LIBERTY, Mo. -- If you’re looking for a day rich in history but full of fun and new experiences, Liberty, Missouri, is the place to go.
“A small town, but there’s 35,000 people here. So, you have a lot of options...” long-time business owner Heather Chaney said. “I hardly ever leave Liberty because I just love everything here.”
Liberty, named after the American concept of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, is just a 20-minute drive from downtown Kansas City.
Settlers first discovered the town in 1819. Since then, it has grown drastically and so has the downtown square--a quaint area full of unique shops, restaurants.
“Everything is locally owned here,” Chaney, whose business Catfish and Tater Boutique is on the square, said. “Nothing is a chain store.”
And of course, history.
In the 1830s Liberty was known as the “jumping off” point for westward expansionist. Those coming from the east would often stop for merchandise at a steamboat dock in town known as the Liberty Landing. It was one of several along the Missouri River. Steamboats would fire a cannon when they were several miles from the dock to alert the town and merchants they were approaching.
In 1833 the town built a jail that became famous for the imprisonment of Joseph Smith, president and prophet of the Church of Jesus Christ of the Later Day Saints. It is said he received three revelations during his four months at the jail.
In 1849 Dr. William Jewell of Columbia, Missouri donated $10,000 to found William Jewell College.
“Jewell. I mean, you can’t beat Jewell. It’s a beautiful campus. They’ve got some great history there as well,” Gayle Potter, President of the Liberty Area Chamber of Commerce.
The college on the hill that overlooks the downtown area is one of the oldest private colleges in the state with about 1,000 students.
On Feb. 13, 1866, Jesse James’s brother, Frank, and Cole Younger allegedly robbed the Clay County Savings Bank on the downtown square and got away with thousands of dollars. This became known as the first successful daylight bank robbery in the history of the United States.
To remember this historic event, the town has since turned the bank into a museum for families to visit.
In 1913 there used to be an electric railway that linked Liberty to KC. It was called the Interurban Rail System. Passengers would board the trains at the depot on Mill Street, but as roads between the cities improved, fewer people used the railroad. By 1933, the railway stopped operating.
Over the years, businesses and transportation has changed, but those in Liberty say the people have remained the same.
“Liberty is a beautiful town that is composed of people who just love our community," Potter said. "I know that’s kind of cliché sounding. However, it is pretty true with people who have been in Clay County and Liberty specifically for many, many, many years.”
Four places you must check out during a visit to Liberty
- Belvior Winery
- Liberty Fish Market
- Carolyn’s Country Cousins
- Jesse James Bank