May is Historic Preservation Month in the United States. For many years, the city of Independence Heritage Commission has taken the mantle to celebrate Historic Preservation Month. The commission is a nine-member body appointed by the City Council to oversee the preservation, protection and enhancement of our city’s historic resources.
Guided by this mandate, the commission continually strives to foster and encourage preservation, conservation, restoration, and rehabilitation of buildings within neighborhoods and commercial districts throughout Independence.
In 2001, the Heritage Commission developed an annual awards program to recognize challenges and successes of preserving Independence’s rich heritage. These awards are intended to recognize the efforts of individuals, organizations and projects that display an exemplary commitment to historic preservation in Independence.
In 2002, these awards were named “The W. Z. Hickman Awards for Historic Preservation,” in honor of the pioneering efforts of Independence’s early, leading historic preservationist. In addition to being considered an authority on matters of local history, William Zere Hickman (1845-1921) also organized the “Old Plainsmen’s Association”
in 1909, which assisted the efforts of the Daughters of the American Revolution in marking the original path of the Santa Fe Trail through our area. In 1916, Hickman led a citywide movement to save the 1827 Log Jackson County Courthouse and relocate it to its present location on Kansas Avenue just off the Square.
And, in 1920, he authored “The History of Jackson County,” an invaluable chronicle of local history. What an example!
A proclamation will be made in honor of Historic Preservation Month at the May 5 City Council meeting (6 p.m.), where the 2014 Hickman Awards will be presented. Past year’s Hickman Award winners are listed on the commission’s webpage.
The commission also plans activities throughout May. Mark your calendars and take advantage of these programs (more information on the HistorE-Calendar at jchs.org):
• Four lunch-and-learns at noon on Wednesdays will be held at the Truman Memorial Building: May 7 (Practical Preservation: caring and protecting family heirlooms); May 14 and 21 (Civil War Sesquicentennial celebrations); and May 28 (Independence’s African American Heritage).
• A Saturday lecture from 1 p.m. to 2 p.m. in the Brady Courtroom (second floor, Jackson County’s Historic Truman Courthouse) on May 31 will re-live the mysterious 1909 deaths and illnesses that took place in the Swope mansion in Independence, as presented by Giles Fowler in his book, “Deaths on Pleasant Street: The Ghastly Enigma of Colonel Swope and Doctor Hyde.”
• Events at the National Frontier Trails Museum and Chicago Alton Depot are on May 3 (National Train Day); May 16 (Museum redevelopment plans unveiled); and May 17 (outdoor fur trader and trail scout rendezvous encampment). Call 816-325-7575 for details. There’s a kid’s history “Walk and Draw” event at the National Park Service’s Visitor’s Center on May 17.
And, two Saturday “Talkin Truman” programs at the Harry S. Truman Library and Museum from 11 a.m. to noon include: May 10, in honor of Truman’s 130th Birthday, David W. Jackson presents, “Winding the Clock on Independence Square: Jackson County’s Historic Truman Courthouse”); and, 11-Noon on May 17, Steve Sitton presents, “Thomas Hart Benton’s 125th Birthday: His Life and Murals.”
Regardless of how involved you care to partake, consider supporting the local nonprofit organizations like the Jackson County Historical Society; Friends of the Bingham-Waggoner Estate; Vaile Victorian Society; Civil War Roundtable of Western Missouri; or, Friends of the National Frontier Trails Museum and/or Chicago and Alton Depot. These groups do the “grunt work” to save the past, and they can surely use your help, be it time, talent, or tithe.
David W. Jackson is archives and education director of the Jackson County Historical Society.