The North Independence Branch of the Mid-Continent Public Library will reopen soon. In addition to phenomenal renovations, they will debut praiseworthy exhibits to engage patrons in a better understanding and appreciation of their social history. What does that mean?

The North Independence Branch of the Mid-Continent Public Library will reopen soon. In addition to phenomenal renovations, they will debut praiseworthy exhibits to engage patrons in a better understanding and appreciation of their social history. What does that mean?

Simply put, it is an experience that highlights the contributions of individual input, invention, initiation, and innovation that has shaped Independence, Mo., into the diverse community that it is today. It is a showcase of the hard work and industry of everyday Independence citizens to make our community a better place. It’s about sharing your own, personal history. Think of specific people, businesses and industries whose stories could be explored, as we recount an outline of our history:

In the early days, settlers forged their way into the wilderness of western Missouri, the area we now call home in Independence, Jackson County, Missouri. Emigrants built cabins from timbers hewn on the site where the mighty trees once stood. Some settlers traded manufactured items (beads, woven goods, etc.) with Native Americans, who provided pelts, skins and furs. Then, there was the blue prairie to tackle, and plowing it for farmland was a major feat.

More and more people continued to flock to Independence near the western frontier of the United States. A multitude of commercial services and industries sprang up as society developed.

Grist mills along the Little Blue River made flour and other goods. Blacksmith shops and livery stables made sure wagons and other rudimentary mechanics performed as expected. The Mormons established a successful printing operation on Independence Square. Mercantile stores outfitted settlers and travelers alike. Imagine these modest shops as the Wal-Mart of their day.

In Jackson County, we cannot discount the contributions of African-American slaves whose labors aided thriving farm production. Independence was the home of Missouri’s largest plantation slave owner, Jabez Smith, who owned thousands of acres and hundreds of slaves.

As throngs of people migrated through Independence on their way west on either the Santa Fe, Oregon or California Trails – stopping here only for a short while each spring – local residents capitalized on the influx of trade. Independence Square was a hubbub of activity that must have been a sight to see.

When towns further west began to develop and siphon attention from Independence, we did not sit idly back. Independence entrepreneurs established the first railroad west of the Mississippi. It ran from the Missouri River at Wayne City Landing to the Independence Square. Soon, Independence was a major stop for several railroads that passed through its strategic location between the east and west. Many years later, hometown hero Harry S. Truman made his Whistle Stop Tour famous and we have the Missouri Pacific Depot (now Truman Depot) to boast.

Independence joined the industrial revolution at the turn of the 20th century. As society moved from wood for fuel to coal and oil, the Independence area established one of the only refineries in the region, and it functioned during a critical time during this energy transition. Any number of heavy industries operated in the Big Blue Valley between Independence and Kansas City. Many Independence residents made their livelihood in factories and mills. Today, on the verge of a renewable energy revolution, we wonder how Independence will be involved in these emerging technologies.

A shift from industry to service and retail seems to have dominated our community in the last generation or two. Just look at how Independence Square, for example, has transformed in this latest era of the Information Age. Gone are the general stores and blacksmith shops. Even car dealerships have come and gone. Specialized boutique shopping, dedicated business services, entertainment, and dining are all the rage. And, like never before, Independence is growing to the south and east with new residential and retail development we call “progress.”

How might your contributions, or those of your family and ancestor be represented for posterity? With the opening of the library and its new, ongoing exhibits, this could be the best time for you to share your stories with others. Contact us if you have documents, photographs and/or stories to donate!