Over the past century, three nationally significant histories have vied for space and place in Independence, Missouri. Independence was declared Zion by Joseph Smith, served as a gathering and provisioning point for trails west, and was called home by President Harry S. Truman for sixty-four years. Historian Jon E. Taylor has integrated research from newspapers, public documents, oral histories, and private papers to detail how the community has preserved and remembered these various legacies.
Truman’s legacy would appear to have been secured in Independence via three significant designations—his presidential library opened there in 1957, his neighborhood was designated a national historic landmark in 1972, and his home was declared a national historic site in 1982. However, Taylor argues that Truman’s seeming dominance in the community’s memory is in fact endangered by competition from the other aspects of the town’s historical heritage.
Taylor considers the role Mormon history has played in the city's history and chronicles how the Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints returned to Independence to fulfill Joseph Smith's dream of creating Zion in the city, a situation that impacted neighborhoods near the Truman home. Taylor also examines the city's fascination with the Santa Fe, Oregon, and California trails, detailing how that history was lost and remembered and is now immortalized on the Independence square and in the National Frontier Trails Museum.
In the 1980s, the city council reduced the size of the Truman Heritage District, created to maintain Truman’s association with his neighborhood, after church opposition. At the same time, city officials pushed to make Independence a major tourist destination, a move largely dependent upon the city capitalizing on its association with Truman. These inconsistent policies and incongruous goals have led to innumerable changes in the landscape Truman enjoyed during his legendary morning walks.
A President, a Church, and Trails West chronicles one city’s struggle to preserve its history and the built environment. Taylor places the role of preservation in Independence not only within the larger context of preservation in the United States but also within the context of American environmental history. This volume is sure to appeal to anyone interested in public history, historic preservation, history and memory, and local history.
About the Author
Jon E. Taylor teaches history at the University of Central Missouri.
Published by University of Missouri, hardback, 2008. 304 pages.