The Bingham-Waggoner Historical Society and the city of Independence are collaborating June 8 to show how the city and community came together in 1979 to purchase the 8,000 square-foot mansion at 313 W. Pacific Ave., thus saving the three-story iconic structure from demolition.
To celebrate the 40th anniversary of this outstanding achievement, the former estate of Missouri artist George Caleb Bingham and later the residence of the William H. Waggoner family is opening its doors from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. June 8 for free public tours of the 26-room, three-story mansion built in 1855 along the route of the Santa Fe Trail.
But that's not all. In conjunction with the open house, the Jackson County Historical Society is participating in the anniversary celebration from 1 p.m. to 4 p.m. June 8 with free tours of the Jackson County Courthouse, focusing on the 20 original Bingham paintings displayed in the Jackson County Art Museum. Tour guides are Rachel Cozad, a fine arts scholar on Bingham, Independence historian David Jackson and Greater Kansas City historian Beverly Shaw.
At the Bingham, local historian Ralph Monaco, dressed in period attire, will welcome visitors at the entrance to the mansion to view the historic room settings featuring 95 percent of the original furnishings of the Waggoner family. Once inside, tour guides will share the rich history of this exceptional community treasure.
“The 40th anniversary celebration is a nice opportunity for us to share what has happened here,” Ron McCarty, curator and public relations officer of the Bingham, said in a recent interview in the estate's Carriage House. “We have a wonderful opportunity to actually celebrate 40 years of being an organization formed to buy and care for this estate with the city of Independence. So it was a rare opportunity to actually see the accomplishment of this organization.”
In an all-out effort to save the historic Independence landmark, McCarty recalls the Jackson County Historical Society successfully raised $250,000, then donated the full amount to the city of Independence, which received a matching grant from the state of Missouri to acquire all the acreage and buildings. The Historical Society also raised funds to acquire 95 percent of the original interior furnishings that are on display and maintained by the Society.
“We feel it is an honor to collaborate with the city of Independence, protecting this exceptional piece of history for future generations,” he says. “It's a pretty unique experience to come into an estate and see 95 percent of the original material still in the property. It is highly unusual for historic mansions. Usually, the property has been sold off.”
Noting $30,000 was raised to acquire the original furnishings, McCarty says the Historical Society now owns all the interior furnishings of the mansion as well as all the outbuildings, because of its collaboration with the city.
In looking back over 40 years, “The Bingham-Waggoner Board of Directors and volunteers have researched and presented the history of this amazing property,” he says, noting tours about the property have been presented to the tourist community as well as to thousands of children brought to the estate to examine the Civil War property for educational programs.
As for those who pass through the portals of the Bingham estate, Steve Schreiber, president of the board of directors of the Bingham-Waggoner Historical Society, expects them to leave educated.
“We are going to give them a unique look at the legacy of Independence,” he says. “We are going to make it as entertaining as possible and as accommodating as we can, so you will have a good education when you leave.”
Both McCarty, Schreiber and the board agree: “We feel it is an honor to collaborate with the city of Independence, protecting this exceptional piece of history for future generations.”
– Retired community news reporter Frank Haight Jr. writes this column for The Examiner. You can leave a message for him at 816-350-6363.