By Jeff Fox
At 2 p.m. this afternoon, the bell at the top of the historic Jackson County Courthouse – the Truman Courthouse – rang out once again as dignitaries and hundreds of residents gathered for a rededication of the building.
“So today we bring this great building back to life,” said County Executive Mike Sanders.
The ceremony was held 80 years, to the hour, from the 1933 rededication of the building after a renovation overseen by County Presiding Judge Harry Truman. The building dates to 1836 and had had several renovations and additions over the years until it got its 1933 look.
Sanders noted that Truman said at the 1933 ceremony that the work was done on time and under budget and added that “we did it for the citizens of Jackson County, once again, on time and on budget.”
The building, after extensive renovation outside and then inside during the last four and a half years, has been restored to the look and much of the feel of its 1933 incarnation.
“It really has an understated or simple beauty,” Sanders said.
It now houses some county offices, a city of Independence tourism center, the Jackson County Historical Society and the new Jackson County Museum of Art, with more than two dozen paintings by George Caleb Bingham. The Truman Courtroom and the Brady Courtroom upstairs remain as well. The building was packed with visitors after the ceremony and, after a week of moving into new offices, opens for business Sept. 16.
“For me,” Sanders said, “this exceeds my expectations for what we thought could get done. ... And you know what, it’s got that wow factor.”
Officials pointed to the central role the building has in the life of the Square.
“I can’t tell you how much this is going to do to pull the Square together,” Independence Mayor Don Reimal said.
Also on hand Saturday was Thelma Bush Haralson, a lifelong Independence resident who was at the 1933 rededication.
“I remember I was about 11 or 12,” she said.
Accounts of that day say the Square was packed with thousands of people, also a hot late summer day in the 90s.
“People danced out in the middle of Square,” she said, “and I was one of them.”
There was much praise of Truman himself and of how his 10 years in county government, working in the courthouse, taught him lessons about policy and politics that he carried to the U.S. Senate and the White House.
“He was able to do what needed to be done” in each office he held, said U.S. Sen. Roy Blunt. “That’s the sign of a public servant.”
Clifton Truman Daniel, grandson of the president, said at a fundraising gala for the Historical Society on Friday night that he’s sure his grandfather would have appreciated not only the restored building but the community’s sense of history.
“So I think if he was here he would be more than proud to work here again,” Daniel said.
Everyone seems to have a courthouse story or two. Here’s the one former Congressman Ike Skelton shared Saturday.
It was the night before Election Day in 1976. Congressman William Randall was retiring and Skelton, a Democrat was running against Mayor Richard King, a Republican and mayor of Independence, to replace him.
That’s the year the Truman statue on the east side of the courthouse was dedicated, and that November night Republicans held a rally near it.
Bob Dole, the Republican U.S. senator from Kansas and running mate that fall of President Gerald Ford, spoke. Looking out over the signs held by ralliers, he exhorted his fellow Republicans.
You have to elect Kit Bond as governor, he said. And John Danforth to the Senate, he said. And John Ashcroft as attorney general, ticking off Republicans up and down the ballot.
But Skelton had gotten some of his supporters into the crowd with signs of their own.
Dole looked into the crowd and went on.
“You have to elect Ike Skelton to the House of Representatives.”
“It made my day,” Skelton said.
And he won.
“It did the trick,” he said. “I carried Jackson County as well as Independence.”