It was Thomas Wolfe who said that you can't go home again. My wife and I are about to test that proposition. Two days ago, we moved into the house that I grew up in, a house on Waldo Avenue that has been in the family for over 67 years.
I spent the first 29 years of my life in the house while attending law school and establishing my law practice. I did not move far away as I renovated the Bryant School kindergarten on the corner of College and Union; I attended kindergarten in the same house. In 1986, I literally moved across my neighbor's backyard two doors to the south to a home previously owned for over 40 years by Roy and Helen Lienau. I have lived on the same block my entire life.
I obviously love my neighborhood. There is none other like it. The 33rd president of the United States lived there also while he attended my alma mater, William Chrisman (formerly Independence High School). His boyhood home is a half block away now occupied by my nephew, his wife and their four children. My nephew’s twin daughters and their cousin just began kindergarten at Bryant, thus being the third generation to attend school there.
We sold our home on Union to my niece, who moves in with her four boys, which includes her husband; she grew up two houses to the south of this home, so she is coming home too. My sister and her husband live nearby on Delaware Street so they could be close to her seven grandchildren. Our family obviously loves the old neighborhood. It is once again full of young families.
There is much history in our neighborhood that has little to do with the Truman legacy. As I was packing last week, I found the title abstract for the house on Union. Prior to the advent of title insurance, title companies prepared abstracts laying out the history of the property to assure owners of uninterrupted ownership.
Our abstract begins in 1827, six short years after Missouri became a state. Congress enacted legislation that year setting the property aside for future use as a “seminary for learning.” The proposed educational use did not occur for several years. Instead, the property was initially conveyed to Samuel Owens and his wife, Frances, in 1833 by the state of Missouri. Owens was thus the first owner of the property.
According to an affidavit signed by a man named James Peacock, Samuel Owens served in the Army and was killed at the Battle of the Sacramento River in the Mexican-American war in 1847; Peacock claimed he saw him get killed. Major Owens was leading a group of cavalry men in a charge when he was killed. He is buried in Woodlawn Cemetery on Noland Road. He and his wife Frances had five children.
One of the children, Maria, married a man named John Harper, who was indicted for murder and allegedly used their interest in the property as collateral for bail by giving a deed to Maria’s mother. Apparently, Maria did not approve of this transaction as there is a document in the abstract in which Maria states that the deed made by her husband was made without her consent and “without my wish.” Maria claimed that the deed her husband gave was extorted from him when he was in distress. This occurred the year after Maria’s father was killed in Mexico. There may have been some bad blood in the Owens family.
Subsequently, the property was conveyed to Woodland College, which was incorporated in 1869. The charter for the college is in the abstract. Thus, the educational use that was contemplated by Congress in 1827 became reality with the construction of the college. College Street on the north side of the property bears witness to the college once located there. Bricks from the buildings can still be found buried throughout the block.
In an oral history from 1965, Mary Ethel Noland, a first cousin of the president, describes the school, a girls’ college, at the corner of Union Street and Waldo Avenue. Ms. Noland also describes a tennis court on the college grounds where Bess used to play tennis. Bess was an excellent tennis player and “was the kind of girl that the boys liked.” Young Harry was one of them. They all liked to congregate at the tennis court and had lots of picnics there. My father built another tennis court nearby in the 1960s, which enabled two of my sisters to play college tennis. Teenagers congregated there again.
President Truman later described his time in the neighborhood. He said there were many boys and girls in the neighborhood including Phog Allen, the famous basketball coach at the University of Kansas, who lived on Union Street. Dr. Allen began his coaching career at William Chrisman. One of Truman’s close friends was Paul Bryant, the son of Professor George Bryant, who ran the college.
In 1883, George Bryant acquired seven acres from the college that were later subdivided in 1910 by the city of Independence as Forest Place. The house we lived in on Union Street is Lot 4 and the south half of Lot 3 of Forest Place.
The house on Union has only been owned by three families in the last 100 years: the Paxtons, Lienaus and Buckleys. The house was built in 1915. There was a restriction placed on the property at that time that required that at least $2,500 be spent on the construction of the house. Money well spent 100 years ago.
The abstract is a historical document that I will pass onto my niece as the next two generations continue to make history in the Bryant neighborhood. Maybe you really can go home again.
Bob Buckley is an attorney in Independence, www.wagblaw.com. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.