The grand old house at 219 N. Delaware St. in Independence has a mold problem.
That won’t do for what was once the “summer White House.”
The exterior of the Harry Truman Home has distinct discoloration and some peeling of paint, particularly on the north side. The National Park Service, which oversees the house as well as nine other Truman-related properties in Independence and Grandview, is aware of the situation.
But Greg Wolcott is currently the only maintenance person for the entire Harry S. Truman National Historic Site, and budgets are tight. These things take time.
“He’s been working on the south side of the house and trying to clean things up as he can,” said Carol Dage, superintendent of the site for the National Park Service. “We have scheduled to have the entire home washed. That will improve the appearance greatly.”
Wolcott, the facility manager, explained that the discoloration is caused by mold that flourishes in the old wood and in the shady and damp grounds of the historic house. It was cleaned off in 2015 but tends to come back. Another methodical cleaning is scheduled to begin next week.
“We pressure wash every year, and it just comes back,” Wolcott said. “We can’t stop it. This is actually not a bad year. There have been worse years where the home was almost completely covered in mold. It’s just a constant battle. The house is very high maintenance.”
That is exacerbated by the need to maintain the historical integrity of the property. The house is washed, under low pressure, with soap and water and not with chemicals or bleach. When it is painted, the workers must use brushes and not sprayers.
Even the bushes around the house are trimmed with hand clippers and not electric trimmers — and they are allowed to grow out because that’s the way the Trumans liked it, for privacy.
Harry and Bess Truman held their wedding reception in 1919 on the grounds of the house, which dates to 1867 and belonged to Bess Wallace’s family. The Trumans lived there with her mother and grandmother. Two Wallace brothers built small homes on the property.
The Victorian home on the corner of Delaware Street and what is now Truman Road served as the summer White House during the Truman presidency, and they returned to it after the end of his term.
“Today, the Truman Home offers a glimpse at the personal life of the 33rd President of the United States,” according to the Truman National Historic Site website. “Beautiful in its uncluttered commonness, the Truman Home showcases the simple life the family enjoyed in Independence before and after Harry’s years as President.”
Guided tours of the home’s first floor are $5 for adults. Tickets must be purchased at the visitor center at 223 N. Main Street near Independence Square.
In addition to the mold, exterior white paint is already flaking off in places on the north side despite having been applied about five years ago. Latex paint does not bind well to the oil-based primer, which is used to seal the home against water damage.
Dage said the site successfully competed with other places in the Midwestern region of the National Park Service for money to repaint the entire house again in fiscal year 2017. Because the job has to be put out for bids, the work will probably not happen until spring.
Wolcott said the bid request this time will call for some sort of mold abatement, but the product used will have to be approved.
Some lead abatement work was done last year on the porch of the Truman Home, and this year the roof of the carriage house was replaced. The Truman Farm Home at 12301 Blue Ridge Blvd. in Grandview will require a foundation study. But otherwise, the properties included in the national historic site are sound.
“We’re just trying to stay ahead of it,” Dage said. “We’ve been very fortunate with project funding, and we work away.”