(a 13 minute read)

Historical Independence Missouri, is home to the Harry S. Truman Library, the Truman National Historic Site, and the National Frontier Trails Museum.

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I was a guest of Visit KC, but all thoughts and opinions are my own.

Historical Independence Missouri

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Historical Independence Missouri, was the final destination on my week-long Kansas-Missouri road trip. It had taken me from Wichita to Council Grove, Topeka, and Kansas City, and I loved ending my journey on a high note!

Demographically, Independence is the fifth-largest city in the state of Missouri, but its location a mere ten miles from downtown Kansas City places it within the greater metro area.

I was excited to spend a day exploring historical sites connected to the city’s role during a pivotal period of American history and also becoming better acquainted with its preeminent native son.

During the era of Westward Expansion, Independence was the most frequent point of departure for explorers, traders, and settlers headed out on the frontier trails.

Decades later, the “Queen City of the Trails” would become the hometown of President Harry S. Truman.

Harry S. Truman Library & Museum

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This was my first visit to a Presidential Library, and although I did not tour the “library” itself, I experienced the museum fully.

As a history buff and former public educator, I was acquainted with President Harry S. Truman and some of the highlights of his career, but my encounter with the man behind the museum opened my eyes to his character, his challenges, his courage, and I left with a newfound admiration for the leadership qualities of our 33rd president.

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Upon entering the Harry S. Truman Library and Museum, visitors are greeted by a mural entitled “Independence and the Opening of the West.” The mural by Missouri painter and personal Truman friend Thomas Hart Benton depicts key historical events from 1817-1847.

The Presidential Years (Main Level)

The main level of the Truman Museum covers his presidential years from 1945-1953.

Truman had only served as vice-president for 82 days when President Franklin D. Roosevelt died unexpectedly. His sudden ascent to the presidency required that Truman immediately assume the role of Commander in Chief during the closing days of World War II.

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One of the most fascinating exhibits on the main level is the replica of the Oval Office as it appeared during President Truman’s second term in 1950.

President Truman’s original Oval Office desk sign stating, “The BUCK STOPS here!” has been on display at the museum since 1957. The reverse of the sign states “I’m from MISSOURI.” The quotes were a powerful reminder to the president, while holding the highest office in the land, that his roots were humble.

Replica desk signs sell for $60 in the museum store.

Two of the most significant documents on display are Truman’s handwritten note authorizing employment of the atomic bomb and a revised statement recognizing the formation of the new state of Israel.

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A collection of 594 miniature airplanes suspended from the ceiling is a powerful visual representation of the aircraft employed daily in the delivery of supplies during the Berlin Airlift.

Contrasting exhibits portray the post-war economic boom that raised the American standard of living and the simultaneous Cold War fears of nuclear attack, spies, and communism.

The Upset of the Century exhibit includes a map of Truman’s 1948 whistlestop reelection campaign and a model of the Ferdinand Magellan train car carrying the President, First Lady Bess, and daughter Margaret.

The Upset of the Century exhibit also features a Norman Rockwell painting entitled “The Squabble,” depicting a breakfast table argument between a husband and wife over the 1948 presidential election.

A display case holds a copy of the Chicago Daily Tribune newspaper with the premature headline proclaiming “Dewey Defeats Truman.”

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A 1948 Presidential Election Results map shows how Truman handily won both the electoral and popular votes, even though he lost four southern states to Strom Thurmond’s States’ Rights (Dixiecrat) party that had “seceded” from the Democratic party in response to Truman’s support for African American civil rights.

Having read the book Dear Senator: A Memoir by the Daughter of Strom Thurmond, the ironies of a white Baptist segregationist politician who in his early-twenties fathered a child with a black teenager intrigue me.

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Truman established the President’s Committee on Civil Rights in 1946, and following their report he pursued a strong agenda by issuing executive orders to desegregate federal agencies and the armed forces, and by appointing Supreme Court justices who supported civil rights.

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One of the most moving displays in the Presidential Years gallery is a letter and Purple Heart from a grieving father who lost his son in the Korean War. After President Truman’s death in 1972, staff members found the letter and medal in his office desk at the Truman Library.

Courtyard (Main Level)

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The Truman Presidential Library courtyard is the final resting place of Harry and Bess Truman, as well as their daughter Margaret and her husband E. Clifton Daniel.

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Through a courtyard gallery window, visitors can view the office President Truman used daily between 1957 and 1966.

The courtyard opens to the Legacy Gallery, a room appointed with a bronze life-sized statue of President Truman and etched glass panels detailing his legacy.

His Life and Times (Lower Level)

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The lower level of the Truman Presidential Library and Museum explores the personal side of the president and his family.

As a classic car fan, I especially enjoyed the Truman vehicles on display. And no, you are not seeing double. As a devoted Chrysler man, Truman purchased two 1941 Chryslers, a coupe for himself and a sedan for Mrs. Truman, upon his 1940 senatorial reelection. Also on display is a 1950 Lincoln Cosmopolitan limousine from a fleet of cars leased to the government by Ford Motor Company.

China, crystal, and silverware from a 1952 White House state dinner service is on display, as well as a miniature architectural model of the Truman Family home.

A lower gallery exhibit details the 1950 White House assassination attempt on President Truman and concludes with his return to civilian life.

The Truman Library is open daily at varying hours, and all admission fees are $8 or less.

Passport to the Presidential Libraries

As an avid fan of National Parks Passports, I was pleasantly surprised to learn that there is also a Passport to Presidential Libraries. The booklet retails for $5 and is available for purchase at any of the 13 Presidential Library stores. The Truman Library is my first stamp, and here’s hoping the Jimmy Carter Library will be my next, not just because he is my personal hero, but because I typically drive through Atlanta several times per year.

UPDATE: Following publication of this post, I visited the Jimmy Carter Library without my Passport to Presidential Libraries. The staff would not allow stamping a slip of paper to glue in later like I typically do with my National Parks Passport. Fortunately, when I passed through Atlanta again, I was able to stop by the library with my passport to get my stamp.

The Barack Obama Presidential Center is slated for construction in Jackson Park on Chicago’s South Side with completion projected for 2020-2021.

Harry S. Truman National Historic Site

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The Harry S. Truman National Historic Site is part of the greater Harry S. Truman National Historic Landmark District, the first to be established around a person rather than an event. The site includes the Truman Home, the Noland Home, Truman Family Farm, and other significant locations.

When planning a visit to historical Independence Missouri, it is best to begin at the Truman NHS Visitor Center at 223 N. Main St., especially if you plan to purchase $5 tickets for Truman Home tours.

Truman Home

The 1867 Gates-Wallace Home became the Truman Family home when Harry married Bess Wallace in 1919 and they took up residence there. It would be Harry’s home until his death in 1972. Upon Bess’ death in 1982, the home was donated to the National Park Service.

The park service does not allow photographs inside the house, but I can tell you the home appears much in the way it looked while the Trumans lived there. Although the home is a stately Victorian structure, the interior spaces belie the simplicity and frugality of the Truman’s daily lives.

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The outbuilding garage houses Truman’s last vehicle, a 1972 Chrysler Newport.

Noland Home

The Noland Home, located directly across the street from the Truman Home, belonged to Harry’s two favorite cousins Nellie and Ethel. While visiting with the Nolands, young Harry reconnected with his childhood sweetheart Bess Wallace after returning a cake plate and sparking a 9-year courtship.

Today the Noland Home is a museum devoted to the relationship between Harry and Bess both before and after the White House years.

Truman Historic Walking Trail

In the years following his presidency, “Mr. Citizen” would take morning walks before breakfast to stay in shape. The Truman Historic Walking Trail is a self-guided tour that features 43 sites connected to America’s 33rd president.

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The 1933 Jackson County Courthouse, also known as the Truman Courthouse, is stop #4 along the walking route. Harry Truman oversaw the construction of this building during his tenure as presiding judge.

Several Truman cell phone audio tours are available from the National Park Service by dialing (585) 672-2611.

Additional online historic walking tours and downloadable visitor guides are available online at the Visit Independence website.

Other Truman Sites

The Truman Family Farm, where Harry spent 14 years during his youth, is located 19 miles south of Indpendence in Grandview. The home is not currently open for tours, but visitors are free to walk the grounds.

A 100-mile drive beyond Grandview will carry you to the Harry S. Truman Birthplace State Historic Site in Lamar.

Without question, the Show Me State has lovingly preserved the memory and legacy of its Favorite Son.

National Historic Trails

The National Park Service has established 11 scenic trails, 19 historic trails, and more than 1,200 recreational trails.

Five of the national historic trails are associated with Independence, Missouri.

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The Lewis & Clark National Historic Trail commemorates the 3,700-mile epic expedition of the “Corps of Discovery” from Illinois to Oregon from 1804 to 1806.

The Santa Fe National Historic Trail was a 19th-century transportation and trade route beginning in 1821 that connected Independence with Santa Fe, New Mexico. Be sure to check out our coverage of Santa Fe Trail sites in Council Grove, Kansas.

The Oregon National Historic Trail was a wagon migration route that carried settlers from Independence to Oregon City, Oregon. The first migrant wagon train departed in 1836, but with ever-increasing trail improvements, the route reached its peak traffic between 1846 and 1869.

The various historic trails overlapped each other on certain segments of the routes. Such was the case of the California National Historic Trail, which branched from the Oregon Trail and became more popular with the California Gold Rush in 1849.

The National Frontier Trails Museum recognizes the Mormon Pioneer National Historic Trail because it connects to sections of other historic trails, even though the route did not pass through Independence. Between 1846 and 1869 Mormons traveled from points east to Salt Lake City, Utah to escape religious persecution.

National Frontier Trails Museum

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Historical Independence Missouri, was a trading post where westbound travelers stocked their wagons with supplies, and it became the key “jumping off point” for the Santa Fe, Oregon, and California Trails. The National Frontier Trail Museum preserves the history of westward migration on the overland trails that carried thousands of pioneers across largely uncharted territory during the opening of the West.

The museum features an award-winning film, artifacts, interactive exhibits, pioneer narratives, and houses the largest public research library on the subject of historic overland trails.

The museum is open daily at varying hours and all admission fees are $6 or less.

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Situated on the Frontier Trails Museum grounds, the 1879 Chicago & Alton Railroad Depot is believed to be the only completely restored two-story depot in Missouri. The waiting room, baggage room, and stationmaster’s residence have been furnished the way they appeared in the late 1800s.

The depot is open to the public daily (except Tuesdays) April through October.

Frontier Trails Wagon Ruts

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A few swales, grass-covered wagon ruts, dating to the 1800s have survived urban development in Independence.

The swales are located on the property of the Bingham-Waggoner Estate directly across the street from the Frontier Trails Museum. A 1/3-mile paved pathway encircles the swales and provides free access with interpretive signs for visitors to the site.

Frontier Trail Publications

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While in town, I picked up a couple of brochures with maps and listings of Kansas City and Independence frontier trail sites. I could not locate these guides online, and I suspect they may be older or outdated publications. Even so, they contain valuable information and may still be available from some of the local agencies in historical Independence Missouri.

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The ©2005 National Historic Trails Auto Tour Route Interpretive Guide (PDF) is available for download and printing.

Click here for Independence Missouri lodging options on TripAdvisor!

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Historical Independence, Missouri, is home to the Harry S. Truman Library, the Truman National Historic Site, and the National Frontier Trails Museum.

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Howard Blount is founder and editor of the travel web site Backroad Planet. He has traveled internationally since boyhood and lived abroad in Mexico, Chile, and Paraguay. Now his passion is navigating the roads-less-traveled of this amazing planet in search of anything rare and remote. On the stuffy side, “Mr. Blount” has been a writer, consultant, and published author with the likes of Simon & Schuster and McGraw-Hill. Recently retired from a 35-year career as a middle school teacher, Howard enjoys spending his time on anything that includes mountains, waterfalls, dachshunds, gospel choirs, books, restored classic movies on Blu-ray, HDTV, autumn, sandhill cranes, hot springs, Florida springs, rain and other gloomy weather, log cabins, cracker shacks, abandoned sites, unearthed history, genealogy, museums, documentaries, To Kill a Mockingbird, scenic and historical sites, castles, cathedrals, the Civil War, cold sheets, National and State Park Passports, quotes, the Rambos, Dionne Warwick, Steely Dan, Doobies, Diet Pepsi, Fish City Grill, anything Apple, all things British, Jesus, and lists. And on a random note, Howard is a fourth cousin once removed to Truman Capote.