by Cindy Rinehart and
A trove of items with a link to Platte City’s historic past were found during an excursion into the basement crawl space below the building that houses The Landmark.
An old time barrel that could be seen from above, the item that initially sparked the newspaper staff’s interest in making an exploration into a basement/crawl space below the 148-year-old Landmark building in downtown Platte City, was hardly the only unique find of the day.
In a 45-minute event that was telecast live on the internet via Facebook Live on Sunday afternoon, a Landmark crew led by publisher Ivan Foley entered a hidden opening in the main floor of the office and went underground.
In his 35 years at the barrels. Early washing on the barrel that could be seen from the opening to the crawl space has revealed it to be reddish in color. It has a wide-mouth tap on top. Speculation on this barrel, after speaking with some local historians, is wide ranging. Some believe it to be a whiskey barrel, others believe it may have held heating fuel.
The second barrel, which was found on its side with the lid lying inside the barrel, is the more traditional wooden color and is believed to be a whiskey barrel or wine barrel. The top for this barrel indicates it held 46 gallons. Efforts to reveal any other identifying markings on the barrel are still going on.
•A section of post office boxes. A post office was one of the original occupants of the building in 1869, so this 48-box section likely dates to that year. The mailboxes have a key entry. A few boxes are missing from the section; most of the boxes are in the locked position. A small glass window in each box features an identifying number in the glass.
•A solid wood door with a glass window in the upper half. In raised lettering on the window are the words “Positively Private.” A closer examination shows original lettering of the word “Postmaster” behind the word “Positively,” indicating this door was used in the building’s days as a post office beginning in 1869. The door measures about 30 inches wide and 78 inches tall.
•Several copies of the Aug. 28, 1903 issue of The Landmark. At least one of the copies is in nearly pristine condition. W.T. Jenkins is listed as editor/proprietor.
•A printer’s box with an identifying name on the back side. The name is T.W. Park. The Landmark Newspaper began publication in 1865 in Weston, then moved to Platte City in 1871. Major Thomas W. Park, the T.W. Park whose name appeared on the printer’s drawer that would have held handset type back in the day, was one of the co-editors of The Landmark in 1871.
Notably, Thomas W. Park was the father of Guy B. Park, who later became governor of Missouri.
T. W. Park became the sole editor in 1879 before retiring as editor in 1882. His printer’s box apparently stayed in possession of The Landmark when it moved into this building in 1899.
•A burlap sack with a date marking of May 6, 1890. The burlap sack has writing on it indicating it at one time held 50 lbs of hominy flake. The sack is a tie to the building’s history as a grocery store.
•A memo pad that appears to have been used by the grocery store operator.
•A wooden crate labeled “Excelsior Springs Mineral Water and Bottling Company, Established 1888, Excelsior Springs, Mo.”
•An old-time wooden hand cart, flat, similar to a pallet with long handles on each side, indicating it could have been carried by two men or four men. Offutt said the old timers called it a “man carry.” The solidly constructed carrying device could have been used to transport large amounts of paper, barrels of liquid, or flour or any number of other heavy items. It is six feet long and 38 inches wide.
•A metal sign--with a wood frame--indicating insurance coverage through “Security Indemnity Insurance Company of North America, founded 1792, Philadelphia.” Olin Miller, an insurance agent who is also a local historian, says signs like this were often posted inside of businesses to show the building was insured. He said it often meant a building would get better response from the fire department in the event of a blaze.
•Shipping crates likely from the building’s days as a post office. Names on separate crates included the last names of Woodson and Harvey.
•Many miscellaneous smaller items that are still being sorted.
•Found in the southwest corner of the basement is a filled-in entry to a pathway of some type, perhaps a tunnel or what at one time was a below ground door into the basement. The opening has been filled in with blocks of concrete and stone. Another possibility is the opening could have been a coal chute, Miller said, but there were no signs of coal or past coal usage in the basement..
Offutt, the mayor with an extensive knowledge of Platte City’s history, believes the filled-in passageway was likely a below ground door that had access from street level. He believes the opening at street level was probably covered with large sheets of metal that were lifted when access to the basement was used for bringing in materials. Stairs would have led from the street down to the basement entry, he said.
Another long-rumored theory but never confirmed is that Platte City had an underground tunnel system along Main Street that may have been used as part of the Underground Railroad or other types of slave traffic in the Civil War time period.
Kathy Wright of Platte City, who along with her now late husband Bill formerly owned the stone house on the south side of Main Street near First Street, said when her family owned the three story home in the late 1960s there were filled in openings to what appeared to be tunnels on each side of the structure.
“Based on location they had to go under Main Street. There were what appeared to have been two tunnel openings, one on the east and one on the west. The one on the east was bigger than the west one. They were blocked with mortar and cinder blocks,” she told The Landmark this week.
“The rumor was there are rings in the basement walls to chain slaves but we never found any such rings. We wondered if the tunnels were connected to the slaves, but have no concrete knowledge,” Mrs. Wright said.
Anyone with knowledge of local history or information that may help in learning more about any of these items is encouraged to contact The Landmark. Research on the items will continue and more trips into the crawl space are planned. A metal detector will be used extensively on the dirt floor in the near future.
The video from Sunday’s exploration into the crawl space will remain available for viewing at two locations on Facebook: on the timeline of Ivan Foley and on the newspaper’s Facebook page at The Platte County Landmark.
It is also available for viewing on YouTube by entering a search for “The Landmark Newspaper.”
Taking part in the trip into the basement with The Landmark publisher were Kurt Foley, son of the publisher who served as video cameraman for the live event; Todd Shifflett of Amity, Foley’s son-in-law who will be creating a woodworking project using at least one of the barrels; Aric Jennings, a real estate agent, of Platte City; Matthew Silber, Landmark cartoonist; and Bill Hankins of The Landmark staff, a member of the Missouri Photojournalism Hall of Fame.
Several photos taken by Hankins during the event--most snapped while underground--will soon be posted at two locations on Facebook, @IvanFoley and @ThePlatteCountyLandmark.