The Truman Home, which draws tens of thousands of people to Independence annually, could be in for changes that would affect the visitor experience.
The National Park Service, which runs the Harry S. Truman National Historic Site, is working to handle a strong wave of visitors, says it needs resources to better care for Truman artifacts, says it wants to be more visible in the community and recruit more help – and says it needs a new space for its offices and visitors center.
“We’d like to be more active in the community. … And that’s going to take volunteers,” said Carol Dage, superintendent of the site.
To that end, advocates are on their way to forming a non-profit group to help the Park Service and do some of the things the federal government cannot do, such as raise private money and publicly advocate on behalf of the home. (The Truman Library Institute plays a role close to that for Truman Library.) The new group seems likely to be called the Friends of the Truman Home.
“Certainly the dollars are part of it, but there’s so much more that we can do,” Doug Richardson, chief of interpretation, said last week at the group’s second informal meeting.
One example: The Park Service has a good deal of Truman artifacts, including everything that was in the house when Bess Truman died in 1982.
“ … we have artifacts that need conservation work, and they need care,” Dage said.
Here’s what a visitor currently experiences. The first stop is at the Park Service’s modest space in the old fire station at 223 N. Main St. on the Square. Get your ticket – $7 for ages 16 and older, free for 15 and younger – and an assigned time. Half-hour guided tours are given eight to a group to limit the impact to the home. (Dage says the home itself is in good shape.)
Then go to the home, a few blocks west at 219 N. Delaware. If you have a few minutes to wait, you might go into the Noland House across the street. That house is closely connected to Harry and Bess Truman’s story, and the Park Service refurbished it several years ago. You can get out of the sun or rain, there is seating, and there are restrooms, in addition to some displays about the Trumans.
The Park Service would like to do more with the front end of that experience – the tickets and visitor orientation – and is looking for a new space, though there is no hard and fast timeline so far.
The city owns the building on Main Street, and there’s a movement to use that space for a firefighters museum. That would be done with private money, not city money.
“The firefighters want that for a museum, so we’re going to have to find a new home,” Dage said. The Park Service would like be able to tell more of the Truman story, and it would like more office space.
Nina Anders, who owns Scandinavia Place on the Square, is on the Truman Public Service Award committee and led much of last week’s friends group discussion, said her long-term hope is that everyone who comes to Independence to visit the Truman Home in fact gets to do so.
Sometimes in the summer, slots fill up.
“I hate to see that,” Anders said.
The Park Service gives half-hour guided tours, 16 a day. There was a rush of visitors last year when the Park Service made changes to its senior pass program.
In its first decade open to the public, starting in 1984, the home drew more than 100,000 visitors a year, according to the Park Service. Then it fell to 60,000-plus for half a dozen years, then 40,000-plus for another half dozen. Then attendance settled into a relatively steady range, averaging a little more than 30,000 in the 10 years through 2016.
Then last year came – 45,435.
“It was a tough, tough year,” Dage said.
The Truman Home and the other homes on its grounds are only part of the Truman Historic Site.
Eventually the Park Service would like to reopen the Truman Farm Home, where the house in which Truman lived from 1906 to 1917 is in need of repair. All that’s available to visitors now is an auto tour.
Members of the new group point out that the Grandview community, not just Independence, will need to be brought into this conversation.
But overall, Dage said, the formation of a friends group is needed.
“It’s time,” she said. “The staff – we’re ready.”