The Jackson County Historical Society will provide visitors to the 1859 Jail & Marshal's Home Museum a slightly different look on their tours.
The 1859 Jail will reopen for tours Monday – as will the nearby Bingham-Waggoner Estate and Vaile Victorian Mansion in Independence – after the usual three-month post-holiday hiatus.
The Historical Society has added interpretive panels on both floors of the marshal's home and at the jail cells and has revamped the exhibit space in the rear of the structure.
Visitors also will get a glance, for a little while at least, of the work needed on the building. Some floor boards in the marshal's office need to be replaced – that room will be closed off temporarily – and some spots need plaster repair. The structure's northwest corner, on the left side if facing the building outside from 217 Main St., has sagged a few inches over the years due to settlement and needs to be reinforced. Some window frames also need to be replaced, though the limestone block jail cells are still in fine shape. Some history buffs might appreciate that one plaster failing in an office corner reveals the different colored bricks, a reminder of the small fire that guerrillas started when they fatally shot Marshal Henry Bugler in 1866 in an attempt to free two friends.
“When I was hired this had a lot of deferred maintenance,” said Historical Society Executive Director Caitlin Eckard. “We want to really take ownership of the building.
Thanks to a private foundation grant, Eckard said, “We have $75,000 to start. We're ready to put some money into this project.”
A sponsor-a-window drive might happen to help with restoration costs. Eckard said sometimes there is a big disconnect with people about the difficulty many times in making a seemingly simple repair to a historical structure.
“You can't have a 21st-century contractor doing historical preservation work,” she said. “That's why it's so expensive.”
The Historical Society has hired STRATA Architecture and Preservation for restoration work. In May, a preservationist will give a “restoration rebuild” tour, Eckard said.
One of the interpretive panels is outside the “Frank James cell” – or what might well have been James’ comparatively posh cell when he was actually behind bars in 1882 and not treated as a favored houseguest during his 112 days in custody.
“Now we'd call it protective custody,” Eckard said.
James was held while awaiting trial – he was acquitted – on a charge of murder stemming from a train robbery.
In the exhibit space, the Historical Society did plenty of rearranging – changing the flow, as Eckard put it, to make a more cohesive presentation about the jail and its significance at the time.
“Before it was sporadic and didn't really tell a story; now we're telling a story of this building,” she said. “It's a lot more purposeful.”
One corner of the exhibit space will house a pair of temporary exhibits this year. The first, lasting through June 9, is derived from the master’s degree project by Leah Palmer of the National Frontier Trails Museum – “Hunting Freedom: The Many Paths to Emancipation in Civil War Missouri.”
After that, the Historical Society will have a display of wedding dresses of older-style wedding dresses. While that has nothing to do with the jail, Eckard says, the group has accumulated a large collection of donated textiles over the years and doesn’t have exhibit space otherwise.
With the Truman Library & Museum scheduled to close this spring for a year-long renovation, Eckard said she's hoping the 1859 Jail can pick up a few extra visitors hoping to get their history fix. Visitor tours are self-guided (with the aid of the pamphlet), though the group does have guides for school field trips.
“We're trying to add guided tours,” she said. “The volunteers are open to that idea. We already have the script.”
If you go:
The 1859 Jail and Marshal's Home & Museum, Bingham-Waggoner Estate and Vaile Victorian Mansion in Independence all reopen Monday for tours.
Visiting hours at all three sites are 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday through Saturday and 1 to 4 p.m. Sunday. The 1859 Jail is at 217 Main St. on the Square, the Bingham-Waggoner is at 313 Pacific Ave., across the street from the National Frontier Trails Museum, and the Vaile Mansion is at 1500 Liberty St., about a half-mile north of the Square.
Admission to all sites is $6 for adults, $5 for seniors and $3 for students.