This time last week the Park Chasers were heading home from a weekend of traveling to two Midwestern National Historic Sites. Harry S. Truman National Historic Site in Independence, Missouri and Brown v. Board of Education National Historic Site in Topeka, Kansas which are only a short 1 hour drive apart. The Harry S. Truman National Historic Site takes visitors through President Truman’s home, where he returned from a controversial presidency to a quiet Missouri neighborhood. Brown v. Board of Education National Historic Site commemorates the challenging but hopeful days during the desegregation of our nation’s schools.
The two sites are perfect for a weekend get-away or as stops on a longer road trip across the heart of the Midwest. Today we’re sharing Park Chaser’s itinerary, some travel notes, and a few add-ons in the Kansas City/Topeka area you might want to check out during your visit to the sites.
Arrive in Independence, Missouri. Leave I-49/US 71 and travel into the heart of the downtown area. Drive along the quiet city streets as you make your way past 219 North Delaware. This is the home where First Lady Bess Truman was born and lived until her death in 1982. The home is preserved in nearly the exact condition as when she and President Truman last lived there. You’ll know you’re in the neighborhood when you begin to see the navy and red signs with a silhouette of President Truman on one of his famous strolls.
Continue on to the Harry S. Truman National Historic Site Visitor’s Center, located at the intersection of Truman Road and Main Street, in Historic Fire Station No.1. While you are driving, look for The Noland Home, Independence High School, and the Jackson County Courthouse, just a few of the buildings within the Harry S. Truman National Historic Landmark District.
When you arrive at the Visitor’s Center, check in at the ranger’s desk for the next available tour of the Truman home. Ranger-led tours are first-come, first-served and offered daily 9:00-4:00 p.m. The tours cost $5, but can only take a maximum of 8 people per tour. During the busy months, the tours sell out so check-in as soon as you get into town.
Once you’ve secured your tickets, pick up the Passport Stamp in the bookstore before watching the introductory film “At Home with Harry and Bess” in the Visitor’s Center. It shares information about Truman’s birth, his early career in Missouri, and how he was unexpectedly thrown into the White House during a critical point in American history.
Visit the Truman Home and marvel at the 50,000+ artifacts still in place where President and Mrs. Truman left them. President Truman left the White House and wished to return to his quiet, simple life in Missouri. Much of the home showcases the steps he and Mrs. Truman took to preserve their privacy and way of life despite his fame. Beware of a few rules before you go, particularly that the National Park Service does not permit any large bags, cell phone use, or photography in the home. If you have time, walk to the Noland Home for self-guided exhibits on the early courtship of Harry and Bess Truman and their life in Independence, Missouri.
While not part of the National Park Service, ParkChasers recommends visitors spend the rest of the day touring the Harry S. Truman Presidential Library and Museum. Truman himself worked to raise funds for the library and continued to work in his office there for many years after his presidency. The Truman library grounds is also the resting place for President Truman, Mrs. Truman and their daughter Margaret and her husband. Hours are Monday through Saturday 9:00 a.m.-5:00 p.m. and Sunday 12:00-5:00 p.m.
End the day with a night out in Kansas City or drive on Topeka for Day 2.
If you haven’t left Missouri yet, drive the 80 miles (about 1 hour) west on the Kansas Turnpike to Topeka. Be prepared you’ll need toll money at the end of the turnpike!
Visit the Brown v. Board of Education National Historic Site, located at 1515 SE Monroe Street near downtown Topeka. Parking is free a located across the grassy field area. As you enter into the Monroe Elementary School building, imagine the lives of the 13 ordinary families who took their fight to the U.S. Supreme Court in Brown v. Board of Education over the right to be educated in buildings like Monroe.
Visitors to the building have a few options once inside the Monroe building: Enter the gymnasium for a 30 minute film on the history of race in America. Take a self-guided walk through the exhibit galleries dedicated to the Civil Rights Movement in America. If your timing is right, take a ranger led tour departing at 10 am or 2 pm (although the rangers on staff are happy to answer questions as soon as you entire the school doors). Lastly, visitors can spend time in the restored Kindergarten classroom which has interactive exhibits and information on what it would have been like to attend Monroe Elementary as a student in the 1950’s. In total, a visit to Brown v. Board of Education National Historic Site takes about 2 hours.
Don’t forget to pick up your Passport stamp in the bookstore near the front entrance before you leave!
While the Harry S. Truman National Historic Site and Brown v. Board of Education National Historic Site may be combined into one day for a quick visit, here are some other sites of interest in the area:
- Tour the Kansas State Capitol in downtown Topeka. Dome tours are scheduled Monday through Friday at 9:15, 10:15, 11:15 a.m., 12:15, 1:15, 2:15, 3:15 p.m. The tour is said to be breathtaking—literally—with 296 steps and no elevator. Visitors can also take self-guided tours through the Capitol, viewing the Senate and House of Representatives chambers and the many murals decorating the building.
- Visit the Truman Farm. Also a part of the Harry S. Truman National Historic Site, the Truman farm is located roughly 20 miles south of the Truman home in Independence. The grounds are open daily, although no rangers are present on site. Cell phone tours are available describing the 11 years that Truman spent operating the family farm, which played a guiding role in his later decisions as President.