History and Culture

The Oregon Trail, Mormon History, Historic Sites

Tens of thousands of American pioneers took their first steps west in Independence, MO.

Long before the days of President Harry S. Truman, the pioneers made Independence the most popular starting point for the Oregon Trail. For a time, in the mid-1800s, our streets rumbled under the weight of wooden wagons, and they buzzed with the promise of free land and a fresh start.

At the same time, Independence was growing in its own right. The people built a a proper courthouse, constructed churches and homes and opened businesses to serve the many travelers. 

Today, you can experience the story of our pioneering past at several museums and historic sites.


Pioneers in Independence

In addition to the Oregon Trail, Independence, MO, was also the starting point for the California and Santa Fe trails. Oregon promised land, California promised gold, and Santa Fe promised trade.

From 1821-49, tens of thousands of pioneers and traders descended on Independence to outfit themselves for their journeys. In time, Independence earned its nickname: “Queen City of the Trails.” 

A large map of the westward trails is displayed inside the National Frontier Trails Museum in Independence, MO

National Frontier Trails Museum

The National Frontier Trails Museum is a history museum, interpretive center, and research library dedicated to telling the rich history of America’s principle, pioneering trails.

The 1827 Log Courthouse in Independence, MO, photographed with its historical marker.

1827 Log Courthouse

Jackson County’s first government building, constructed with slave labor, was the only courthouse between St. Louis and the Pacific Ocean when trade began on the Santa Fe Trail.

A mule-drawn, covered wagon carrying visitors on a tour of Independence, MO

Pioneer Trails Adventures

Climb aboard a mule-drawn, covered wagon for an exciting tour of historic Independence, MO. Tours cover everything from the pioneers, to the Civil War to Harry Truman.

Stores line the streets on the Independence Square on a sunny day.

The Independence Square

The Independence Square was the center of activity during pioneer days. Before shopping and dining, check out the Oregon Trail marker on the west end of the Truman Courthouse.

The Mormon Church in Independence

In the 1830s, Independence, MO, attracted people from all walks of life. In 1831, Joseph Smith, founder of the Mormon Church, brought his Latter Day Saints to claim Independence as “Zion.”

The Saints prospered on their large farms, started the first local newspaper and opened their own schools. They worried the townspeople, though, and it wasn’t long before they were bullied out of town (and, eventually, out of the state).

Today, there are multiple churches in Independence that share this early Mormon history. Most notably, Independence now serves the world headquarters of the Community of Christ.

A huge, metallic temple spirals from it's wide base up to a point in Independence, Missouri.

Community of Christ Temple

Community of Christ invites all to visit the Temple and Auditorium, which house the denomination’s international headquarters.

The Latter Day Saints Visitors' Center in Independence, MO

Latter Day Saints Visitors' Center

The Latter Day Saints Visitors’ Center is built on a portion of land that the church once purchased to establish a temple. It includes exhibits about the history of the church in Missouri.

The Community of Christ Temple Lot Historic Site in Independence, MO

Temple Lot

The Latter Day Saints purchased this land in 1831. They planned to build a temple to anchor their City of Zion. The temple was never built, but the land remains important to the church.

The Gilbert Whitney storefront in Independence, MO

Gilbert and Whitney Store

This is the site of the Gilbert and Whitney & Co. church store, purchased in 1832. A mob gathered in 1833 to demolish the establishment. A store by the same name stands here today.

Independence Historic Sites

The City of Independence, MO, boasts five historic sites that help tell our story.

See what life was like for the citizens of Independence during and shortly after our pioneering chapter. Enjoy tours led by knowledgeable locals, who are passionate about our history. 

Historic sites are open from April through October each year.

They reopen from November through December for special holiday tours.

The Vaile Mansion in Independence, MO. A large Victorian Home,

Built by Mr. and Mrs. Harvey Vaile in 1881, the Vaile Mansion was “the most princely house and the most comfortable home in the entire west.”

The Bingham-Waggoner Estate sites below the shade of trees in Independence, MO

Set on a large, beautiful lot, this 26-room, three-story mansion contains 95% of the original contents from the last living family on the estate. 

The 1859 Jail, Marshal’s Home and Museum once housed the infamous Frank James, brother to outlaw Jesse James. It is one of the last original buildings on the Independence Square.

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