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Fire brings out memories of historic home

By Mike Genet mike.genet@examiner.net

A fire early Saturday severely damaged the historic and long-vacant Thomson House and former restaurant building on U.S. 40 in western Independence.

Inspectors have deemed the building dangerous due to structural damage, and while it isn’t beyond repair, any salvage project would be extensive.

The Thomson House on U.S. 40, built with slave labor a decade before the Civil War, was extensively damaged in a fire last weekend.

The building, which dates back to before the Civil War, has been vacant for years, and last served as the Mexican restaurant Las Playas and as a residence. 

The fire was reported about 1:30 a.m. Saturday, and crews from five stations saw flames on the second floor when they arrived. The building has been vacant for years, though the official cause is noted as “careless use of burning material.” The building, which is west of Nativity of Mary Catholic Church on the north side of U.S. 40, also caught fire Aug. 17, fire officials said. 

According to the Civil War Roundtable of Western Missouri, from research of the late Kathleen Tuohey, former county sheriff and state legislature representative 

Benjamin Franklin Thomson bought the 300-acre farm in 1842 and had the house built with slave labor from 1849 to 55, with bricks made on site. The house, formerly known as “Old Plantation,” used to face north toward what is now Blue Ridge Boulevard, with a long lane leading to the house. Thomson helped establish the First Christian Church of Independence and organize the first school district.

The structure was turned in the 1930s to face south and toward U.S. 40, and received improvements. A cannonball reportedly was found embedded in the walls during that time. In the mid-20th century, the Kiekert family ran a formal restaurant and banquet hall at the house. 

The historical marker that has been in front of the building for decades reads:

“This imposing farm mansion was erected in 1855 for B. F. Thomson by his slaves. The Thomson family fled during the Civil War. In 1866 the farm was sold on the Courthouse steps to Rev. J. D. Gossett. One of the finest Greek Revival mansions in Jackson County.”

Examiner readers and followers have shared several stories on social media about dining at the building, whether it was Las Playas or Old Plantation.

“My family ate there for years,” Beth Casey McGhee said. “After they closed, nothing compared, my kids decided.”

“My parents used to go to lunch there frequently before they were married,” Suzanne Causation said. “They took me and my brother there as kids. Even as a child, I thought it was such a neat place.”

Mark Beemer recalled eating there as a child and said he reminisces about it every time he drives by.

“Best refried beans ever!” he said.

Jeff Floyd shared a letter his father Bob wrote to his mother Eleanor (they were engaged at the time) in the summer of 1943, while serving in the South Pacific during World War II, in which he recalls a swing dance at the building.

“Remember the grand times we used to have at Old Plantation’s and the time I got knocked out when I started to duck you? That was quite a night wasn’t it?” Bob Floyd wrote, in part. “We’ll have to buzz out there when I get home.”