Blake Walsh

15 Best Things to Do in Independence, MO

  • Published 2021/11/10

The vibrant city of Independence in Missouri is known for many things.

People call it “the Queen City of the Trails,” as the California, Oregon, and Santa Fe Trails begin here.

It is primarily known as the former residence of U.S. President Harry S. Truman, who was a Jackson County judge before his presidential election.

It also houses the museum and library honoring the late president.

His remains, and his wife’s, Bess Truman, also lie here.

Several Mormon denominations have their main offices in this city, which is considered holy by the Latter-day Saint community as the site of the 1831 Temple Lot of Joseph Smith.

Independence, Missouri, is the state’s fifth-largest city.

It is the county seat of Jackson County and a suburb of Kansas City, Missouri, the second-largest in the Kansas City metropolitan region.

It has a population of 123,011 in 2020.

Founded on March 29, 1827, Independence took its name from the Declaration of Independence and immediately became a frontier town.

Independence quickly rose to prominence as a staging place for the burgeoning fur trade, serving as a stopover for merchants and adventurers embarking on the arduous journey westward via the Santa Fe Trail.

Today, the city’s economy relies primarily on services and retail trade.

What activities can you enjoy in this historic city?

Read on to find out the 15 best things to do in Independence, Missouri.

Visit the Harry S. Truman National Historic Site

View of Harry S. Truman National Historic Site

James Kirkikis /

There are many locations in Kansas City, Missouri, associated with the life and legacy of Harry S. Truman but the most notable of them all is the Harry S. Truman National Historic Site.

The National Park Service manages the property, which was declared a National Historic Site in 1983.

Since he married in 1919, it functioned as Truman’s residence until the late president’s demise in 1972.

View of Harry S. Truman National Historic Site

Adam Jones from Kelowna, BC, Canada, CC BY-SA 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

The home’s maintained living history displays, which replicate period-appropriate furniture and essential highlight items, allow visitors to explore the life and career of the former president.

Besides the Noland Home, owned by the president’s aunt and cousins, the City of Independence preserved two nearby residences belonging to Bess Truman.

Celebrate the Legacy of the Late President at Truman Courthouse

To preserve the courthouse Harry S. Truman sat in before his election as President of the United States, the City of Independence turned it into a living museum called Truman Courthouse.

Its Colonial Revival-style tower was renovated in 1933 by George Frederick Waller, who designed some of its most stunning architectural features.

This structure features Truman’s pre-election career in Jackson County.

Jackson County’s Assessment, Collections and Recorder of Deeds Department, Jackson County Historical Society facilities, and Independence Tourism Department are also in this building.

You may also find a museum dedicated to the works of George Caleb Bingham called the Jackson County Museum of Art on the second level.

Cool off at Waterfall Park

View of Waterfall Park

KTTJ Holdings LLC /

Waterfall Park on Bass Pro Lake is just a short walk away from Independence greenways.

Despite its name, the park does not have a waterfall; however, one is nearby.

Near the Bass Pro Shops on the other side of an 18-acre lake, this park has picnic tables and a huge waterfall, as well as playground equipment.

View of a Sign at Waterfall Park

Jon Kraft /

Follow East Bluff Drive east for a short distance to find the waterfall after leaving the park.

The westbound lane nearest to the lake is blocked from automobile traffic, making it perfectly safe for pedestrians to cross the street here without fear.

East Bluff Drive, which runs east of the waterfall, is another option for viewing it.

Admire the Architectural Elements of the Harvey M. Vaile Mansion

Completed in 1881 for merchant and Colonel Harvey Merrick Vaile, this stunning mansion stands in the heart of the Hudson Valley.

As a notable example of the Second Empire architectural style, the home features exquisite design elements that earned it the title of “showplace of Jackson County” during the nineteenth century.

In 1969, it became part of the National Register of Historic Places.

In 1983, the City of Independence bought this property.

Since then, it has been operating as a museum of living history.

During guided tours, you will have the chance to see the estate’s enormous 48,000-gallon wine cellar and remarkable design components, such as nine marble fireplaces.

Check out the Historic 1879 Chicago and Alton Railroad Depot

View of Historic 1879 Chicago and Alton Railroad Depot

Jon Kraft /

The Friends of the Chicago and Alton Depot, a nonprofit group created in opposition to the Gateway Western Railroad’s plan to demolish the terminal, rebuilt and moved the 1879 Chicago and Alton Railroad Depot in 1996, making it Missouri’s sole restored two-story train depot.

The organization transferred the depot to its current site on West Pacific Avenue between 1996 and 2002.

It has been meticulously restored to its former glory and is now open for tours for a hands-on historical experience.

A Sign at Historic 1879 Chicago and Alton Railroad Depot

Jon Kraft /

The depot’s first-floor public spaces contain a stationmaster’s office, a waiting area, and an area for luggage.

At the stationmaster’s home on the second floor, you will find items from the nineteenth century.

Aside from guided tours, it is also open for special events.

Learn About the Latter Day Saint Denomination at the Independence Mormon Visitors’ Center

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints owns and operates the Independence Visitors’ Center in Independence, Missouri, dedicated on May 31, 1971.

Church of Christ headquarters is just a few yards away from the community of Christ’s temple, located at the Greater Temple Lot that Joseph Smith acquired and consecrated in 1831.

The museum displays illustrate the stories of Mormon residents in Missouri between 1831 and 1839 and exhibits the significance of families – the Book of Mormon teachings from current prophets.

Explore the Community of Christ International Headquarters Temple and Auditorium

View of Community of Christ International Headquarters Temple and Auditorium

EGDJ, CC BY 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

In 1958, the Community of Christ International Headquarters Temple and Auditorium culminated in more than three decades of planning and building.

You may find one of the largest freestanding pipe organs in the United States in the 5,800-seat auditorium designed and built by Frederick M. Smith, president of the Community of Christ.

In the 20th century, famous organist John Obetz played the Aeolian-Skinner organ on his monthly radio show Auditorium Organ.

Visitors to the temple can take self-guided tours of the Worshiper’s Path, which features symbolic religious art or take a break in the Meditation Chapel, featuring an award-winning stained-glass display and a museum showing relics relevant to the history of the church.

See Provocative Art at the Darkwood House Gallery

The Darkwood House Gallery brings together a select group of accomplished figurative painters drawn to the macabre, strange, and fantastical themes that permeate their work.

They aim to bring the Dark Art trend into the heartland by concentrating on the gloomy regions of established and fresh, developing artists.

As a group, they dedicate themselves to promoting the work of dark artists and providing them with a distinctive venue in which to show their work.

They are also actively looking for artists with a dark vision in their style and subjects, regardless of the media they use.

With their paintings on display in a gloomy and distinctive gallery environment, the Darkwood House Gallery anxiously awaits admiring admirers and collectors.

Discover the Story of Historic Trails at the National Frontier Trails Museum

View of National Frontier Trails Museum

Jon Kraft /

The National Frontier Trails Museum is committed to preserving the history of America’s three main historic western routes from the nineteenth century: the California, Oregon, and Santa Fe Trails.

On display at the museum at the Chicago and Alton Railroad Depot is the narrative of how the three routes came to be and how they shaped pioneer and modern-day American life.

Statue of Jim Bridger at the National Frontier Trails Museum

Chris Light, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Pioneer-era covered wagons, trail relics, pioneer letters, diaries, and other nineteenth-century objects relating to individuals who undertook the long and grueling trek westward on the routes in quest of a better life are all on display at the museum.

Also on display is an award-winning documentary video and a children’s activity section for guests of all ages to enjoy.

Sign at National Frontier Trails Museum

Jon Kraft /

Look Back on Civil War History at 1859 Jail, Marshal’s Home and Museum

In 1933, the 1859 Jail, Marshal’s Home, and Museum in Independence, Missouri, was decommissioned after serving the city since its erection in 1859.

Since then, it has been recognized as a historic site by the National Park Service and is now available for tourists as a historical site and museum.

Tourists will see and learn about the county marshal mansion, the museum’s limestone jail cells, and chain gang facilities, which were all used as military and civilian prisons during American Civil War.

Visitors may learn about the facility’s ties to notable criminals like Jesse James’s older brother, Frank James, through exhibits and information.

The museum is available to the general public from April through October and during certain December hours for Christmas celebrations.

Tour the Bingham-Waggoner Estate

Outside View of Bingham-Waggoner Estate

Melissa Kothe, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Near Independence Square attractions like the Harry S. Truman Presidential Library and Museum, the Bingham Waggoner Estate is a lovely 19-acre estate setting.

Being one of the most significant historical places in Western Missouri, this mansion has kept more than 90% of its original furniture. In 1827, George Caleb Bingham planned it and the Santa Fe Trail.

Outside View of Bingham-Waggoner Estate

Jon Kraft /

It also served as the politician’s residence.

After the City of Independence bought this property in 1979, it has served as a living history museum.

It is accessible to the public for tours and special events.

Grab Home Décor Souvenirs From BeHereNow

Throughout the store, you’ll find everything, whether it’s lighting or furniture, or tabletop goods, to complement your decor.

It is possible to order products to be delivered to the shop, ready for pick up, or you may browse through our selection of one-of-a-kind pieces.

You may also hunt for the appropriate element to spruce up your in-home setting in their resource area.

BeHereNow also accepts old furniture, and the company will improve it to something more current and fashionable.

You should stop by this business and have a look at the beautiful objects on display if you’re looking for some inspiration.

Have a Blast at Cool Crest Family Fun Center

A Sign at Cool Crest Family Fun Center

Jon Kraft /

There is no better place to spend a family day than Cool Crest Family Fun Center.

Cool Crest, Kansas City’s leading family entertainment center, has been in operation for more than 70 years.

It is an excellent choice for birthday parties, corporate gatherings, or a night out with friends and family.

A full-service pizza and restaurant, go-karts, and batting cages are just some of the attractions at Cool Crest.

They also have a full-time event crew ready to make your special occasion at Cool Crest a very memorable one!

Shop Some Kitchen Additions at Gilbert Whitney & Co.

Gilbert & Whitney was a modest business on Lexington and Liberty’s junction on Independence Square in 1833.

After the building purchase, the new owners decided to restore it to its original state.

Are you looking for some kitchenware?

If you’re looking for a custom-made gift box, we’ve got you covered.

You may get anything from culinary tools and baking pans to aprons at Gilbert, Whitney & Co.

It features brands like Nordic Ware, Breville, Lodge, and more.

Final Thoughts

Historic Independence has so much to offer you, from the pioneers to the presidents.

It is where the past and the future meet, where you can explore the legacy of the late President Harry S. Truman and experience other historical heritage and bustling new additions.

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