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istorical accuracy guided every decision made during the multi-phased restoration of the Truman Courthouse on Independence Square—right down to the date and hour chosen for the rededication ceremony. The past, present and future all converged during that ceremony Saturday, September 7, 2013, when, for the first time in a generation, the clock atop the iconic building chimed at precisely 2 p.m.

“Today, we bring this great building back to life,” stated Jackson County Executive Mike Sanders, 80 years to the hour that Harry Truman, on what was an equally sunny September 7, 1933, rededicated the same courthouse following extensive renovations he supervised as the county’s Presiding Judge.

Hundreds of residents lined Lexington Avenue as Sanders joined United States Senator Roy Blunt, former Congressman Ike Skelton, Independence Mayor Don Reimal and other dignitaries in officially declaring the Historic Truman Courthouse reopened.

The building, Sanders emphasized, will be a “working courthouse again,” housing offices for the county’s Assessment, Collections and Recorder of Deeds Departments, as well as the Independence Tourism Department and Jackson County Historical Society. The courthouse’s second floor now showcases the new Jackson County Museum of Art, featuring more than two dozen paintings by renowned 19th Century artist George Caleb Bingham.

Harry Truman’s original office and courtroom, where he oversaw day-to-day operations of Jackson County in the late 1920s and early ’30s, has been historically preserved—as has the Brady Courtroom. Dating back to the original construction in 1836, the Brady Courtroom represents the oldest part of the building. Judge Joseph J. Brady presided over the courtroom as Jackson County 6th District Magistrate Court Judge from 1947 to 1972.

“Some projects take a long time to get done,” said Mayor Reimal. “But when we do it, we do it right. Make time to go inside this beautiful courthouse. It has taken us years to get to this day.

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The restored 2013 Historic Truman Courthouse has something the building previously did not have. A new elevator now allows full access to every floor.

A ‘Four-Year Odyssey’

 “Today’s ceremony is the end of a four-year odyssey,” pointed out Sanders.

In 1933 Truman used Philadelphia’s Independence Hall as his inspiration when remodeling the courthouse, which had already been modified multiple times throughout the 1800s.

 
County Executive Mike Sanders, former Congressman Ike Skelton and United States Senator Roy Blunt cut the ceremonial ribbon.

 
Seventy-six years later, the courthouse had deteriorated so severely that Sanders declared a public emergency January 30, 2009 after engineers warned the building’s “structural integrity” was nearing a point of being beyond repair. The emergency declaration freed up contingency funds for renovations that summer to restore the courthouse grounds to their 1933 appearance. In the process, repairs to the foundation were made and a retaining wall, which erected  around the building in 1972 as part of an urban renewal project, was dismantled.

“It was with a great deal of satisfaction that we took a sledgehammer to that wall,” Reimal said.

The retaining wall had, for more than 35 years, trapped water from snow melt and rainfall around the courthouse’s foundation.

“We were told in 2009 that this courthouse and its rich heritage could be lost to all of us and future generations forever,” recalled Sanders. “Those [2009] repairs and enhancements, we said at the time, were just the first step in our commitment to restoring the Truman Courthouse to its original glory. The goal wasn’t just to return the building to its original design, but to open it back up to the citizens of Jackson County so that it could serve its original purpose.

“The finished product you see behind us meets that stated goal by once again making this a working courthouse.”

‘An Overwhelming Presence’

Reopening the courthouse “will have a real impact not only on Independence’s heritage” but also on efforts to revitalize Independence Square, Senator Blunt stated. He called the rededication ceremony an opportunity to celebrate “two Jackson County treasures,” the courthouse and its namesake, America’s 33rd President.

While former Jackson County Prosecutor Claire McCaskill holds the same seat Truman occupied in the United States Senator, Blunt uses the same offices that had been assigned to Truman in the Russell Senate Office Building.

Senator Roy Blunt

“He is an overwhelming presence in the history of our country,” Blunt said of Truman. From Jackson County Presiding Judge to President of the United States, Truman was, in Blunt’s words, “always able to do what needed to be done—the sign of a great public servant.”

The Senator later added, “This is a courthouse that Harry Truman wasn’t only at 80 years ago, but a building he walked by many times while in his 80s. Senator McCaskill has a photo in her office of an early morning walk by President Truman and this courthouse is in the background of his silhouette—the silhouette of a person who always knew where he was from and always knew where he going back home to.”

The rededication ceremony had a direct tie to the Truman family. Clifton Truman Daniel, the president’s grandson, greeted everyone to start the festivities and introduced Sanders.

Daniel said his grandfather would be pleased with the work done on the restoration. “I think if he was here, he would be more than proud to work here again.”

Project Completed On Time & On Budget

At the 1933 rededication, Truman said, ‘Here is your courthouse, Jackson County, finished and furnished within the budget set aside to build it.”

Jump ahead 80 years.

“As in 1933, this project is an example of how government can work efficiently and effectively,” Sanders said. “We can take pride in the fact that the doors to this beautiful courthouse are being reopened to the citizens of Jackson County without asking for additional tax dollars from the local citizens, the state government or the federal government. We did it all here, on time and on budget.”

Jackson County Executive Mike Sanders takes the podium. Behind him are Independence Mayor Don Reimal, Harry Truman's grandson Clifton Truman Daniel, former Congressman Ike Skelton and Senator Roy Blunt.

‘Stewards’ Of History

Ike Skelton shared personal memories of once representing a client appearing before Judge Brady—“a legendary figure”—and later getting an accidental endorsement during a Republican rally held at the courthouse during his first run for Congress in 1976. Kansan Bob Dole, then the running mate for President Gerald Ford, looked to the signs in the crowd and urged his fellow Republicans to vote for the candidates whose names he saw. Skelton, a Democrat, had supporters there and seeing their signs, Dole mistakenly thought Skelton must be a Republican and promptly urged the would-be voters to “elected Ike Skelton to the House of Representatives.”

 
Congressman Ike Skelton

 
“That did the trick,” Skelton said. “I carried Jackson County as well as Independence.”

In 1977 Skelton embarked on a 34-year career in the United State Congress, representing Missouri’s 4th District and earning, like Truman, a reputation for being a staunch supporter of military men and women and a vigorous overseer of military spending.

“Take pride in this courthouse,” Skelton said. “Use it and know in the decades ahead that those who follow you will be better off because of the government administrated here.”

Reimal and Sanders both noted that a great deal of history has been made in and around the Jackson County Courthouse, dating back nearly a half-century before Harry Truman’s birth in 1884. At Independence Square, pioneers often began their westward journeys in wagon trains bound for the Oregon and Santa Fe trails. The streets around the courthouse were the scene of battles waged during the Civil War.

Like Skelton, many politicians gathered at the courthouse on election nights, waiting anxiously for votes to be counted.

How many families, Reimal pondered, got their start with marriage ceremonies performed in the Truman Courtroom?

“All of us here today are now stewards of this rich tradition and history,” Sanders said.

“President Truman left his legacy in his words and his actions,” he continued. “They still live on through us and through the history of this great square—in his town, in our town, in our county and, once again, in his and our courthouse.”

Those attending the rededication ceremony and thanked for supporting the project included members of the Independence City Council, Jackson County Legislators Scott Burnett, Theresa Garza Ruiz, Dan TarwaterJames Tindall and Dennis Waits, and four area mayors: Grandview’s Steve Dennis, Lee’s Summit’s Randy Rhoads, Raytown’s David Bower and Blue Springs’ Carson Ross.

    

 Courthouse Fact Sheet

INTERIOR  RENOVATIONS - 2013

• Total cost $5,625,141 ($492,229 for design and $5,132,912 for construction).

• Project focused on full restoration of the courthouse’s interior to the integrity of its 1933 design.

• The Truman Courthouse will once again be a “working courthouse” with office space for various Jackson County Departments, the Independence Tourism Department and the Jackson County Historical Society. Total floor space equals 35,400 square feet.

• Harry Truman’s original office and courtroom, where he oversaw the day-to-day operations of Jackson County, has been historically preserved. The courtroom’s wall clock is stopped at 7:50, commemorating the exact minute of Truman’s death on the morning December 26, 1972.

• The Brady Courtroom, which dates back to the original construction of the building in the 19th Century, also adds to the facility’s appeal as tourist attraction—as does the new Jackson County Museum of Art, included the renovation of the courthouse’s second floor and featuring works with ties to the local region.

• New heating and air-conditioning systems were installed. A new elevator was also installed to allow accessibility to all three floors of the building.

• Some exterior work was done as the iconic clock tower was restored, including the replacement of the clockworks.


The new elevator is put to use during public tours of the courthouse following the rededication ceremony.


SITE IMPROVEMENTS - 2009

• Citing concern that the building might deteriorate to a point of being beyond repair, County Executive Mike Sanders declared a public emergency to release funding for 2009 exterior renovations, which were completed in September of that year with a construction cost of $776,005. Design work was done by in-house Jackson County staff.

• The focus in 2009 was on restoring the courthouse grounds to their 1933 appearance, which included removing a retaining wall that, after being built in 1972, had trapped water from rainfall and snowmelt around the building’s foundation.

• Improved roof drains were connected to the City of Independence stormwater system, and a new irrigation system was installed.
• Limestone entry stairs were replaced, old wrought iron handrails were refurbished, and 70 additional parking spaces were created.

BUILDING’S HISTORY

• Jackson County’s two-room log cabin courthouse was replaced in 1837 by a new building, which underwent six remodeling/expansion projects throughout the remainder of the 1800s and into the early 1900s.

• Portions of the original courthouse from the 19th century were “encapsulated” within the addition/restoration of the courthouse completed in 1933—under the supervision of Harry Truman, the then Presiding Judge of Jackson County.

• The Truman Courthouse has been listed on the National Register of Historic Places since 1972. 

• September 7, 2013 marks 80 years to the day that Harry Truman rededicated the courthouse on Independence Square following the completion of the 1933 remodeling.

 

 
 
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