by Aimee Levitt
One of the biggest attractions in Independence, Missouri, is the Harry Truman House. The elegant Victorian mansion at 219 North Delaware Street is, indeed, a house fit for a President, and the National Park Service has spruced it up for tours. Only problem is, it was never really the Truman house.
Sure, Truman lived there with his wife Bess and their daughter Margaret when they weren't in Washington, and during his Presidency, it was known as the Summer White House. But they only lived there because of the largess of Bess's mother, Madge Wallace. Yep. Harry Truman lived with his mother-in-law.
As a childhood friend of Margaret Truman's would remember, "It never seemed like the Truman house. It was so clearly Mrs. Wallace's house. And she was clearly in charge of everything about it."
Mrs. Wallace had inherited the house from her own father, George Porterfield Gates, a wealthy businessman who had made a fortune in flour. Before Truman's fame eclipsed that of Queen of the Pantry Flour, the house was known in Independence as the Gates Mansion.
Just a few short blocks away, though, at 909 West Waldo Avenue, is the true Truman house, that is, a house actually owned by a Truman. And guess what? It's for sale! For a mere $349,900, a piece of history can be yours.
A caveat: the house was not actually owned by Harry Truman. It belonged to his father, John Truman. Harry himself has the dubious distinction of being the only President never to own his own home. (He also never went to college. Ah, the American dream!) But the future President did live there, from 1895, when he was eleven, until 1902, when he was eighteen, seven years he considered among the happiest of his life. It's certified by a plaque in the front yard.
The house on Waldo is a far more modest specimen than the showplace on North Delaware. It's a mere two stories, covered in pale yellow clapboard. It lacks covered porches, etched-glass bay windows and period furniture and wallpaper. It does, however, boast five bedrooms and four full baths and a newly-remodeled kitchen. The barn that graced the backyard when the Trumans lived there (and which became, Truman wrote in his memoirs, something of a neighborhood hangout) has been removed.
The real estate bust affects Presidential boyhood homes, it turns out.
"There's been a lot of interest," says Aase Yocham, the listing agent, "but I haven't sold it!"
The current owners, Yocham says, purchased the house three years ago. "They'd gone to some home decor and remodeling school and wanted to take on the project. They totally refurbished it. They kept the woodwork and made it what it used to be. It's fabulous. But now they're saying, 'OK, we did what we dreamt about and now we're ready to move on to a new home.' The older home doesn't have big closets or big bedrooms or a Jacuzzi."
But it's historical! And compared to the boyhood home of T.S. Eliot, which sold for a cool $645,000, it's a total bargain.