Court History

History of the 16th Judicial Circuit Court

Truman portrait imageThe 16th Judicial Circuit as it exists today began in 1826 as the First Judicial Circuit, and then was renamed the Fifth in 1831 when a new circuit including Jackson County was created. In 1841, Jackson County was redistributed to the Sixth Circuit, and reassigned a final time in 1871 to the Twenty-fourth Circuit. In 1892, the Circuit was renamed the Sixteenth Circuit. Although it currently only comprises Jackson County, at one time, it included approximately half the state of Missouri.

In December of 1826, Jackson County became a “separate and distinct county” due to an act of the Missouri General Assembly. In 1827, the first courthouse in Independence was constructed, a two-room log structure intended as temporary housing only. On March 27, 1828, Judge David Todd heard the first circuit court case of Jackson County, State of Missouri v. William Reed, who was charged with horse stealing. In 1836, a two-story courthouse was erected and is largely considered the first “permanent” courthouse in Jackson County. The courthouse underwent several remodeling processes over the years, the first being in 1848. With the expanding population, the courthouse underwent another renovation in 1872, which included an entire brick refacing, the addition of a tower on the east side of the building and, in the true spirit of advancing technology, central heating.

Also in 1872, Jackson County purchased a five-story building in Kansas City on the corner of Second and Main, originally intended to be a hotel. It was outfitted and served as the first downtown courthouse until 1886, when a tornado damaged the top two floors of the structure. An alternative site was purchased at Fifth and Oak, where the court operated until the appropriation of funds – 4 million dollars – for the court’s current structure at 12th and Oak in 1931.

The Independence courthouse continued to undergo renovations, including the addition of a west annex in 1887 and a new courtroom in 1906. In 1933, the Independence courthouse had a major overhaul orchestrated in large part by future President Harry S. Truman. The additions from all the previous renovations were torn down and an entirely new courthouse was built around the original core building, constructed in 1836. The building the court currently uses in Independence at 308 W. Kansas was completed in 1956, with the three-story west wing added in 1972.

Truman also had a hand in constructing the Kansas City Courthouse. The Kansas city architecture firm Keen and Simpson designed the structure, along with Edward F. Neild and Frederick C. Gunn.  15 floors high, the building features breathtaking Art Deco architecture and a statue of General Andrew Jackson, the seventh President, outside the north entrance, created by Charles L. Keck. Several stone carvings around the perimeter of the building feature figures representing Wisdom, Contentment, Peace, the Law and Mercy.