By Andy Ostmeyer
LAMAR, Mo. — Although their proposal has cleared one big hurdle, it still could be years before city leaders in Lamar see any movement on plans for Harry Truman’s birthplace.
The U.S. Senate this month passed the Omnibus Public Land Management Act, a comprehensive public-lands bill that became bogged down last fall in controversy over funding and other issues. That bill included legislation introduced by U.S. Rep. Ike Skelton, D-Mo., transferring to the National Park Service possession of the house where Truman was born in 1884.
Both of Missouri’s U.S. senators, Democrat Claire McCaskill and Republican Christopher “Kit” Bond, endorsed the bill.
Truman’s home is a state historic site and in the custody of the Missouri Department of Natural Resources. State and city leaders developed a master plan for the home in 1997 that included adding a mule barn, a historic school and a media center. Eleven years later, notes Lamar City Administrator Lynn Calton, little has been done to fulfill that vision except infrastructure work and the purchase of some adjacent properties to make land available.
The National Park Service owns and manages Truman’s last home in Independence and his family’s Grandview farm as part of the Harry S. Truman National Historic Site.
Skelton’s original proposal for a feasibility study, wrapped into a larger national-parks bill, sailed through the House in December 2007 by a vote of 326-79. In the Senate, it was merged with other public-land legislation in the omnibus bill.
U.S. Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Okla., placed a hold on that legislation last fall, calling it “earmark-laden” and “loaded with frivolous projects and radical environmental provisions.” Among other criticisms, his staff cited a $9 billion backlog of work at national park sites, including $1.4 million in needed work for the Harry S. Truman National Historic Site properties in Independence and Grandview.
Skelton reintroduced his proposal in the House this month; meanwhile, on Jan. 15, the omnibus bill was voted out of the Senate 73-21, with four senators not voting.
The Senate bill, however, does not contain funding for the Lamar project, said Rebecca Loving, spokesman for Skelton’s office, and the bill requires that the study be done three years after funding is available. And the feasibility study is just the first step; the actual transfer of ownership would require another act of Congress, so any movement on the city’s vision for the site is still years away.
Calton isn’t discouraged, though.
“We’re not giving up,” he said Tuesday. “We’re still going to stay in there.”
The city sees Truman’s birthplace as a tool for economic development. Work to improve the site would mean jobs. And when former Gov. Matt Blunt named Lamar a Downtown Revitalization and Economic Assistance for Missouri, or DREAM, city last fall, he noted the role Truman’s birthplace plays for the town. It attracts more than 17,000 visitors annually.
Calton said the city is planning celebrations for Truman’s 125th birthday in May, and it wants to do streetscaping linking the downtown square to the Truman home.
He just hopes some agency can help with the funding.
“We’ll work with the state or the feds, whichever comes to the table first,” he said.
Andy Ostmeyer is the metro editor for The Joplin Globe.
Harry Truman lived in the Lamar home for 11 months. It was acquired by the United Auto Workers and, in 1959, was donated to the state of Missouri.
By Andy Ostmeyer