Jackson County Courthouse
The Jackson County Courthouse was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1972. Portions of the content on this web page were adapted from a copy of the original nomination document. [†] Adaptation copyright © 2011, The Gombach Group.
Jackson County Courthouse block is bounded on the north by Maple Avenue running from the southeast corner where Maple Avenue and Liberty Street intersect to the southwest corner where Maple Avenue and Main Street intersect; on the south by Lexington Avenue running from the northeast corner where Lexington Avenue and Liberty Street intersect to the northwest corner where Lexington Avenue and Main Street intersect; on the west by Liberty Street running from the southeast corner where Liberty Street and Maple Avenue intersect to the northeast corner where Liberty Street and Lexington Avenue intersect; and on the east by Main Street running from the southwest corner where Main Street and Maple Avenue intersect to the northwest corner where Main Street and Lexington Avenue intersect.
Jackson County Courthouse is designed in the Georgian revival style of the 1930's. "The designer, David Frederick Wallace, associated with Keene and Simpson, employed the Georgian architecture of Colonial Virginia meeting houses..."
The Jackson County Courthouse is rectangular and symmetrical in plan, with three floors, and is constructed of Indiana limestone, concrete, red brick, and Vermont slate. The north and south facades are 186 feet across; the east and west facades are 73 feet across. The center section of the building, on the north and south facades, is nine bays wide and is flanked by two lower wings, each three bays wide. The east and west facades are five bays across. The center three bays on the north and south facades are projected two feet forward from the main wall, as are the three center bays on the east and west facades. The two wings are also projected two feet forward from the main wall of the north and south facades. The main entrances are centered on the north and south facades, with secondary entrances centered on the east and west facades. Two-story tetrastyle porticoes accentuate the main entrances. A cupola is centered over the central section of the courthouse. There is a hipped, slate roof over the central section and a flat roof over the two wings. Single chimneys are located at the east and west ends of the central section of the courthouse.
The windows on both floors of the Jackson County Courthouse are rectangular in shape. Each window on the first floor is jack-arched with a double keystone. These windows are set into shallow round-headed niches. They have nine-over-nine, double-hung sashes. The second floor windows are similar in shape with variations in the number of panes and the decorative elements employed. The keystone is single, and the sash is six-over-nine, double-hung. Instead of being set into a niche, these windows are flush with the wall surface. The second floor windows located under the porticoes are much larger than the other windows found on either floor. These windows are similar to the first floor windows, being jack-arched with a double keystone, but have twelve-over-twelve, double-hung sashes.
The porticoes are classic in form. The columns are of unfluted limestone, three drums each, plus a base and a capital, and rest on a separate plinth. Each drum is 10 feet high, 3 feet in diameter, and weighs 5 tons. The capital is a simplified version of the Corinthian order. Two pilasters, consistent in form with the four columns, secure the portico visually to the wall of the central section of the courthouse. The columns support a simple pediment. Decorative details include two rosettes located on the frieze over the first and fourth columns and gray limestone bas-reliefs on the pediment. On the north facade the relief is the Seal of Missouri and on the south facade, the Seal of Jackson County.
On the north and south facades the doorway is centered under the portico. These doorways are recessed back from the wall surface and have round-arched pediments over them. The doorway jambs have four-panel wooden facings. The two flanking pilasters, which support the pediment, are of the Ionic order and rest on separate plinths. The entablature is recessed over the door proper and is projected over the flanking pilasters. On the frieze, directly over the pilasters, there are rosettes which are identical in design to those on the frieze of the portico. Above the door is a rectangular transom with a single pane of glass. The doorways on the east and west facades are similar to the doorways already described. The only difference is in the shape of the pediments over the doorways. Instead of being rounded, they are triangular. Each doorway has a single set of wooden, three-panel, double doors.
A straight stairway approaches the west door at the first floor level, while two stairways, each a quarter of a circle, approach the basement. These curved stairs are located to the side of and go down under the main stairway. All of these stairs have wrought iron railings. The steps on the north and south facades are an extension of the platform on which the portico columns rest. These steps are stone and run the entire length of the portico. There are no railings. The east stairway is composed of two curved stairways. Each curved stairway is a quarter of a circle and approaches the door at the first floor level. There are wrought iron railings on both stairs.
A parapet wall surmounts the central section of the courthouse and the two wings. It is constructed of brick and limestone, and has two different designs. The main parapet, on the central section of the building, is more detailed than that on the wings. This parapet is accentuated by stone blocks, decorated with bas-reliefs in the shape of a square, at the exterior corners of the central section and at the corners of the projecting center three bays. Each section of balustrade is placed directly over a second floor window on the north and south sides of the central section. This scheme is continued along the east and west sides of this section. The parapet on the wings is, however, simpler in design, lacking the balustrade sections and the corner blocks. The exterior corners are accentuated by modified quoins which are a continuation of the quoins applied to the corners of the walls below. In place of the balustrade sections are recessed brick panels. The corners of the projecting center three bays of the east and west facades also have quoins. The center section is taller than the rest of the wing parapet and has a modified stone bracket-like feature located at the side, resting on the upper edge of the quoins. Stone bas-reliefs of the American spread-eagle surrounded by the symbolic wreath of Victory and Progress ornament this center section.
The cupola is constructed of wood and artificially corroded copper. It consists of three main parts. There is a 15-foot square base which is surmounted by a balustrade with finials atop the four corner posts. This base supports an arcaded octagonal plan structure which, in turn, supports the dome. The overall height of the cupola is 45 feet. A weather vane is located atop the dome and extends the height of the cupola another 10 feet. On each of the four sides of the base there is a clock face.
The wall surface of the Jackson County Courthouse is basically plain, broken only by the window and door openings and by the use of stone features either for functional purposes or decoration. The basement level is entirely of limestone, creating a marked contrast between it and the rest of the building, which is red brick. This limestone section is carried up to the bases of the first floor windows and creates a continuous sill under them. The limestone entablatures of the portico pediments are extended across all four sides of the central section of the court house. A limestone cornice, which rests on the upper edge of the second-story window keystones, is used on the wings. Both of these features divide the second-floor windows from the parapets and form a base for the parapets. Limestone quoins are located at the corners of the wings and at the point where the wings project forward from the central section of the courthouse. These quoins accentuate the rectangular shape of the wings. Quoins are also employed on the east and west facades at the point where the three center bays are projected from the main wall surface. All of the other decorative features employed are also of limestone, making them contrast the red brick walls: the carved panels, each with a carved swag bas-relief, located over the six second-floor windows adjacent to the porticoes; the tops of the chimneys; the balustrades; and the bas-reliefs.
On either side of the south facade entrance are two green marble plaques. The plaque on the east bears the names of the members of the county court at the time of the old log structure and the names of those in office at the time of each remodeling. A dedicatory inscription including a history of the various remodelings is on the west plaque.
The interior of the Jackson County Courthouse is divided into three floors, a basement, a main floor, and a second floor.
Basement — The basement rooms are located under the east and west wings. A tunnel type corridor running under the central portion of the building connects the rooms. This tunnel is well painted and lighted, but is not "finished." In the west wing there are two cells, located in the northwest corner; the constable's quarters; the boiler room, in the southwest corner; and the transformer room.
Main Floor — The main entrances are located on the north and south sides of the main floor; side entrances are at the east and west ends. Central hallways, running between these four doors, intersect and bisect each other at right angles. Offices open off the corridor running east and west. In the east wing there are six offices and one court room. In the west wing, there are three offices, all much larger than the east wing offices. The central area where the two corridors intersect is slightly barrel-vaulted. There are two stairways leading to the second floor located in the east and west wings on the north side of the courthouse.
The central area walls are sheathed in pale grey marble with a red marble baseboard. A moulded plaster cornice at the top is painted mauve and rosy mauve. The ceiling is white.
The corridors are plastered and painted. The dado is rosy beige and the walls above are beige. The baseboard is wood, not marble as in the central section. The doorways are simply framed.
The floors are covered with a brown surface with a dark brown border. The north and south end floors are of tile, while the east and west end floors are of poured cement. In the central area the floor is asphalt tile over diagonally-laid wood flooring.
Second Floor — The Magistrate's Courtroom is at the center of the building. Other offices and courts are located along the east-west corridor. There are five offices east of the main courtroom. To the west, there are four offices and the Probate Courtroom.
The corridor walls are two-tone in color, the dado being beige and the upper wall cocoa brown. The floors are large sheets of asphalt tile, brown with black trim.
The Magistrate's Courtroom is approximately square in plan. The corners are cut off diagonally to accommodate the flues of the fireplaces formerly located at these points. The courtroom also has a rear circulation corridor on the southern side of the room allowing for easy access and ventilation. When court is not in session, traffic goes directly through the courtroom. The walls of the courtroom are painted light blue, and topped by a classic, moulded cornice, presently painted gold or gold-leafed. The floors are a continuation in color and type of those in the corridors.
The Jackson County Courthouse has been remodeled five times. Throughout these remodelings, the original 1836 Jackson County Courthouse built at this site has been retained as the central section of the courthouse, the remodelings being mainly confined to additions to the original structure. The present central area on the main floor and the court room on the second floor are part of this original section.
The first, permanent Jackson County Courthouse was built in 1836. This courthouse was a square, two-story, brick structure and had a tall spire on top. A wooden fence enclosed the building and its one and one-fourth acres of land.
This building was ample for about twelve years, and in 1848, the County Court decided on remodeling the courthouse. The courthouse was enlarged, its exterior walls were refaced, and the building was garbed in a form of colonial architecture. Columns extended from the ground to the roof all the way around the building. The spire was cut down to a small cupola. This remodeling increased the building size only on the exterior.
An important remodeling job was undertaken in 1872. Red brick was used to reface the entire structure. An east wing topped by a pointed tower was added. A railing was placed around the top of the building and Grecian urns were set at intervals along it. The tall columns were done away with and porches with balconies were built at the north and south entrances. The interior was rearranged and much more room achieved.
Again in 1887, the rapidly growing Jackson County required more courthouse space, and another remodeling job was ordered. The north and south porches were changed and porches were added on the east and west sides. The tower wing was also enlarged to provide more office space.
For some twenty years the Jackson County Courthouse building served the county without change. In that time, however, the east or older wing began to show signs of deterioration. Therefore, in 1907, the courthouse was again remodeled. The partially crumbling walls of the east wing were refaced. Hallways, offices, and even the tower were changed to give more space and a better arrangement of rooms. The spire effect of the tower gave way to a more nearly square design, with the four-faced clock being retained. The biggest change was the enlargement of the Circuit Courtroom. It was brought out on the north and south flush with the building, utilizing the balconies on those two sides.
In 1933, the Jackson County Courthouse was again remodeled, being brought to its present appearance at that time.
The Jackson County Courthouse is situated on the public square. The business district surrounds the block on all four sides.
A narrow sidewalk runs along the curb of the block. Wide walks lead up to the four courthouse doors from this curb walk. These four entrance walks are connected with each other by broad walks located midway between the courthouse and the curb walk. These broad sidewalks intersect each other and the curb walk at the corners.
At various location on the courthouse square are 1) a statue of General Andrew Jackson, placed at the east entrance by former President Harry S. Truman in 1949; 2) a marker honoring Jackson County pioneers, Revolutionary soldiers and the like on the southeast corner of the block, erected in 1932; 3) a second marker commemorating the Santa Fe Trail, erected by the Daughters of the American Revolution in 1909, situated on the southwest corner; and 4) "Here the Oregon Trail Began," located on the northwest quadrant of the block, erected in 1948 by the Jackson County Court.
The Jackson County Courthouse is historically significant as the oldest structure in continuous use as a courthouse in Missouri. The structure reflects the stages of physical development which have proved to be characteristic of the majority of the Missouri courthouses. The core of the present building includes the courthouse built in 1836 a building that has never been torn down during the numerous and extensive rebuildings that followed, though it was extensively remodeled each time. Further significance is contributed to the structure in that it housed for ten years the office of former United States President Harry S. Truman, then Eastern Judge and Presiding Judge.
Initially, while awaiting the construction of a "permanent" log courthouse, the typical pioneer county court conducted its business in a residential building. As the county expanded and more demands were made of the court, the log structure quickly became outdated. Usually, a two-story, brick building replaced the log one. Generally, the growth of the county again dictated a bigger and better functioning structure. By the 1870's and 1880's, more pretentious and ornamentally elaborate edifices nudged the smaller brick courthouse off the courthouse square. Unfortunately, the majority of these buildings burned in the 1890's and early 1900's. Their replacements represent, with varying degrees of quality, the "Moderne" style in courthouse architecture.
The first Jackson County Circuit Court convened at the home of John Young on May 29, 1827. "At this meeting the court directed that bids be sought for the building of a temporary log courthouse made of 'hewn logs' to be located on a site now near Lexington and Lynn streets, the block east of the present public square. Specifications called for the building to be thirty-six feet long and eighteen feet wide. A fireplace was to be placed in each of two rooms." That same year, the county court moved into its new headquarters a log courthouse which is still preserved a few blocks from the present building. Within two years, plans were being made for a larger, red brick building which was completed in 1836. Unlike most counties which have lost successive buildings to demolition, fire, or natural decay, Jackson County still possesses its original log courthouse and has retained the basic 1836 structure by incorporating later renovations and additions around it.
The 1836 courthouse, a 40' x 30', two-story, brick structure with twelve windows and four chimneys, is the central core of the present Jackson County Courthouse.
Since 1836, five remodelings have been made around this courthouse without altering the basic integrity of the building. These remodelings took place in 1848, 1872, 1887, 1907, and 1933.
The 1848 structure "...was distinctly colonial with six columns extending from the ground to the roof on each side and with a setback in the center of both the north and south sides with an entrance in each. The building was practically square. Only the tops of the chimneys were visible. The tall spire was chopped off and a cupola took its place. There were many more windows in this new structure."
During the Civil War, Independence was occupied by the Union Army, except when the Confederates twice captured it for brief periods. Though the Jackson County Courthouse was used as a headquarters and hospital, it was little damaged during the battles.
With the second renovation in 1872, a square clock tower with sharp spire replaced the cupola. An ornamental railing was placed around the edge of the red brick building with urns placed at intervals. Porches were built on the north and south sides of the building with balconies over them. A wing was also added on the east side. Central heating was also installed at this time. The building took on a Second Empire appearance.
A two-story annex was built adjacent to the west side of the courthouse in 1887 and was connected to the main building by colonnades. At this time the clock tower was also modified. The work was supervised by Asa B. Cross, a prominent Kansas City architect.
Twenty years later, more room was needed, and the building was altered once more. The exterior was refaced with yellow brick, the tower shortened and the top squared; inside, the orientation of the court room was changed 90 degrees and the lower floor extensively rearranged.
The last remodeling of the Jackson County Courthouse was the most extensive. Under the leadership of Presiding Judge Harry S. Truman, all additions to the 1836 Jackson County Courthouse were removed and a much larger, Neo-Colonial style building was constructed around the core. The second floor Circuit Courtroom remained the same, however, but other courtrooms and offices were relocated. The building retains this appearance today.
Former President Truman held office in the Jackson County Courthouse for ten years (1922-24, 1926-34). During his tenure as judge, the basis for his nomination and election as a Missouri senator and as a United States President was being laid. Truman's leadership secured $20,000,000.00 in bond issues to construct highways and public buildings. The total expenditure of $60,000,000.00 in capital improvement funds during his tenure as judge would appear to indicate the effectiveness of Truman's building program and his significance to the development of Jackson County.
Besides serving as a hospital during the Civil War, the Jackson County Courthouse has at various times provided a location for dramatics, community meetings, and even an artist's studio. The Jackson County Courthouse was the scene of the trial of "Big Bill" Ryan, the first member of the James gang to be brought before the bar of justice. Frank James was arraigned there after his surrender in 1882. The Swope murder trials occurred there in the early twentieth century.
The survey of Missouri's sites of historical and architectural significance is based on the selection of sites as they relate to theme studies in Missouri history as outlined in Missouri's "Comprehensive Statewide Preliminary Historic Preservation Plan." The Jackson County Courthouse is therefore listed on the National Register of Historic Places 1) because of the association of the building with former United States President Harry S. Truman and 2) because as an example of the theme study of Missouri county courthouses, this structure is the oldest building in Missouri continually in use as a county courthouse.
† M. Patricia Holmes, Missouri State Park Board, State Historical Survey and Planning Office, Jackson County Courthouse, Independence, Missouri, nomination document, 1972, National Park Service, National Register of Historic Places, Washington, D.C.