's West Bottoms. He offered them in 2008 to the Library, which quickly accepted. The articles have been in storage since then, inaccessible to historical researchers while the Library sought funding to organize the collection and create the accompanying exhibit.
"It was total chaos in 45 boxes," Paul said. "We didn't even know what we had."
With the generous help of local, private funding, MVSC staff members have for the past six months been unfolding, sorting, and logging the contents of the cartons. The CLIR grant will allow for professional cataloguing of the mass of material, making this previously "hidden collection" known and available to scholars.
Paul remains taken aback by the contents. "Basically," he said, "you could rebuild the Stockyards based on the detailed maps, blueprints, and other documents we have."