Truman history will come alive in courthouse renovation

Eric Piper with Piper-Wind Architects showed journalists through the work underway on the county courthouse in Independence. The renovation will restore the building to what it was like when Harry Truman renovated it in 1933, with the help of his brother-in-law.

By Joe Lambe

The Harry Truman courthouse on the Independence Square is scheduled to reopen September 7, 2013 – exactly 80 years from when Truman opened his expanded version of it.

Truman was Jackson County presiding judge in those days, the lead administrator in county government.

He spent $200,000 on the renovation project out of a $10 million depression-era bond issue that also funded the Downtown Jackson County courthouse.

County Executive Mike Sanders spoke Thursday to a group of a reporters going on a tour of the $5.7 million interior renovation work.

Nepotism rules were a little different then, Sanders said, and Truman chose a little known architect named David Fredrick Wallace to do the work, Truman’s brother-in-law.

The architect also lived with Truman and his wife at their house in Independence.

Sanders said, “Harry could just look over at his brother-in-law and talk about court” at breakfast.

Much of the renovated flooring will be a modern version of battleship linoleum, a very hard material that was in the courthouse and on all the nation’s warships until the Pearl Harbor attack. People discovered then that it was also incredibly flammable, Sanders said.

Truman’s was the fifth major renovation on the original building built there in the 1820s.

A magistrate courtroom that dates to the 1830s is among the oldest
features in the courthouse and will be kept intact for visitors.

After it became a courthouse in the 1830s, there was a problem with fleas, Sanders said, which was resolved with an original “green solution.”

They put sheep in there overnight and removed them and the fleas in the morning.

The work underway now is the third and final phase in a total of $7.5 million in work to restore the building and return it to the integrity of the 1933 design.

Over the years, the building had degenerated into largely a warren of shabby little offices with drop ceilings.

Those are opened up, the high ceilings are back and amenities like an elevator, Internet hookups, modern heating and cooling and ADA compliant bathrooms are being added.

Eric Piper of Piper-Wind Architects explained other work:

The courtroom of then presiding Jackson County Judge Harry Truman will
remain intact for visitors as part of the building’s latest renovation.

The Truman courtroom there, where administrative judges met, will be preserved intact. It includes a wall clock stopped at 7:50 a.m., the time Truman died on Dec. 26, 1972.

Another courtroom where a magistrate judge presided dates to the 1830s and will also be open for visitors. It includes two ornate paintings found in the basement of the building.

Much of the second floor, seven rooms that used to be things like probate court and a sheriff’s office, will be for a display of Jackson County art.

Another large room on the second floor will house archives of the Jackson County Historical Society, which will also have a bookstore on the first floor.

The first floor will house a tourist office for the city of Independence and also the county’s collection and assessment offices, in the same place they were in 1933.

The historic courthouse on the Independence square is being restored
to the integrity of its 1933 expansion and renovation design overseen
by then presiding Jackson County Judge Harry Truman.


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