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Examiner
  • David Jackson: Many old parts of Independence are still with us

  • This summer brings a hotbed of activity as local history organizations, including the Jackson County Historical Society, commemorate devastating Civil War events that took place here in 1863. Specifically, martial law was enforced by the Federal military under “Order No. 11.” See the society’s online calendar at jchs.org, or ordernumber11.org for more details.

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  • This summer brings a hotbed of activity as local history organizations, including the Jackson County Historical Society, commemorate devastating Civil War events that took place here in 1863. Specifically, martial law was enforced by the Federal military under “Order No. 11.” See the society’s online calendar at jchs.org, or ordernumber11.org for more details.
    What did Independence look like at the time of the Civil War? The earliest view available was when artist A. Ruger visited, ascended in a dirigible, and sketched the town in 1868, looking from the northeast to the southwest. His “Bird’s Eye View of Independence” has been reprinted by the Historical Society and is available for $10; order online or call me at 816-252-7454.
    In striking contrast to the present Independence public school system of quality schools, in 1868 only one, three-story school house was open, no doubt considered a fine building in those days.
    The Jackson County 1853 Courthouse in the middle of the Independence Square is easily visible (and a better image is highlighted in the corner of the artwork). Though it doesn’t look like today’s courthouse, which is much larger, remnants of the 1853 Courthouse remain preserved inside the current building (and, within the 1853 walls are nestled the original 1838 walls of the first, permanent, brick courthouse on the Square). When the building reopens later this summer, the society will publish a small booklet I’m researching and writing about the history of Jackson County’s courthouses at the county seat in Independence. Get ready to “wind the clock!”
    The buildings around the courthouse in the “Bird’s Eye View” show how the Square looked in 1868. The only building immediately around the Square to survive today is the 1859 Jackson County Jail (the Historical Society’s museum since 1959). In 2009, when the building turned 150 years old, the society published a comprehensive history that I researched and co-authored with Paul Kirkman; “pinch” your $10 souvenir edition at the 1859 Jail Museum.
    By 1868, one railroad had reached Independence, and a locomotive can be seen making its way east from Kansas City. And several roads leading in and out of town exist today as they did then. Most notable is Independence Avenue (U.S. 24) leading to Kansas City; the road east of town was called the “Independence-Lexington Road” for the towns it connected.
    Truman Road, an alley-way at points in 1868, was only a couple of blocks long (between Pleasant and Delaware). Eventually it was “cut” all the way to Kansas City and formerly had several names, including Van Horn Road (after the notable Missourian Robert Thompson Van Horn, whose country mansion once stood on the site of Van Horn High School); Spring Branch Road (portions of it east of town are still called that); and Blue Avenue (for the river it crossed west of the present-day Stone Arch Bridge).
    Page 2 of 2 - The other historic roadway visible in 1868 – and which portions of are still drivable today – is Independence-Westport Road, leading southwest directly to Westport, which until about 1854 was along the western border of the United States (today, State Line). Can you guess what road used to be called Rock Street? How about Harmony Street?
    Some buildings survive. Others don’t. And a few, especially a multitude of churches, have been replaced with newer structures often on the same lot. When you get your copy, see if you can find the above-noted buildings or sites, plus: the Lewis-Bingham-Waggoner estate (and adjacent mill); the 1827 Log Jackson County Courthouse (on its original lot); the Owens-McCoy House; Hiram Young’s the Weston’s and the McCurdy’s blacksmith shops; Mormon and Community of Christ sites; the Logan Swope Mansion; the Harry Truman home (former Wallace mansion); the McCauley mansion (Woodland College in 1869); the Truman Depot; Woodlawn Cemetery; and others?
    David W. Jackson is archives and education director of the Jackson County Historical Society.
     
     

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