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The Mighty Muskrat

From my earliest days collecting postcards, I’ve been impressed with the Blue River in Kansas City, Missouri, an urban stream that has been largely preserved as “City Beautiful” recreational space in the early 20th century expansion of the city. It’s now part of Swope Park in Kansas City’s expanded system.

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There are easily a dozen cards showing views of the Blue just like this one, some with more evidence of our activity, some with far less. Collectively, they have allowed me to see the value or urban waterways—embraced in the English countryside, for example, while abused and neglected here in the USA—and to imagine how the Mighty Muskrat might have been similarly used, abused and rediscovered as an urban asset.

On the Muskrat’s west bank, opposite the city, I had envisioned a rambling bunch of shacks as easy retreats from town, places to fish on a moment’s notice or “camp out” without all the falderal of going to the lake. I could see a makeshift community of glorified tents and tar paper shacks—the sort of impromptu architecture that often endures well past its expiration date—occupied by some of the community’s earlier families; a group who might be known as the River Rats and have no more right to occupy its banks than any Depression Era vagrant. In fact, I could see a truce there between the landed gentry and more temporary folks on their way to something better.

Then there is the matter of bridging the Muskrat and how that might have been done at various points in town history. Lacking a convenient ford, some sort of vehicular bridge would quickly have been replaced by a more permanent “engineered” thing, probably jury-rigged from cast iron pieces and heavy timber. At some point, however, more suitable modern bridges would have been paid for by the county or a city-county partnership.

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The railroad bridge is another thing altogether, as they would have underwritten their own and were more likely to be uniform in  engineering and form.

I have only a little knowledge of pre-1900 bridge technology, except that it evidences the patent binge at the end of the century. There are five places to be bridged (four vehicular and one rail) and that should keep me occupied for some time.


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