History of William Chrisman High School

Prepared by Sister Cindy Patience

Research compiled in 2018

A video of this presentation may be viewed here. 

William Chrisman High School

Historic William Chrisman High School

“O young Mariner,
Down to the haven,
Call your companions,
Launch your vessel,
And crowd your canvas,
And, ere it vanishes
Over the margin,
After it, follow it,
Follow The Gleam.”

From the early years this inspiring poem by Alfred Lord Tennyson graced the front pages of the William Chrisman High School Yearbook and called the students to courageously go after life and to “follow the gleam.”

William Chrisman High School

leaming in the sunshine, this lovely building completed in 1918 has stood for 100 years at the corner of Maple and Union Streets, in Independence Mo. Originally known as the old William Chrisman High School Building, it has been remembered by many students, teachers, and people of faith alike, as a place of creativity, friendship, scholarship, and growth.

William Chrisman High School

But the quest for a good education for the Independence young people began 20 years before in 1898 at the original Independence High School. Located at the intersection of Pleasant and Truman Road it later became the Jr. High School for Independence.

Harry Truman and his future wife Bess Wallace graduated from the original High School in 1901. Though not known at the time, William Chrisman HS was actually to be the continuation of the Independence Hs and it would inherit many of its underclassmen, teachers, staff, equipment, books, the school song, and the yearbook titled “The Gleam”. In 1917, the student body began to outgrow the old building and the Independence School Board began to seek for a new home for the High School.

William Chrisman High School

Years before, little did Preston and Agnes Roberts anticipate that there would someday be a large school built on their Independence acreage which sat at the future intersection of Maple and Union streets.

There they had erected a sprawling five room farmhouse in 1886 where they raised their large family of eight boys and four girls.

William Chrisman High School

Preston Roberts was a banker (First National), stagecoach operator, organizer of one of the first railroads in the Kansas City area, and a large property owner. He had much to do with the growth of Independence.

Following the death of Mr. Roberts, the acreage was sold to a Jackson County Judge, Judge Lee Chrisman.

Upon his death the property was transferred to his sister, Mrs. Logan (Margaret) Swope

When she became aware of the need for a place to build a new school, Mrs. Swope made the property at Maple and Union Street a gift to the Independence School system for $1.00 – along with a few stipulations.

One stipulation was that the school be named in honor of her father William Chrisman and that the name should be in a prominent , neat, and permanent place. Mr. Chrisman had been a well respected citizen in Independence. He had been elected to the first Board of Education of the Independence School District in 1867. In that capacity he served as Secretary of the Board.

As a delegate to Missouri’s 1875 Constitutional Convention, Chrisman helped craft the constitution of Missouri.

He also helped found the Chrisman-Sawyer Banking Company in Independence;

…as well as the Kansas City Ladies’ College in Independence at the Vaile Mansion.

William Chrisman High School

In respect for her father’s contributions to Independence, Mrs. Swope asked that the school construction costs be no less than $75,000.00 and that it be built within eighteen months. When completed in March of 1918, the building, its grounds, and equipment were valued at $150,000. 00 ; the equivalent of just over 3 million dollars in today’s economy.

The structure, included twenty-six classrooms, an adequate study hall, a spacious auditorium with a stage, and a gymnasium.

The original farm house, barely seen in this picture and to the left, was put to good use as the headquarters for the Independence School Board until 1929 when it was torn down to make room for a new addition to the school building.

William Chrisman High School

The new addition was built onto the southeast portion of the school and provided room for administrative offices, additional classrooms, a girl’s gym, and a cafeteria. This area is now used for the Remnant Church administrative offices.

William Chrisman High School

From 1918 to 1958 many Independence High School students called this wonderful building their school.

William Chrisman High School

…where they came together to study, participate in sports, learn new skills and explore the arts…..

William Chrisman High School

They prayed together in times of trouble…..

William Chrisman High School

…praying as they faced the Great War of the early 1900’s …..

William Chrisman High School

and throughout the lean years of the Great Depression in the 1920’s and 30’s,….

William Chrisman High School

They strengthened and encouraged each other during the challenging years of WWII in the 1940’s…..

and offered support to their young soldiers as they prepared to go to war

William Chrisman High School

Later, they looked to a brighter future during the more prosperous post war years of the late 1940’s and 1950’s.

Throughout all of these years, the students, their concerns, their interests, and their fashions reflected the times in which they lived.

Year after year, like most American schools, the students filed into the doors, socialized in the corridors, and learned current lessons in the classrooms.

They knew that “Thoughts are mightier then strength of hand.”, as Miss Ardyce Case quoted in the 1922 William Chrisman yearbook. The students came ready to be taught.

New information and knowledge was constantly being discovered and new technologies developed to learn about….

There were new formulas to experiment with….

And new math to calculate…

There were straight seams to sew….

…and cooking skills to perfect ……

Bands marched on the lawn and the sound of music filled the halls….

plays were rehearsed, and make-up applied,

The curtains parted

and the auditorium stage lit up

Fingers flew and keys tapped

Saws buzzed and hammers pounded

Young men prepared themselves to defend our country

And the young women found creative ways to stay physically fit…..whether dancing highland flings

Or running laps around the track above the gym

Throwing baskets, and playing football, season after season, gave the students a chance to exercise their bodies as well as their minds

And singing the William Chrisman HS Song boosted spirits…..

As the student body cheered them on.

There were Homecoming Queens to be crowned

And dances to attend

As war threatened our peace, young romances blossomed

Lifelong friends were made

And fun times were had

And at the end of each year another class stepped out the doors to begin their futures

William Chrisman High School produced some well prepared young people, ready to contribute to the world. Many went on to become notable citizens and leaders such as President Harry Truman and his wife Bess Wallace Truman.

After his presidency ended, the William Chrisman HS students could catch a glimpse from their classroom windows of Mr. Truman on his daily constitutional. They must have felt some pride in knowing that he was an alumni and that his home was just one block northeast of the school.

Margaret Truman, daughter of Harry and Bess, also attended William Chrisman School in 1940 and 1941. She had a lead in the 1941 school play and was the secretary of the Gleam Yearbook Staff.

Another notable graduate of William Chrisman is Truman’s longtime friend, Charles Ross. He became Truman’s press secretary during his presidential administration. Ross was the editor of the first William Chrisman Yearbook “The Gleam” in 1901. In 1918, he became the Chief Washington correspondent for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch and won the 1932 Pulitzer Prize.

A well known Chrisman athlete, Forrest “Phog” Allen later became known as the “Father of Basketball Coaching. Forrest Phog Allen served as the head basketball coach at the University of Kansas . In his 39 seasons at the helm of the Kansas Jayhawks men’s basketball program, his teams won 24 conference championships and three national titles.

Mayor of Independence for 26 years, Roger T. Sermon graduated in the class of 1908. His son Roger Jr. graduated in the class of 1936 and was responsible for helping to restore many of the Truman historic sites in Independence.

– The Independence Roger T. Sermon Community Center at 201 N. Dodgion Rd. was named in his honor and hosts many community events and services..

Among the first students to attend HS at the newly constructed building in 1918-1919 was Wallace W. Smith who later became the President of the Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints following in the footsteps of his brothers Frederick Madison Smith, and Israel Smith, his father Joseph Smith III, and his grandfather Joseph Smith Jr.

W. Wallace Smith was the Vice President of his Jr. class.

Morton Cecil Cooper, also a William Chrisman graduate, was an American baseball pitcher who played eleven seasons in Major League Baseball (MLB). He was named the National League Most Valuable Player in 1942.

In 1927, another student at Chrisman was Paul William Henning, seen here flanked by Buddy Epsen (L) (Jed Clampet) and Max Baer ® (Jethro Bodine). Mr. Henning was an American producer and screenwriter, most famous for the television sitcoms The Beverly Hillbillies, and Petticoat Junction. He was crucial in the development of successful “rural“ themed sitcoms. He also wrote scripts for the Andy Griffith Show.

– Chrisman graduate Paul Chester Nagel was a historian and biographer who was best known for his works on the Adams and Lee political families, and who also wrote on the history of his home state of Missouri.

For us here at the Remnant Church headquarters, our favorite graduate is Frederick Niels Larsen, President of The Remnant Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. President Larsen is the great-great grandson of the founder of the Restoration Movement, Joseph Smith Jr.

He now has the pleasure of having his office in the same school where he studied and played basketball.

In the latter half of the 1950’s, the student body at William Chrisman once again outgrew their building and a new High School was constructed at 24 Highway and Noland. When the junior and senior classes were transferred to the new high school in 1958, the building at 709 W. Maple became the 10th grade center for many years.

During the 1980’s the building was sold by the city to Park University, for $1.00.

In the early 1990’s the building was purchased by the Center Branch of a church organization known as the Restoration Branches and served as a place of worship and fellowship for that branch.

During this time the very small and dedicated congregation raised the money to purchase the building and to care for many of the rooms of the building which were swiftly falling into disrepair. They cleaned floors, painted the walls, laid carpet, and doctored up the old boiler with care.

Also during this time period, the same congregation founded the outreach service project called “Lunch Partners.” Lunch Partners’ volunteers serve the community by offering free meals to those in need. They use the same cooking facilities and cafeteria that had served hundreds of students at the school since 1929. Lunch Partners currently serves meals on M-W-F, and delivers meals to many shut-ins in the Independence community.

In the year 2000 the ownership of the school was transferred to the Remnant Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints who cares for it today and has put the building to good use.

The first floor of the southeast wing has been remodeled in recent years to house the administrative offices of the Remnant Church.

In addition to the church offices, the southeast wing houses a printing room.

Here the church publications, “The Hastening Times Magazine”, and “The Moments with the Master Daily Devotionals” are published.

Also located on the first floor is a food pantry that serves those in need from the Independence area.

Once the library for the High School, the northwest corner of the second floor continues to provide a sanctuary for the Center Congregation of the Remnant Church.

The “Clothes Closet” outreach provides clothing, bedding, and household goods to those in need and is located on the second floor of the east end of the building.

On the third floor, the building provides room for a church library and an art & music studio.

Also on the third floor is the original auditorium which has been used to perform plays and musicals for the community in recent years.

On the lowest level of the southeast corner of the building is the original large and airy gym where church and community events are held. A unique feature of the gym is the running track that was built around the entire upper level. The gym and the track have been in use from the time that the building was originally opened in 1918.

Also on the lower level is the kitchen and cafeteria for Lunch Partners.

A sewing and quilting stewardship is located on the central lowest level. It is in the same room where the young women once learned homemaking skills.

he newly built Visitors Center, where you sit today, opened the fall of 2018 , exactly 100 years after William Chrisman school opened its doors to its first school year!

The Remnant Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints is bringing the halls of this historic place of learning to life again as it’s people attempt to follow Christ and to learn to do His will through study, fellowship, worship and service to others.

Today, the historic William Chrisman HS remains a place that calls all to come and to follow….follow the gleam!

You are warmly invited to visit the building, attend our church services, and to ask questions at anytime. Thank you for visiting.


Posted in