Truman Depot update

By Mike Genet
The Examiner

City officials in Independence insist that further renovation plans for the Truman Depot remain in the works, despite any number of delays. 

The city-owned, unstaffed railroad station on Pacific Avenue near the Community of Christ Auditorium, which serves as a stop for Amtrak’s Missouri River Runner train, is more than a century old and has been on the National Register of Historic Places for more than 40 years. 

Amtrak's Missouri River Runner makes its morning stop at the Truman Depot in Independence while a freight train sits on the second set of tracks.

A renovation project, which had been on the budget for 2020-21 and never materialized, is back on the 2021-22 budget for $80,000 – still funded by federal grant money. 

Due in part to the pandemic, details between all the necessary parties, including the Union Pacific Railroad, never got ironed out, Independence Mayor Eileen Weir said, but the city still intends to follow through. 

“It wasn’t hard for things to get sidetracked or put on the back burner,” Weir said, referring to 2020. 

Gloria Smith, who founded the Friends of the Truman Depot nonprofit group more than a decade ago to help raise awareness to preserve the structure, said she’s worried it has been forgotten too much over time. 

“It always falls through the cracks,” she said. “This is something that should be preserved in our community, and it doesn’t get the attention it deserves.” 

The city has made ADA upgrades to the waiting room area of the building, city spokesperson Meg Lewis said, and Amtrak has made ADA site upgrades including sidewalks and ramps, the passenger drop-off loading zone, parking, handrails and signs. 

With the renovation project, plans for the various interior rooms include: new flooring, lighting, doors, painting, plumbing fixtures, an ADA-compliant water cooler, water heater, communications and electrical upgrades.  

A new HVAC system will be installed, with the outdoor unit shielded by a secured enclosure built to match the structure’s facade. 

Slated for the outside: painting and wood rot repair, repairs to the downspouts and copper gutters, grading, drainage and landscape work, tile brick pavers and fiber optic service. 

While the railroad station is not part of the city’s Truman Connected pedestrian path project, Lewis said the delay in the depot renovation allows staff to better coordinate it with Truman Connected for a “cohesive” exterior feel. A pedestrian path along Pacific Avenue from near the depot to the National Frontier Trails Museum a few blocks to the east has also been planned, and Lewis said all that construction should begin in late 2021 or early 2022. 

The Missouri Pacific Railroad built the station in 1913, and it became known as the Truman Depot after the hometown president made the station the final stop of his famous 1948 Whistlestop election campaign. In January 1953, he was surprised and moved by several thousand admirers waiting at the station when he and wife Bess returned to Independence from Washington, D.C., after he left office. 

Missouri Pacific stopped using the depot for passenger service in 1971, though it was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1979, and after some city lobbying Amtrak added the station as a stop in 1981. The city took the depot in the early 1990s to preserve it from demolition what by then had become Union Pacific, and about a decade later the depot was added to the local register of historic places. 

One of the Smith’s prized possessions is a 2009 letter from Pulitzer-winning author and Truman biographer David McCullough, which urged her continue efforts at the time to save the depot. 

“It is without any question,” McCullough writes, “a national historic landmark and should be seen as nothing less.”