Historic courthouse is rededicated in Independence

09/07/2013 11:52 PM

09/07/2013 11:52 PM

A significant symbol of the history of the area and the nation was brought “back to life” Saturday.

The Jackson County Historic Truman Courthouse on the square in Independence was rededicated Saturday, exactly 80 years to the hour after its namesake and most famous former occupant oversaw another re-dedication of the structure that dates to before the Civil War.

But since that last ceremony in 1933 presided over by Harry Truman, the building, placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1972, slowly eased into disuse and disrepair.

For Jackson County Executive Mike Sanders, that was an unacceptable fate for a building of historical significance.

Civil War battles were fought in its shadow. And Truman, who served as the county’s presiding judge from his courthouse office, later made some of the most momentous decisions of the 20th Century as the 33rd U.S. president.

“It is the obligation of the current generation to be good stewards of our history,” Sanders said.

The initial phase of the more recent renovation, which included exterior tuck-pointing and new windows, was completed about 10 years ago. A second phase began in 2009. Sanders tapped contingency funds for work that included the removal of exterior retaining walls that had routed water to the building and endangered the foundation. Paying for that second phase, Sanders added, was necessary to prevent the building from deteriorating beyond the point of repair.

“We were told by engineers that there were sections of the building that were beginning to settle,” Sanders said recently. If that had happened, Sanders added, renovation would have been so expensive as to be impractical.

The third phase of the renovation, which upgraded the building’s interior, has been completed. Since 2009, the work has cost $6.4 million.

Along the way, Sanders said he has learned more of the building’s past. The architect hired to oversee the 1933 renovation was Truman’s brother-in-law, he said.

Back then, the arrangement garnered some nice stories in the newspapers. Today, he said, a public official who hired his brother-in-law for an important project would be indicted.

Besides Sanders, U.S. Sen. Roy Blunt, former U.S. Rep. Ike Skelton and Truman’s grandson, Clifton Truman Daniel, were on hand for Saturday’s ceremony.

Blunt said it was impossible to stand in front of the building without reflecting on the man it is named for. The senator said he was honored to have the same office in Washington, D.C., that Truman used.

“He is an overwhelming presence in the history of our country,” Blunt said.

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