By Don Bradley
In March, the National Park Service sent a highly-skilled crew to do a month’s work at the Truman Farm Home in Grandview.
The crew’s specialty: historical preservation.
The first thing they did was demolish the front porch.
The second thing was demolish the back porch.
Then they put it all back together using as much of the original material as possible. By month’s end, the three carpenters and a supervisor from the Historic Preservation Training Center in Maryland had completed the most extensive work at the Truman Farm Home in over 30 years.
They replaced interior flooring, repaired trim, removed dry rot and installed water draining measures in the nearly 130-year-old house where a young Harry Truman lived while running, begrudgingly perhaps, the old family farm.
The workers also tangled with a fat groundhog that had laid claim to the dirt of a two-foot hole beneath the front porch.
“He was not happy from what I hear,” said Carol Dage, superintendent of the Harry S Truman National Historic Site.
A park service report later referred to the animal as being “grumpy.”
The project wrapped just in time for Harry’s Hay Days to celebrate the 33rd president’s birthday and the resumption of live tours at the farm on May 5.
The Truman National Historic Site includes the Farm Home at 12301 Blue Ridge Ext. in Grandview and the Truman Home at 219 N. Delaware in Independence where Missouri’s only president lived during his political years.
The Independence site gets more visitors.
“But this place is so important, too, because the farm was such a big part of his life,” said Joseph Gray, facility operations specialist for both locations.
Living on the Farm
In 1906, Harry Truman didn’t particularly cherish the idea of moving to the farm. He was 22, made $100 a week at a bank job in downtown Kansas City and had grown used to indoor plumbing and electricity.
And he’d never farmed a day in his life.
But he answered the family call and moved all the way out to Grandview to help out his grandmother, parents and siblings. He slept in an upstairs bedroom with a brother and a couple of farmhands who slept on the floor.
The room cooked in the summer and froze in the winter. The farm was typical of those of the time. The Trumans raised crops and chickens, horses, cattle, hogs and mules.
“I thought maybe by cussing mules and plowing corn I could perhaps overcome my shyness and amount to something,” Truman would later write.
His father relied on young Harry to help run things and when the older man died in 1914 the job fell entirely on to the son. Truman said later he used the long days on the farm to plan his future which didn’t include staying put.
He seemingly planned well.
After 11 years on the farm, Truman joined the Army during World War I and rose to the rank of major. He later ran a business, which failed, but then became a Jackson County judge and in 1934 won election to the U.S. Senate.
Ten years later, President Franklin Roosevelt, seeking a fourth term, chose Truman to be his vice-president. The job didn’t last long. FDR died the following year, thrusting the shy Grandview farmer into the White House.
A Safe Visit
Next week, when visitors show up at the Truman Farm for Harry’s Hay Days, Carol Dage, the site superintendent, will breathe easier.
Before the recent work, she worried somebody would fall through the front porch. But thanks to funds from Great American Outdoors Act, passed by Congress in 2020 to make improvements at national parks, the porch floor is steady.
Dage will also point out fine lines in porch posts where workers inserted small sections to replace only damaged parts rather than the whole post.
She knows there is only so much money to go around when it comes to national parks and places like Yellowstone and Yosemite are the big dogs.
“But there are also places like this,” Dage said.
And more work is coming. The recent improvements to the old house were mostly out of the public eye. That changes this summer when workers begin removing the tree line to the south to clear the way for fields.
The labor, again by traveling workers, will open the site to crops as in Truman’s day. The project is laid out in a park service 2013 cultural landscape report.
For now, Dage and Gray are expecting a big crowd to view the recent improvements at the old farm.
The Grandview Historical Society will help with the tours.
Besides the house, the old farm’s chicken coop is about all that remains from Truman’s farm days. But there is something about Harry Truman, a president whose historical stature, and popular admiration, has only increased since his time in office.
People want to stand on his ground.
“When I read about Truman,” Dage said, “it makes me proud to be a Missourian, to know all he tried to do to help the common man.”
The Truman Farm Home will be open Fridays and Saturdays for ranger-guided tours starting May 5 and run through Oct. 21.
For more information, go to Harry S Truman National Historic Site (U.S. National Park Service) (nps.gov)