My friend Bill McBride called and was talking about Spring Street in Independence and how it got its name. He suggested that I write a story about how fortunate our forefathers were to have had so many great freshwater springs in our neighborhood. The fact is, the springs were the reason the town was built here in the first place – well that, and the fact we were only three miles from the Wayne City Landing on the Missouri River.

Many cities and towns across Missouri were located around fresh water springs, the staff of life on the early frontier. Blue Springs, Excelsior Springs and Independence are prime examples. Before the Americans settled in our neighborhood, the French fur traders referred to this area as the “Blue Country," because of the blue haze that lingers across the hills and valleys. The French were the ones that named the Big Blue and Little Blue Rivers. It was that term that was also used in the naming of Blue Springs.

The Independence area was known as Big Spring long before white man came along and built a city around the spring and named it Independence. An old Indian trace crossed Jackson County, passing by the Big Spring and many Native Americans camped around it. The spring was located near Noland and Truman roads. A French merchant even had a makeshift store near the spring where he traded trinkets with the Indians for their furs and buffalo robes.

The Big Spring was just one of about 16 major fresh water springs that bubbled up out of the ground around the present-day Independence Square. So you might ask, what happened to all of those springs? It is my understanding that so many wells have been sunk across the Midwest throughout the years that the water table has actually been lowered. Some of those 16 springs still produce water to some extent, but it is not the clear fresh drinkable water that our forefathers experienced. It is what we call surface run-off and is highly polluted. Many years ago the city either capped them or ran them off into culverts. I read somewhere that the Blue River back in those days was a half a mile wide as it passed through Jackson County. A swollen Blue River during wet weather created a hardship for the wagon trains leaving Independence heading out the Santa Fe Trail.

The Spring Street that Bill McBride referred t, two blocks west of the courthouse square, ran from one spring on the south end of town to another spring on the north end. The spring on the north end was located at the bottom of the hill of North Spring and Bess Truman Parkway at College. Brian and Sharon Snyder who own the historic Owens-McCoy House up on West Farmer say that during wet weather that spring is still quite active and was the headwaters for Mill Creek, which got its name from a grain mill that used to be along the creek. The creek water could have easily been used to power the mill; however they utilized a tread mill and the old carrot trick, an old mule walked the tread mill to keep the mill stones grinding.

The spring on the south end of Spring Street was located behind where the National Frontier Trails Museum is today – the old Waggoner Gates Milling Company. That particular spring flowed out around a bunch of flat limestone outcropping, which made a great place to water the old mule, and a perfect place for the pioneer crowd to wash out their dirty clothes. Can’t you just imagine how dirty those clothes must have gotten after a few days aboard a dusty covered wagon crossing Missouri?

Reference: “Jackson County Pioneers” by Pearl Wilcox.

• Ted W. Stillwell is available to speak before any club, church, civic, senior, or school groups.

To reach Ted W. Stillwell, send an email to or call him at 816-252-9909.