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Independence City


Independence City Hall is located at 111 East Maple Street, Independence, MO 64050; phone: 816-325-7024.

Harry S. Truman Home, 219 North Delaware Street, Independence, MO
Photo: Harry S. Truman Home from 1919-1972, 219 North Delaware Street, National Historic Site, Historic American Buildings Survey [HABS MO-1175], Jack Boucher, photographer, 1983, memory.loc.gov, accessed June, 2012.

Beginnings [1]

James Shepherd was probably the first permanent resident of the new County of Jackson to stake out his homestead in what was soon to become Independence. In 1825 Shepherd, accompanied by his wife and slaves, arrived at Fort Osage, awaiting final settlement of the treaty which would open the "blue country" to eager pioneers, squatters and speculators. When the word came that the settlement was approaching, Shepherd and his household camped near the public spring just east of the square. Shortly afterward, Shepherd's next door neighbor, John Young, built his home about a mile away. After the first of January, 1826 (when the land was officially opened), settlers mostly from Virginia, Kentucky, and Tennessee began to pour into the new land. The inhabitants of the area soon recognized the need for the organization of a county government.

On December 15, 1826, scarcely a year after the first settlers began to arrive, the Missouri Legislature separated Jackson County (which then included Cass and Bates counties) from its neighbor, and appointed David Ward, Julius Emmons, and John Bartleson commissioners to select a site for the "county seat." The three men decided upon an area near the Shepherd homestead, contending that it was near the center of the wooded portion of the county, and called it Independence, perhaps after one of the qualities they admired most in "Andy" Jackson. This little town, governed by the County Court for 22 years, soon took its place as one of the most famous frontier villages in American history.

The first courthouse for Jackson County was commissioned in February, 1827, built under the direction of Daniel P. Lewis. Fort Osage was abandoned in 1827 and the federal troops were transferred to Fort Leavenworth. About the same time, entrepreneurs began to open stores and other service establishments in Independence. As a trading town, Independence developed around the constant influx of pioneers, mavericks and mountain men. Hotels and taverns, like the Smallwood Noland Hotel, located on the north side of the square, sprung up around the public square, along with such supply houses as Owens and Aull, Lucas, Agnew and Courtney. Mills, such as the Overfelt mill on Spring Street, and the Brock mill on Liberty where the Vaile mansion was later built, supplied travelers with flour and meal. The Overfelt mill was the forerunner to the Waggoner and Gates milling operation, part of which enterprise still stands near another favorite watering springs of Santa Fe traders and pioneers, on Spring Street. The Overfelt home, located on the southeast corner of Spring and Walnut, dates back to these early days. Independence was also home to several blacksmith shops where the great prairie schooners were built and outfitted, horses and oxen shod, and guns repaired.

Hiram Young built a successful wagon manufacturing and outfitting business in Independence that served travelers jumping off for Santa Fe, California and Oregon. People on the trails west of Independence knew all about Young because their very existence depended on his handiwork. The wagon design used on the seal of the city of Independence is a drawing of a wagon made by Hiram Young.

Independence was the starting point for the Oregon, California and Santa Fe Trails. Hundreds of Missouri farmers, discouraged by low prices on their produce, left en masse for Oregon in 1842 and 1843. These participants in the "Great Emigration" outfitted their wagons in Independence. A few years later the '49ers crowded the border towns of Missouri, headed for "Californy," full of hopes for striking it rich.

The constant influx of traders and others on their way west soon brought Independence the reputation of a rough and tumble frontier village. Nevertheless, the roots of civilization were creeping into the town and blossoming. The early schools in this area were, for the most part, privately owned like the schools in most southern settlements. The period also saw the construction of numerous churches in the city. During this early period of frontier America, the first migration of Latter Day Saint settlers came to Independence. Their reason for coming were basically two fold: the early missionaries came in 1831 to bring their story of the Book of Mormon to the Indians in the Kansas reservation; and secondly, Joseph Smith, the prophet-leader of the church came to Independence and dedicated a "temple lot," and a central place for their "gathering." The early influx of Mormon settlers totaled approximately 1,500, or approximately 1/3rd of the total population of the county.

  1. City of Independence, Comprehensive Plan, July 19, 1993, Resolution Number 3913, www.indepmo.org, accessed April, 2011.
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