Of all the numerous historical sites in Independence, the Truman Depot sits off by itself, frequently overlooked, neglected and unconnected.
Independence officials are hoping a multipurpose trail can help change all that.
This summer, the city will begin construction on a half-mile trail leading from the century-old depot to the National Frontier Trails Museum. That trail is just a small part of a master plan to not only make the depot more accessible and attractive for tourists and visitors, but to make a walking and biking link to other historic sites around the Courthouse Square as well.
“We have a lot of great ideas on how to utilize the depot itself better,” said Kati Horner, assistant director for public works and city engineer. “But in order for that to really come to fruition, we need to provide those connections throughout the city and throughout the square.”
Connecting the depot was a vital first step, Horner said, so the city secured a $370,000 federal grant. That grant, and ADA improvements Amtrak made in 2017, made the trail project possible. A sidewalk now stretches from north of the depot to the intersection of Elm and Pacific avenues.
“Those were some major needs we wouldn’t have been able to accomplish,” Horner said. “We own the building, but the property is owned by the railroad, so getting those upgrades was really the catalyst for getting the rest of this project going.”
Budgeted for $420,000, the project will create a bike and pedestrian connection from that sidewalk that will run along the north side of Pacific Avenue, which runs east-west from the depot to the museum. Part of the route, hemmed in by a narrow rock ledge, will be a sidewalk with bike markings. Where the available area widens, it will have dedicated bike lanes as well as a sidewalk.
Horner said the city picked this project because it wanted to bring more people to the depot area. That’s something the city – and various volunteers and historical preservationists – have been trying to do for years.
“The depot is a great, historical gem,” said Gloria Smith, the president of the Jackson County Historical Society and a longtime advocate for the depot. “I’ve always felt the depot needed a little more attention and I am hopeful to see that it’s starting to see more attention.”
Built in 1913, the Truman Depot has seen its share of attention and neglect over the years. Constructed by the Missouri Pacific Railroad, the depot saw more than a dozen passenger trains a day stop there during the heyday of rail travel.
Its biggest claim to fame, as are so many places in the area, is its link to Harry Truman. The depot was the last stop on the 33rd president’s cross-country whistle stop campaign in 1948. And when he returned home after leaving the White House for good in 1953, more than 10,000 people packed the area around the little depot to greet him.
In time the depot fell into disrepair, so much so that it was nearly demolished in 1993 before the city bought it.
Smith, who has spent years researching the depot’s history and keeping an eye on its upkeep, said making it more accessible and better-known could help secure its future.
“If the trail brings more people into the area and gives the depot a little more attention, then I think it’s a great idea,” Smith said. “I’m always amazed at the number of local people who don’t know where the depot is or what the depot is.”
Today the depot serves as an Amtrak stop, but Horner said there are still many improvements to be made. The Parks Department would like to open a visitor’s center, make the waiting area more comfortable and offer information about the city.
The first step is making it easier to get to.
“Our Parks Department has been very involved with the entire project,” Horner said. “And they have some really great plans for how to better utilize the depot. So we’ve taken those plans into consideration as we created the design so that once we’re done with our work they’ll be able to come in and do those finishes to make it a tourist location as well as a more functioning, welcoming depot for the train users.”
Horner said the trail is just the start of a network of multi-use pathways planned for the area. The plan, called Truman Connected, is being finalized by city planners. Its first phase includes a trail from the Square to the Englewood District to be built in 2023 that could be linked to the Depot trail.
“The goal is to connect the Truman Library to the Truman Sports Complex,” Horner said. “And that will tie into the square and to the Truman Depot and some other key areas throughout the city.”
Horner said the city just received the final plans for the Depot Trail on Monday and it still has to be let out to bid. She expected construction to begin sometime this summer and finish up by late summer or early fall.