Independence, Missouri, is rich with United States history. Founded in 1827, the city became known as the “Queen City of the Trails,” denoting its fame for being the starting point for the Santa Fe, California and Oregon trails. Although it became a secondary Missouri city after Kansas City rose to prominence post Civil War, Independence has remained the fourth largest city in the state. In addition to its historical prominence, the city is also home to many notable individuals including Ginger Rogers, George Caleb Bingham and Harry S. Truman.
Due to its adjacency to Kansas City, Independence is oftentimes pigeon-holed into the category of typical midwest suburb. While that is partially true – it’s home to a shopping mall and you can’t drive for more than five minutes without seeing your typical fast food and chain restaurants – Independence is much more than the blandness that comes to mind when one envisions a suburb.
In fact, Independence is technically a satellite city – a smaller metropolitan area that is located near to, but can stand alone from, a larger city. This small but significant difference characterizes the nuance of Independence: alongside the shopping mall-esque suburbanism is a history and culture that lies in the hidden gems of the city.
When you take the 20 minute trek south to Independence from the campus of William Jewell College, keep these places and events that are unique to the city in mind.
Boasting everything from galleries to local theatre, Independence has plenty to do for those looking for a little arts and culture.
The Pharaoh Cinema is one of few remaining independent movie theaters and shows current blockbusters while offering food and drinks from local business at their concessions. Every Thursday during the summer months, the theater projects movies on the side of their building for fun, free entertainment. The marquee still glittering with hundreds of lights, the Pharaoh continues to provide a charming and nostalgic movie-going experience – and at reasonable prices.
Formed by 10 local artists, the Art Squared Gallery houses local artwork and features one local artist per month. In addition to the wonderful pieces you can view and buy at the gallery, Art Squared offers classes to adults and children in multiple different medias.
Englewood Station Arts District is a historic shopping district that began as a destination for riders of the trolly between Kansas City and Independence. Officially designated as an arts district in 2011, the area is home to multiple galleries and community-centered hangouts. One of which being Englewood Row – a beautiful gallery, studio and event space that houses studio and gallery artists and regularly features local artists. A local legend entails that Walt Disney once worked in the gallery building.
Established in 1980, the City Theatre of Independence continues to please its patrons with their performances. The City Theatre puts on one musical and four plays a season, all culminating in an annual late summer Playwright Festival.
The food in Independence is a microcosm of the city itself. At a variety of different price ranges and types of cooking, the food is full of as much history as it is good flavor.
Courthouse Exchange has been open and serving classic pub food since 1899. The restaurant creates huge burgers, loaded baked potatoes, homemade applesauce and sandwiches – like the Bacon Ranch Chicken – that are sure to send you into the most blissful food coma of your life. In addition to the delicious midwestern fare, there are murals and pictures all over the restaurant depicting Independence history that one can view while devouring their food.
Another historical icon of Independence is Clinton’s Soda Fountain. The business, open since 1988, is located in a storefront that dates back to the 1800s. The current soda fountain is housed in the building of the former Clinton’s Drugstore, a pharmacy where Harry S. Truman worked in his youth. The old-fashioned soda fountain serves classic phosphates, ice cream and edible cookie dough. Order a Harry’s Favorite – a chocolate sundae topped with butterscotch – or create your own concoction. Either way, everything is delicious at Clinton’s.
A unique gem, Vivilore, opened in 2012 and offers an art gallery and antiques in addition to upscale American cuisine. The food is made with locally sourced ingredients, some of which are grown in the restaurants own garden. If the mouth-watering food and unique shopping experience weren’t enough, patrons can dine on Vivilore’s patio and garden, ranked one of the best patios in Kansas City.
Salvatore’s, originally Garozzo’s, opened over 25 years ago and has been filling the hearts and stomachs of diners with heavenly Italian food ever since. After his father, Alfio Garozzo, retired, Salvatore took over the restaurant, eventually changing the name in 2013. Although the name has changed, the menu has not, and customers can still feast on the restaurant’s famous chicken spedinis and other incredible Italian cuisine.
One cannot, or rather should not, think of Independence without at some point thinking of the SantaCaliGon Days Festival. Since 1973, SantaCaliGon has been celebrating the history of Independence as the starting point for the Santa Fe, California and Oregon trails with a four-day long festival consisting of food vendors, craft booths, a carnival and everything in between. Since its founding, SantaCaliGon has become the region’s oldest and largest four-day festival. It is hard to express the magic of the festival, but once a person goes to the annual celebration held on labor day weekend, they immediately understand the draw.
In addition to the quintessential annual festival, the Englewood Station Arts District hosts a free art walk every third Friday of the month from 5-9 p.m. The Third Friday festivals bring local musicians, artists and food vendors to the arts district to celebrate the local art and connect creators and customers. Something the Third Friday festival does, unique to this specific art walk, is Art in Motion – where visitors to the walk can view featured artists creating their work live.
This article provides just a glimpse of all Independence has to offer. With plenty of activities, restaurants and history for everyone to enjoy, the city is not only a remarkable hometown but a delightful place to visit as well.
One last thing: when you visit, don’t forget to drink the water. The city’s water, judged annually at the Berkeley Springs Water Tasting, has ranked in the top five tap waters in the U.S. for six of the past seven years.
A previous version of this article was published but has since been edited for clarity.