Lee’s Summit, MO (LEE)
The Amtrak station sits close to the historic MoPac depot, now used by the chamber of commerce and historical society; an adjacent park plays host to a variety of annual festivals.
217 SW Main Street
Lee’s Summit, MO 64063
Annual Station Ridership (FY 2017): 27,402
- Facility Ownership: Union Pacific Railroad
- Parking Lot Ownership: Union Pacific Railroad
- Platform Ownership: Union Pacific Railroad
- Track Ownership: Union Pacific Railroad
For information about Amtrak fares and schedules, please call 1-800-USA-RAIL (1-800-872-7245).
The Lee’s Summit station is located adjacent to William B. Howard Station Park in the heart of downtown. As its name indicates, Lee’s Summit was built on a prominent 1,000 foot rise in the land that affords beautiful views into the surrounding countryside. To highlight 30 years of state-supported passenger rail service, Amtrak and the Missouri Department of Transportation sponsored a 2009 contest to rename the train (formerly the Ann Rutledge and Missouri Mules) that link St. Louis and Kansas City via the picturesque towns and landscapes of the state’s interior. The winning entry—the Missouri River Runner—reflects the fact that the route often parallels the Missouri River, ending and beginning at riverfront cities.
The Amtrak facility is a shelter structure that protects waiting passengers from inclement weather. One half of it is enclosed with walls of glass that allow sunlight to brighten and warm the space while providing a buffer against the wind. The other portion is an entrance porch with benches that becomes a popular waiting area on pleasant days. To the north stands a brick structure that houses restrooms. Both pavilions are topped by hipped-gabled roofs with deep eaves that echo the roof of the former Missouri Pacific Railroad (MP) depot across the tracks. The restroom building also sports a band of decorative stonework reminiscent of the older building. Accented by metal benches and a splashing fountain, the brick platform is lined with colorful, landscaped beds of trees, shrubs, ornamental grasses, and seasonal flowers.
In the early 2000s, city officials decided to renovate the Amtrak shelter. Through further consultation with Amtrak, residents, and the Union Pacific Railroad, the plans grew to include improvements to the platform, lighting, and the grounds. The city won a $99,000 Community Development Block Grant and was able to manage construction costs through the use of Parks and Recreation Department maintenance staff. $18,300 was spent on the shelter structure; $14,100 on the platform; $20,900 on lighting and utility replacement; and $15,400 on landscaping, benches, and trashcans. Rededication of the area took place in July 2002.
Two years later the city proposed the installation of a public restroom for the convenience of visitors and residents. After exploring a few options, a spot was chosen on the property that Amtrak leases from Union Pacific. The city allocated $75,000 for the project while Amtrak contributed $3,000. Substantial cost savings were again achieved by using the skills and labor available from the Parks and Recreation Department.
The shelter building opened to the public in conjunction with neighboring William B. Howard Station Park, named after the town’s founder. Located on the other side of the tracks, the park is a verdant half-acre gathering space that holds a Veterans Memorial and a fountain. Next to the old depot there is a vintage caboose; painted bright red, it displays the MP’s buzz saw logo, and is a favorite backdrop for visitors’ photos. Throughout the year, the popular central greensward is host to numerous festivals and gatherings.
The community’s first depot was a boxcar with “Lee’s Summit” painted on the side, but it was soon replaced by a permanent wood frame structure that burned down in 1903. The one-story depot that presently stands on the east side of the tracks was completed in 1905, and built of fire resistant materials. Walls of dark red brick rise from a stone base. Decoration is minimal, and primarily relegated to prominent sills and lintels, as well as a band of pressed brick that runs between the lintels. These design elements add to the horizontal emphasis of the structure, which stretches roughly 150 feet along the tracks. The hipped-gabled roof allows for ventilation windows at each end, and its edges form a deep eave that runs around the building to protect passengers from inclement weather.
Trackside, a three sided bay with windows juts out onto the old platform. Probably part of the station master’s office, it would have allowed him to look down the tracks and monitor traffic. The north end of the building was occupied by the freight and express rooms, as indicated by the wide doorways that would have accommodated the movement of large crates and parcels. Small, high windows helped secure the space. The opposite end of the building contained the waiting room and station master’s office.
The MP depot no longer serves passengers, but it has been put to new use as the home of the local Chamber of Commerce and the Lee’s Summit Historical Society and Museum, which holds a collection of maps, photographs, and artifacts that tell the history of the town. In recognition of the role that the railroad and the depot played in the lives of generations of townspeople, the building was included in the Lee’s Summit Downtown Historic District which was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 2005.
When Europeans first visited this area of the Missouri, it was occupied by the Osage and Kansa American Indians who had moved west from the lower Ohio River Valley in the early 17th century. The two peoples shared many social and cultural characteristics and a common linguistic background descended from the Dhegian-Siouan family; intermarriage was common.
Seasonal movements in search of food and resources required permanent and semi-permanent structures. For much of the year, the semi-nomadic Osage and the Kansa occupied set villages that contained permanent lodges constructed of a wood framework that was either covered by bark sheets, woven mats, and hides, or built up with layers of earth. During extended hunting expeditions in search of bison, elk, deer, and bear, portable tipis made of wood frameworks covered with buffalo hides were easily erected and disassembled as needed.
After initial contact with French explorers in the late 17th century, a fur trade was established between the Osage and Kansa and the French colonists in the Ohio Valley and along the Mississippi River. The American presence was not felt until the completion of the Louisiana Purchase in 1803 which gave the young nation control over the immense territory drained by the Mississippi River. As the European-American population grew, its westward expansion in turn pushed tribes further west. The rich soils of Missouri attracted American settlers by the 1820s, and through a series of federal treaties between 1808 and 1825, the Osage and Kansa gave up their claims to much of the land in present day Missouri, Kansas, and Arkansas and were forced to locate on reservations.
The area in the vicinity of Lee’s Summit was ideal agricultural land, watered by three ample creeks and numerous springs. The rolling prairie required little clearing, and stands of hardwood trees along the creek banks were available for building. One of the first settlers to purchase land was a Kentuckian named William Howard who bought 220 acres in 1842. Within a decade, he had increased his holdings fourfold and had erected a log house north of the future town site.
The richness of the land became well-known and by 1853 all the acreage in the township had been snapped up by eager farmers. The soils supported grains such as wheat, rye, and barley that could be harvested and transported up to Independence and West Port (now Kansas City) to feed the growing number of migrants headed West by way of overland trails. The farmers also realized the potential for fruit cultivation and experimented with apple trees, but their work was delayed by the conflict that affected the region in the years leading up to the official start of the Civil War in 1861.
In 1854 the Kansas Territory was organized. During the Civil War, Independence, 14 miles to the north, was twice captured by Confederate forces. In 1862, Howard was arrested and accused of being sympathetic to the Confederates. He then left for Kentucky, not returning until after the war.
The years of war left west central Missouri in a perilous economic state; severed transportation corridors, including the railroad, exacerbated the problem. The Pacific Railroad obtained an 1849 charter for a rail line to run between St. Louis and a site in the western part of the state, with the aspiration of building to the Pacific Ocean. Ground was broken in St. Louis in 1851. Using rails, locomotives, and rolling stock shipped from England, the first 5 mile section of the road opened in 1852. Nine years later, the railroad reached Sedalia, within 70 miles of Lee’s Summit, but the start of the Civil War resulted in intermittent work.
In 1864, construction began eastward from Kansas City, and the line to Independence opened in August. Similar to many fixed assets, the railroad was heavily damaged that fall during a Confederate raid led by Major General Sterling Price. He and his troops destroyed Pacific Railroad property. The destruction was quickly assessed and repaired, and on September 19, 1865, the eastern and western sections of the railroad were joined; the first full run took 14 hours between Kansas City and St. Louis. In 1872, a reorganization of the railroad resulted in a name change to the better known Missouri Pacific Railway, and more than a century later it was subsumed into the Union Pacific Railroad.
William Howard returned just in time to take advantage of the Pacific Railroad’s completion. Owning land through which the right-of-way passed, he platted 70 acres in October 1865. The location was excellent, as Lee’s Summit was a crossing point for a couple of important regional roads. In exchange for a depot, Howard gave the railroad every other lot along the tracks with the expectation that the land would quickly rise in value once the stop was established. The first streets paralleled the tracks to provide as much prime commercial frontage as possible.
The name of the town remains a subject of debate, but new scholarship seems to indicate that the platted area was known as “Lee’s Summit” prior to 1865. The “summit” makes sense because the town was on the highest point of land along the Pacific Railroad right-of-way between St. Louis and Kansas City. Theories about the “Lee” vary, but the most logical explanation leads to Dr. Pleasant Lea, a local farmer killed in 1862 during a skirmish with Kansan abolitionists.
Apparently, the railroad surveyors had used Lea’s farm as a base camp during the surveying and then named the area in his honor. As often happened, the railroad crew misspelled Lea in its references to the station, and thus the current spelling became common. The mistake has led some to wonder if the town was named after Confederate General Robert E. Lee, especially since many of the original settlers were from the South. When Howard registered his plat, he decided to give the new town his wife’s maiden surname: “Strother.” This never caught on and the town remained better known as Lee’s Summit; in 1868, the townspeople petitioned the county court to legally accept the popular designation.
Post-war, Lee’s Summit quickly recovered thanks to its stop on the railroad. As farmers returned, they rehabilitated fields and orchards, and new enterprises such as dairy farming and large scale livestock raising became part of the local economy. By 1880, the town was one of the largest shipping points on the Pacific line between eastern and western Missouri, with the bounty of the land sent to distant markets by rail. To facilitate this trade, grain elevators and flourmills popped up near the right-of-way while new residential areas were platted on the outskirts of town. Unfortunately, an April 1885 fire destroyed the old wood buildings in the central business district, but the merchants rebuilt in more permanent brick. The population more than doubled from 1880 to 1890, and business and residential growth continued on an upward trend well into the 20th century.
Eighteen miles to the northwest, Kansas City grew into a major metropolis with a strong economy based on railroading and the processing and shipping of livestock. The construction of a well paved road network in the early twentieth century brought Lee’s Summit into the city’s sphere of influence. The lovely pastoral landscape around town attracted wealthy Kansas Citians such as lumber magnate Robert Alexander Long who created a 1650 acre farm west of downtown. It was considered stunning not only for its beauty but also for the quality of the horses and livestock raised on the property.
Longview Farm was completed in 1914; two thousand laborers, including 50 Belgian craftsmen and 200 Sicilian stonemasons, transformed the aggregated small farms into a wondrous landscape that included a 20-acre manmade lake and a race track that seated 1,000 horse enthusiasts. An imposing manor house and 40 other architecturally unified structures were strategically scattered over the hills to create grand vistas, but they were also arranged to allow for the efficient operations of a working farm. Under Long’s daughter, equestrienne Loula Long Combs, the farm became world-renowned for its prize-winning thoroughbreds. After her death, the farm was sold and the mansion is now a popular place for weddings while one of the horse barns has been renovated as an elementary school. A branch of the Kansas City Metropolitan College spreads over many acres.
The advancement in the cultivation of fruits, specifically pears, plums, peaches, berries, and grapes, allowed local farmers to supply the immediate metropolitan area; Lee’s Summit was known as the center of the Missouri Apple Belt. Residents who left Kansas City in search of a quieter life often found their way to Lee’s Summit. In time, it developed its own light industries, and many residents commuted to Kansas City along new highways. Post-World War II, the small town grew into a full-fledged suburb of its larger neighbor and remains so today.
In the 1990s, city leaders began to consider the future role that Lee’s Summit should play in the metropolitan area. After a study of downtown that featured community input, Downtown Lee’s Summit Main Street, Inc. pushed for a series of improvements including façade and streetscape revitalization, business retention activities, and tax credit seminars to encourage reinvestment in the historic core. Through the efforts of the Main Street program, local and regional governments, and residents, Lee’s Summit has managed to grow while enhancing its small town charms. As a result, the city consistently receives accolades as one of the most livable cities in the United States.
Throughout the year, residents and visitors walk the streets near the MP depot to explore the shops, restaurants, and galleries that occupy the late nineteenth century commercial buildings. In early June, the “Downtown Days…Streets Alive!” Festival takes over 6 downtown blocks with food and craft vendors, a mini carnival, and stages featuring live entertainment. One of the highlights is the Classic Car Show followed by a Harley-Davidson Bike Ride-In as dusk descends. Sponsored by the Main Street program, proceeds go towards continued improvement of the downtown.
The chill of fall brings “Gingerbread Land” with arts and crafts activities for children; one of the most popular booths lets kids decorate aromatic gingerbread cookies with whatever their imaginations dream up. A few weeks later, the Mayor’s Tree Lighting Ceremony takes place amid the joyful melodies of local choirs in William B. Howard Station Park. More than 100,000 sparkling lights span downtown, creating a magical wonderland. Even Santa and Mrs. Claus and the elves join in the festivities, enjoying the free hot chocolate.
The Missouri River Runner is financed primarily through funds made available by the Missouri Department of Transportation. Amtrak does not provide ticketing or baggage services at this station which is served by four daily trains.
Platform with Shelter
- Yes Short Term Parking Spaces
Number of spaces available for Amtrak passengers to park for the day only not overnight. Parking fees may apply.
- Accessible Payphones
- Accessible Platform
Accessible platform is a barrier-free path from the drop-off area outside the station to the station platform.
- Accessible Restrooms
- Accessible Ticket Office
- Accessible Waiting Room
- Accessible Water Fountain
- Baggage Storage
Baggage storage is an area where passengers may store their bags equivalent to 'left luggage' in Europe. A storage fee may apply.
- Bike Boxes
- Checked Baggage
- Dedicated Parking
- Enclosed Waiting Area
- Help With Luggage
- High Platform
A high platform is a platform at the level of the vestibule of the train with the exception of Superliners.
Self-service lockers are available in select stations for passenger baggage storage
- Long-term Parking Spaces
Number of spaces available for Amtrak passengers to park overnight. Parking fees may apply.
- Parking Attendant
- Pay Phones
- Shipping Boxes
- Ski Bags
- Wheelchair Lift
Wheelchair lift is a platform-mounted lift for loading passengers from low platforms onto trains that do not have onboard ramps.