On Thursday, the Jackson County Historical Society held its 55th annual meeting, dinner and awards program. The gala was held at Unity Inn in Unity Village. The highlight of the fundraising event was an annual awards program honoring those who have made significant efforts in preserving and promoting Jackson County history.

Its Preserving Jackson County’s Iconic Structures Award went to Unity School of Christianity for its renovation and adaptive reuse of the Unity Village Tower. In 1886, Charles and Myrtle Fillmore attended “New Thought” classes and became devoted students of philosophy and religion.

In 1889, Charles left his real estate business (today’s Kansas City streets “Myrtle,” “Lowell,” and “Norton,” were named by him after his wife, son and brother respectively), to focus entirely on publishing a new periodical, Modern Thought.

The Fillmores organized a prayer group in 1890 that became “Silent Unity” and in 1891 published the first edition of Unity magazine. The Unity work was located at Ninth and Tracy Avenue in downtown Kansas City (the buildings survive today). Unity is also publisher of the Daily Word devotional.

In 1929, Unity Tower and the original Silent Unity building (today, the education building) were completed at Unity Farm. A formal program for training ministers began in 1931, the same year Myrtle Fillmore died. Charles Fillmore died in 1948; the following year, all Unity operations were relocated to Unity Farm. The Farm was renamed and incorporated as Unity Village in 1953.

The 165-foot tower contains a 100,000-gallon water tank that provides fresh water; it also houses a carillon chiming music at different times of the day. In 1989, it was added to the National Register of Historic Places. The building was shuttered for almost a decade due to falling debris from the exterior surface and infrastructure deterioration.

Restoration work was seeded by a $3 million gift received in 2011 from anonymous donors. Today, the tower is home of the Awaken Whole Life Center, a full service, spiritual spa with services nurturing mind, body and spirit. More may be found at unity.org.

Two Society volunteers were recognized as Volunteers of the Year: Frances Gabbard and Gail Fines, both Independence residents.

The society’s Historical Book of the Year Award went to Ralph A. Monaco, II, for his, Scattered to the Four Winds: General Order No. 11 and Martial Law in Jackson County, Missouri, 1863. Last summer’s Historical Perspective column articulated the devastating Civil War-era edict that evicted civilians – regardless of their loyalty to the Union – from Jackson County (and Cass, Bates and Vernon Counties to the south) in August 1863. It was the first time in U.S. history that we could find where martial law was instated on American soil…and it happened here in Jackson County in 1863. Monaco’s book is available for sale at jchs.org.

The society commemorated the 150th anniversary of Order No. 11 last summer with a variety of events concluding in a day-long event and evening candlelight tour showcasing vignettes from real-life events when Jackson Countians were under military law. One memorable scene was peeking in on artist George Caleb Bingham in his studio as he was painting his famous “Martial Law,” or “Order No. 11,” painting!

The society’s partner in this “big event” was the Rice Tremonti Home in Raytown. For their hospitality and collaboration, the society bestowed the Friends of the Rice Tremonti Home with its Bringing Living History to Life Award.

Two donations to the society in 2013 related to Order No. 11. One was an original Bingham engraving of his aforementioned painting; the other was a walnut armoire that survived Order No. 11 when the Hambright home was set ablaze near Sibley.

David W. Jackson is archives and education director of the Jackson County Historical Society.