Volunteers prep Independence historic sites for tours

By Mike Genet
mike.genet@examiner.net

Steve Schreiber has his piano hands ready to entertain visitors. 

Officially, the historic Bingham-Waggoner Estate and Vaile Victorian Mansion in Independence open to the public Saturday, following a long pandemic closure. 

Steve Schreiber plays a quick song at the piano in the music room of the Bingham-Waggoner Estate home in Independence.

Volunteers have been sprucing up both of the 19th-century homes, and to some extent have been giving pre-arranged tours in the last couple of months. Schreiber, president of the Bingham-Waggoner Historical Society, often plays the restored Steinway piano in the music room for guests while giving tours – “just like Harry Truman might have when he visited,” Schreiber says. 

“We are raring to go,” Schreiber said. “Some of our guides were forced to step back – age, hips and knees and all that type of thing – but I’ve been answering the phone all day.” 

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Both locations were closed all of 2020, save for the occasional tour and a paranormal group renting it for an investigation. Volunteers traditionally decorate the homes for Christmas tours, then take a couple months off before reopening in the spring. But that spring reopening never happened in 2020. Independence Mayor Eileen Weir said more than once the driving factor for keeping them closed was health and safety of the volunteers, many of whom are retirees. 

Charlie Beck has been giving tours at the Vaile Victorian Mansion for several years after volunteering at the Historic Truman Courthouse on the Square.

Schreiber said he and others have given about 30 tours by appointment since the beginning of March. 

“I’ve received calls from all over the country,” he said, as visitors find out about the site through city advertising or websites like Trip Advisor. 

At the Vaile Mansion, volunteer guide Charlie Beck has already broken out his period costume. 

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Save for placing a few descriptive panels, “It’s mostly all ready to go,” Beck said while waiting for an arranged tour. 

A good number of the Vaile volunteers have been able to return, he said. 

“Most that I know are chomping at the bit; they’re tired of being at home, and they like the social aspect,” he said. “That’s why a lot of us volunteer.” 

While the city owns both the Bingham-Waggoner and Vaile homes, mainly volunteers operate them. Another historic tourist site, the 1859 Jail and Marshal’s Home on the Square, is owned and operated by the Jackson County Historical Society. It also closed in 2020 for the pandemic. That group’s board president, Brian Burnes, said they hope to reopen the jail at some point in May.  

"We have been hearing from some of our volunteers who are anxious to again lead guests through the historic jail and also help process archival materials in the courthouse,” Burnes said, referring to the group’s main office in the Truman Courthouse on the Square.  

Prospective new volunteers can apply at: jchs.org/volunteer. The Historical Society board recently hired Danielle Hall as its new archivist and education director, which will help fulfill the occasional research questions that continue to trickle in during the pandemic. The board continues to discuss possibly hiring a new executive director, as well. 

• The Bingham-Waggoner Estate, 313 W. Pacific Ave., across the street from the National Frontier Trails Museum, will be open 10 a.m.3 p.m. Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays and 1-3 p.m. Sundays. Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday tours will be given by advance reservation. More information at: bwestate.net. 

• The Vaile Mansion, 1500 N. Liberty St., will be open for tours 10 a.m.-4 p.m. Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays, and 1-4 p.m. Sunday. More information at: vailemansion.org. 

Admission at both locations is $6 for adults, $5 for seniors and $3 for children 12-younger.