It’s an odd piece of art in an odd spot. But this kitschy, eye-catching stagecoach placed just perfectly in an oblong oval median in Independence has a story to tell.
This close-to-lifesize fiberglass stagecoach was made for a UMB bank branch in Overland Park and installed in 1971. It was a landmark at the corner of 80th Street and Metcalf Avenue for the past fifty years. Jeff Rogers, the director of the Independence Square Association, insists it works for Independence, too.
“It’s gotten a lot of attention,” he says. “One of our jobs as a historic preservation group is to tell the stories of our historic downtown through public art. Sometimes visitors come and shop owners might not be there, tour guides might not be available, but public art is always there to tell that story.”
The Association acquired the “Overland Stage” about seven months ago, when the UMB bank branch that formerly displayed it was being razed. The Association felt its western imagery could help tell part of the town’s history and would work in a prominent spot downtown. “It reminds me a lot of western artwork from the ’40s and ’50s,” Rogers says. “It’s kitschy.”
Many westbound travelers, including stagecoaches, arrived in Independence on one of three major westward trails—Oregon, Santa Fe or California—that ran through Independence.
Travelers would often stop in Independence to have wagons made, repaired and outfitted in town before continuing on. The Butterfield Overland Stage Line was one of the most notable cross-country carriers, and at one point it had a route running through Independence. Not far from where the statue now sits, Hiram Young, a talented Black carpenter and blacksmith, had a wagon shop.
Young, who was born a slave and later gained his freedom, became one of the wealthiest men in Independence through his shop, with records indicating that at the height of his business, he employed between fifty and sixty men.
Right now, the Association is looking at installing a plaque that tells those parts of the town’s history. It would go near the statue at 110 Liberty Street. The stagecoach’s new stop is about a block away from Independence Square, where you’ll find a few quaint historic shops and restaurants—plus a real horse and buggy still offering rides, though not to Oregon City.