Independence, known as the Queen City of the Trails, is a city in western Missouri just east of Kansas City with a population of approximately 110,000. Independence's founding predates that of Kansas City, and it was home to U.S. President Harry S. Truman and the legendary actress Ginger Rogers, as well as the starting point of three of America's great Westward Trails: the Santa Fe Trail, the California Trail, and the Oregon Trail. The city also hosts numerous historical sites related to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (the "Mormons"), American Civil War and Western history.
While offering a full range of entertainment and lodging options for visitors, Independence generally tends to be more "quiet" than its larger neighbor to the west. One notable exception is Labor Day weekend, when it holds its annual Santa-Cali-Gon Days, one of the most important yearly festivals held in the Kansas City metropolitan area. Another exception is during the biennial April general conferences of the Community of Christ, the second-largest Latter-day Saint denomination, whose world headquarters is in the city.
Interstate 70 is the main east-west highway, while Interstate 435 (running north-south) passes just to the city's west. U.S. highways 24 and 40 and Missouri state highway 291, which becomes Interstate 470, south of I-70, also provide access to the city. I-70 offers six exits to Independence (from west to east, in order: Blue Ridge Blvd., U.S. 40/Sterling Ave., Noland Rd., Lee's Summit Rd., MO-291/I-470, and Little Blue Parkway), while I-435 offers three (from north to south, in order: U.S. 24/Winner Road, Truman Rd., and 23rd St.). NOTE: At each of the three I-435 exits named above, you must turn east to head into Independence! Turning west will take you into Kansas City. Also, if you are taking I-435 south on the east side of Kansas City (as opposed to the west side; I-435 circles the Kansas City metropolitan area) and planning to exit onto I-70 east, be aware that this exit is a left exit, and it can be very slow-moving during "rush hour" times!
Nearest Greyhound station is in Kansas City, MO.
Amtrak, +1-800-USA-RAIL. The unattended Independence Amtrak is at 600 S Grand Ave, near the intersection with W Pacific Ave. This station, locally known as the Truman Depot, is on Amtrak's Kansas City to St. Louis route, the Missouri River Runner, and offers trains twice daily in both directions. Tickets cannot be purchased or baggage checked at this station, which currently houses the Jackson Co. Genealogical Society, so it is best to call Amtrak's toll-free reservation center or visit their website before departure. Tickets may also be purchased locally at Union Station in downtown Kansas City. A ticket is not required for boarding, though a reservation is. State and federal funding has recently been expanded and the route now boasts a 90% on time rating.
Access by air requires use of one of three airports:
- Kansas City International Airport, is 40 mi (64 km) away. To reach Independence from the airport take I-29 south to I-435 east, then follow I-435 east and then south along KC's east side until you cross the Missouri River; after passing the Front St. exit south of the river, you'll see the Independence exits.
- Charles B. Wheeler Downtown Airport, located in downtown KCMO, serves private, corporate and charter aircraft. From this airport, take I-70 east.
- Lee's Summit Airport, +1 816 969-1186. About 5 mi (8 km) south of Independence just off I-470 at 2751 NE Douglas Rd. Serves private aircraft. From this airport, take I-470/MO 291 north until reaching I-70. Continue north on MO 291 (I-470 ends here; only MO 291 continues) into Independence or go west on I-70 for other Independence exits.
The Metro, Kansas City's municipal bus service, has very limited service (time and route-wise) within Independence. The main Independence terminal is located next to the police station at the intersection of Truman and Noland roads. Fares cost $1.50 full price (including one transfer within two hours of the ticket's purchase), or $0.75 reduced fare (seniors, those under age 18, and disabled persons). A "Visitor's Pass" is available for out-of-towners; it allows unlimited riding of the entire Kansas City bus system for three days for $8. Information is available at .
Walking tours of the historic town square, Truman historical sites and Mormon historical sites are available. For most visitors, a car, bicycle or other means of wheeled transportation will prove necessary if one intends to venture very far beyond the central square area, which contains most of the attractions listed below.
Local taxi service is available, but taxies are generally only obtainable by phone and sometimes require a lengthy waiting period between the time when you first call for the cab and the time that it arrives to pick you up. Calling well in advance of your appointment or desired arrival time is advised, as is checking with the taxi service as to the expected time of the cab's arrival.
- Historic Independence Square. Located in the center of town, the Independence town square features numerous family-owned shops surrounding the old main courthouse, which was modeled after Philadelphia's Independence Hall. This courthouse houses Harry S. Truman's former courtroom and office (see below).
- National Frontier Trails Museum, ☎ +1 816 325-7575. 318 W Pacific. Museum and interpretive center dedicated to the history of the Overland Trails and the settlement of the American West. Independence hosted thousands of settlers, pioneers, soldiers and merchants as they prepared to cross the plains along one of three trails which began just off the city square: the Santa Fe, California, and Oregon. The museum offers film, a children's activity room, artifacts, journal entries, maps, and covered wagons, among other highlights.
- Harry S. Truman Presidential Library & Museum, 500 W US Hwy 24, ☎ +1 816 268-8200, toll-free: +1-800-833-1225. Official library of the 33rd U.S. President. Hailed as America's "best presidential museum" by the Dallas Morning News, the Truman Library offers theaters, a museum, store, and some interactive "hands-on" exhibits together with a "Decision Theater." The museum contains a colorful mural by Thomas Hart Benton, together with a reproduction of the Oval Office. The displays seek to educate patrons about the major world-shaping decisions that Truman was involved in as President (including the use of the Atom Bomb during WWII, and the formation of the UN), together with details of his personal life. The lower level offers an area where kids can dress up like Harry and Bess, explore "feely" boxes, engage in an interactive computerized race, sort mail, make campaign buttons and posters and play a trivia game.
- Harry S. Truman Home National Historic Site, 219 N Delaware St, ☎ +1 816 254-9929. The Independence home of the nation's 33rd President, completed in 1885 and furnished exactly as it was when Truman lived there. Only the main floor is currently open to visitors, via a guided tour conducted by National Park Service employees. Obtain tickets for $4 at their office at 223 N. Main St., then walk or drive a short distance away to the corner of Delaware St. and Truman Rd. to see the house itself. You must obtain the tickets at the Main St. office before attempting to enter the house! Tours are limited to eight persons at a time, and all tickets are sold on a "first-come, first-served" basis on the day of the tour only. NOTE: A ticket purchased to tour the Truman Home is also good to tour the Truman Farm Home in Grandview on the same day, and vice-versa.
- Harry S. Truman Courtroom & Office, ☎ +1 816 252-7454. In the Old Courthouse at the center of Independence's historic square. Truman's first elected office was as a Jackson Co. judge (1922-24) -- an administrative, not judicial, position. During his term he worked in the historic Independence courthouse.
- Clinton's Soda Fountain. Still a working soda fountain and ice-cream parlor, this was the site of Truman's first paying job. On the Independence Sq.
- Temple Lot A grassy field dedicated in 1831 by Joseph Smith, Jr., founder of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (the "Mormons") together with several smaller organizations claiming to be the legitimate continuation of that church. No temple has ever been constructed on this site, though the Community of Christ has built one across the street which the Utah LDS and other sects do not accept as legitimate. The vast majority of the world's Latter-day Saints believe that this particular piece of land, which is currently owned by the tiny Church of Christ-Temple Lot , will one day be the site of their most important spiritual edifice. Tours and information are available at the white church building located on the lot, which is the world headquarters of its current owners.
- Community of Christ World Headquarters, 1001 W Walnut St, ☎ +1 816 833-1000. The Community of Christ, second-largest of the Latter-day Saint denominations, has its world headquarters in Independence, as do several other smaller groups. Its headquarters' complex consists of three buildings, all of which are open to the public:
- The Temple, 201 S River Boulevard, Independence, MO 64050. Constructed from 1990-94, sits adjacent to the original "Temple Lot," and clearly dominates the city skyline. Designed by famed Japanese architect Gyo Obata, the edifice evokes the spiral shell of the Nautilus by using a stainless steel spire that rises 300 ft (91 m). Unlike temples of the larger LDS church, the Community of Christ's sacred structure is always open to non-members. Its main sanctuary features a Casavant pipe organ with 60 stops, 102 ranks, and 5685 pipes; recitals are held daily during June, July, and August (and Sundays only the rest of the year). Also held daily is a Prayer for Peace, which the public is encouraged to attend.
- The Stone Church, 1012 W Lexington, Independence, MO 64050, ☎ +1 816 254-2211. Was constructed during the late 1800's, and serves a local Community of Christ congregation. Beautiful stained-glass windows and woodwork.
- The Auditorium, 1001 W Walnut St, Independence, MO 64050, ☎ +1 816 833-1000. is a large structure built between 1926-58 for holding the church's biennial convention. It formerly served at the church's headquarters, prior to erection of the Temple. It houses an Aeolian-Skinner pipe organ with 113 ranks and 6,334 pipes, including an antiphonal console and pipes in the rear balcony of the oval chamber. Seating nearly 6,000 people (as opposed to 1,600 in the Temple's main sanctuary), this building is used not only for religious ceremonies, but community events as well, including local graduation ceremonies and an annual performance of Handel's Messiah that has become a mainstay of the KC Christmas holiday season.
- The Children's Peace Pavilion. Is located inside the Auditorium's west entrance. It contains a number of exhibits designed to teach concepts of personal peace, social peace, international peace, and environmental peace to children ages 12 and under.
- United Nations Peace Plaza. Situated just west of the Temple Lot. This memorial features a beautiful sculpture of a young girl releasing a dove to symbolize the hopes and dreams represented by the United Nations. It is billed as the only monument in the U.S. dedicated specifically to peace outside of the UN's headquarters in New York.
- Mormon Visitors' Center, 937 W Walnut, ☎ +1 816 836-3466. Describes the roles played by Latter-day Saints during the early and tempestuous history of Independence. Offers flat screen visual presentations showing the arrival of early Saints, revelations, and their pioneer lives. Also offers rare artifacts and exhibits documenting the history and beliefs of the Mormons, together with information on the adjacent Temple Lot. Free guided tours daily.
- 1859 Jail, Marshal's Home and Museum, 217 N Main St, ☎ +1 816 252-1892. The dungeon-like cells of the 1859 Jail housed thousands of prisoners during the bloodiest period of Jackson County's history. Some of its guests included Frank James (brother of Jesse James) and Confederate guerrilla leader William Quantrill. Part of the exhibit details how the local marshal and his family lived in the adjoining Federal brick two-story home. An 1870's-era schoolhouse and museum completes the site. A "historic homes combo" ticket is available for use with the Bingham-Waggoner Estate and the Vaile Mansion. Closed for the winter from Jan-Mar.
- Leila's Hair Museum, 1333 S Noland Rd. Museum of Victorian-era art of hair jewelry and wreaths. The Hair Museum, believed to be the only one of its kind in the world, houses over 350 hair "wreaths" and 1,500 pieces of artwork or jewelry made partially or completely out of human hair.
- Puppetry Arts Institute, 11025 E Winner Rd. Home to hundreds of puppets and marionettes from around the world and features a collection from the world's largest puppet factory in neighboring KC, owned and operated by famous puppeteer Hazelle Rollins. Visitors can also watch a movie, use the puppet resource library and see changing displays. Children can choose a puppet head from the now-closed factory inventory, paint it with professional puppet paint, attach a body, and stage an impromptu performance on one of the institute's stages. Monthly professional puppet shows are also offered.
- Bingham-Waggoner Estate, 313 W Pacific, ☎ +1 816 461-3491. Built in 1852 along the Santa Fe Trail, this magnificent home was owned by American artist George Caleb Bingham. Extensively renovated in the 1890s, many furnishings and accessories from the era may be seen in the home, and original wagon swales from the Santa Fe Trail may be viewed to its south. A gift shop is in the carriage house. Closed for the winter from Jan-Mar. Directly across from the National Frontier Trails museum.
- Vaile Victorian Mansion, 1500 N Liberty, ☎ +1 816 325-7430. This 30-room mansion was built by frontier business tycoon Harvey Vaile in 1881. Recognized as one of the finest examples of Second Empire Victorian architecture in the U. S., the opulent estate boasted conveniences such as flushing toilets, a built-in 6,000 gallon water tank, painted woodwork and ceilings and nine different marble fireplaces. Closed for the winter from Jan-Mar.
- Pioneer Spring Cabin SE corner of Noland and Truman Rds, +1 816 325-7111. This austere two-room log cabin offers a sharp contrast to Independence's opulent Victorian estates. Originally constructed in an Irish community known as "Brady Town," the Pioneer Spring Cabin was moved to its present location in 1971. A spring outside the Cabin has been recreated to represent the abundant natural springs that served weary trail riders, pioneers and livestock.
- Santa-Cali-Gon Days. Is an annual Labor Day weekend festival held intermittently since 1940 and continuously since 1973. It celebrates the city's heritage as the starting point of three great frontier trails, and has changed throughout the years: In the 1940's, men grew their beards from one Sant-Cali-Gon to the next in beard-growing contests, whereas the 1950's saw exhibitions of horses and covered wagons, together with numerous other items that might have been purchased in Independence before heading West. In more recent decades the festival, while retaining some of its old customs, has shifted to a carnival atmosphere, with numerous rides, booths and other venues offering a variety of food, beverages, crafts, entertainment (including Country and Gospel Music singers), and similar attractions. The "buffalo burgers" and funnel cakes are not to be missed! Held on and adjacent to the town square. Parking generally costs between $5-10 or more, depending upon how close to the festivities you wish to be (and the availability of parking spaces!). Free.
- Vaile Strawberry Festival. Is held on the first Saturday of June at the Vaile Mansion, 1500 N Liberty, 5 blocks north of the Square. In addition to strawberry treats, there are other concessions, free live local entertainment, a massive arts, crafts, antiques and bedding plant sale and display on the grounds of the mansion, displays of antique cars and children's activities. Everything is free, except for home tours, food and drink and horse-drawn carriage rides.
- Mule-drawn covered wagon ride. You can usually catch a mule-drawn covered wagon ride on the Square with Pioneer Trails Adventures during the spring, summer and fall months; and, weather permitting, during the holiday season. Fees $7-25, depending upon the ride's length and itinerary.
- Chicago & Alton 1879 Depot, 318 W Pacific Ave (3 blocks S of the Square to Pacific Ave then W to the depot parking lot on N side of street), ☎ +1 816 325-7955. 9:30AM-4:30PM, closed Tu W. The two story depot contains three rooms on the first floor which are the waiting room, stationmasters room & baggage room. On the second floor, four rooms, which were formerly the stationmasters residence, are the kitchen, dining room, bedroom and the parlor. Each of these rooms is furnished in the period circa 1879. Inside you will find pot-bellied stoves, the original waiting room benches and old Chicago & Alton advertising posters. Donations.
A farmers' market is held on the northeast side of the Independence Sq., along Truman Rd., on Wednesdays and Saturdays, mid-May through mid-Sep. (Vendors are usually at the market around 5AM and most leave by 11AM.) The adjacent Independence Sq. holds numerous shops for antiques, curios, book, and more.
Recently the Independence Square has seen restoration work which has involved the opening or refurbishing of various restaurants. Among these are:
- Ophelia's. Featuring an eclectic menu including steaks and seafood. Also features an inn on-site with rooms ranging from $105-145 per night.
- Cafe Verona. Specializing in Italian cuisine.
- Rheinland. Specializing in authentic German food and beers.
- Courthouse Exchange. Open since 1899. A cosy basement restaurant serving burgers, sandwiches, steaks, fish, chicken and similar dishes. Also features a full bar offering a wide variety of domestic, import and microbrew beers.
Several other restaurants, including the Longhorn Steakhouse, Logans Roadhouse, Hereford House and other national or local chain eateries are located at or adjacent to the 39th Street corridor, between Lee's Summit Road and the Little Blue Parkway. Smoking is prohibited in all restaurants, bars and other public establishments in Independence.
- Dixon's Chili, 9105 E US Hwy 40 (Corner of 40 Hwy and Blue Ridge Cut-Off), ☎ +1 816 861-7308. Dixon's Chili has some of the best chili and chili-based dishes in the area. This restaurant has an old-time diner feel, a great staff, and great value. Some of the dishes include Dixon's signature dry chili, spaghetti, and all-you-can-eat tacos.
There are numerous drinking establishments around Independence, and most if not all restaurants serve alcohol.
(Note: Smoking is prohibited in all nightclubs, bars and other public establishments in Independence.)
Although violent crime is very uncommon in Independence, it is not unknown. Carjackings, vandalism to cars and auto thefts do occur, and while the chances of being a victim are slim (though still higher than the MO and national averages), visitors should not allow the "small town" atmosphere of this city trick them into letting down their guard with regard to locking autos and hotel doors, leaving cars running unattended, paying attention to surroundings, etc. The Square area is relatively safe during daylight and evening hours.
The west side, particularly the portion west of Sterling Ave., is not known to be particularly safe at night, especially along Blue Ridge Blvd. between 23rd St. and U.S. 24. Avoid anything west of Sterling Ave. at night if possible. Since there are no hotels, restaurants or tourist attractions in this part of town, this should not be hard for visitors to do.
- Truman Farm Home 12301 Blue Ridge Blvd, Grandview, +1 816 254-9929. Harry Truman lived on this, his family's farm, from 1906-17. Tours F Sa Su from Memorial Day to Labor Day, 9:30AM-4PM, limited to 6 people. Farm grounds open daily, year-round for self-guided tour. $4, ages 15 and under free. NOTE: A ticket purchased to tour the Truman Farm Home is also good to tour the Truman Home in Independence on the same day, and vice-versa.
- Fort Osage National Historic Landmark Sibley, +1 816 650-5737, +1 816 795-8200. This reconstructed frontier post once hosted famed American explorer William Clark (of Louis and Clark fame), who selected the site and drew up the plans for its construction. The site offers the reconstructed fort, together with living history exhibits and a museum. A few miles east off U.S. Hwy 24. Call before going for exact directions (you'll need them, if you're not familiar with the area!), as the fort is in a rural area some distance off the highway.
- Missouri Town 1855 8010 E Park Rd, Lee's Summit, +1 816 503-4860. A fascinating 30-acre "town" using both authentic and reconstructed buildings to reconstruct what a frontier town in 1850's Missouri looked like. Professional living history guides interact with guests on this self-guided walking tour, dressed in 19th-century attire and depicting 19th-century lifestyles. Authentic field and garden crops and rare livestock breeds are available for visitors to view. Definitely worth the time and reasonable cost ($5, $3 children and senior citizens).
- Native Hooved Animal Enclosure at Lake Jacomo Lee's Summit, The big draw being the wild buffalo (bring some carrots to feed them!), but other interesting animals lurk here too, like Elk and Deer. It's near to MO-7 and Lake Jacomo/Missouri Town. There a few small buffalo calves in the herd now as well.
- Battle of Lexington 1101 Delaware St, Lexington, +1 660 259-4654. 25 mi (40 km) east, off US Hwy 24, and was the site of a Civil War battle fought in September 1861 later known as "The Battle of the Hemp Bales." After a fruitless three-day siege of the Union garrison, attacking Confederate forces used hemp bales soaked in river water to form a mobile breastworks, which they rolled slowly up to the Yankee trenches to enable them to finally force a Union surrender. The site, now a state park, offers a free museum, picnicking, and a walking tour of part of the old battlefield, where remnants of the old trenches and fortifications remain visible. Adjacent to the museum is the Anderson House , which served as a hospital during the battle (a small fee is charged to tour). Lexington is worth a full day or more in its own right, with numerous Antebellum houses and the Wentworth Military Academy.
|Routes through Independence|
|END ← Kansas City ←||W E||→ Lee's Summit → Jefferson City|
|Topeka ← Kansas City ←||W E||→ Boonville → Columbia|
|END ←||N S||→ Lee's Summit → Kansas City|