Liberty is a city in Clay County, Missouri and is a suburb of Kansas City, Missouri, located in the Kansas City Metropolitan Area. As of the 2010 United States Census the population was 29,149. Liberty is the county seat of Clay County. Liberty is home to William Jewell College.
Liberty was settled in 1822, and shortly later became the county seat of Clay County.
In 1830, David Rice Atchison established a law office in Liberty. He was joined three years later by colleague Alexander William Doniphan. The two argued cases defending the rights of Mormon settlers in Jackson County, served Northwest Missouri in Missouri's General Assembly, and labored for the addition of the Platte Purchase to Missouri's boundaries.
In October 1838, the two were ordered by Governor Lilburn Boggs to arrest Mormon prophet Joseph Smith Jr. at the Far West settlement in Caldwell County. Immediately after the conclusion of the Mormon War, Smith and other Mormon leaders were incarcerated at the Liberty Jail for the winter as Doniphan labored for a quicker trial date. Although Doniphan led a force of Missouri volunteers ordered to capture the leaders, he defended Joseph Smith in trial and won him a change in venue. While en route to their new venue, Smith and his followers escaped and left Missouri for the new Mormon settlement in Nauvoo, Illinois.
Atchison relocated to Plattsburg in Clinton County, as Doniphan continued to make his name in Liberty. Doniphan would join a company of Clay County men and command the 1st Missouri Mounted Volunteers Regiment during the Mexican-American War. The wartime fervor was covered by the Liberty Tribune, founded in April 1846.
In 1849, Liberty became the home of William Jewell College.
A few days after the firing on Fort Sumter a Confederate mob seized the Liberty Arsenal disrupting Missouri's plans to remain with the Union but neutral. The seizure, which was the first skirmish in the state during the war, eventually led to the eviction of Missouri's elected governor and has sometimes been called "Missouri's Fort Sumter"
In September 1861, in the Battle of Liberty Union troops unsuccessfully attempted to stop Confederate sympathizers led by Atchison from crossing the Missouri River to reinforce Confederate position in the Battle of Lexington I. There were 126 casualties. The Union army used William Jewell College as a hospital and buried their dead on campus.
Liberty was to also see action in the August 1862 siege of Independence.
Liberty was the site of the first daytime bank robbery in the United States during peacetime, on February 13, 1866 at the Clay County Savings Association. Former confederate guerrillas were responsible. Consensus is that Arch Clement was the leader of the gang.
Education opportunities grew in the latter half of the 19th century. Liberty High School was chartered in 1890. Liberty Ladies College opened on a hill due west of Jewell that same year. The school burned down in 1913, resulting in its merger with Jewell. Liberty also housed many privately owned boarding schools. At one operated by Professor Love, a complacent student named Carrie Nation was driven to tears when she was unable to formulate an argument for a class debate concerning animal sentience.
Also in 1913, Liberty was connected to Kansas City by way of the Interurban rail system. Transportation links between the growing metropolis and Liberty increased with the addition of State Route 10 in 1922 and its conversion to U.S. Route 69 in 1926. The electric railway ceased operations in 1933. The addition of Interstate 35 in the 1960s along portions of US 69 brought new expansion to Liberty, creating car-filled suburban neighborhoods oriented toward Kansas City.
In 1943, German and Italian prisoners of World War II were brought to Missouri and other Midwest states as a means of solving the labor shortage caused by American men serving in the war effort. Camp Funston at Fort Riley established 12 smaller branch camps, including Liberty.
On May 4, 2003, a "high end" F2 tornado that was part of the May 2003 tornado outbreak sequence struck the downtown square, William Jewell campus, and businesses and residences to the east on County Road H. Numerous buildings and homes were heavily damaged or completely destroyed. Although damage was estimated at between $15 and $20 million at the college alone; no one at the school, or the adjoining neighborhoods, was killed. Classes at William Jewell resumed in the fall of that year.
The city limits of Kansas City touch the western and southern borders of Liberty. Some businesses formerly in Liberty moved across I-35 to Kansas City, lured by tax abatements and room for expansion. Liberty is redeveloping the Liberty Triangle, an 88 acre (360,000 m²) parcel bound by I-35 and Routes 152 and 291. Liberty proposed annexing three unincorporated areas in 2005/2006. The first two went to a vote in 2006 and one was approved. A third area is expected to be put on the ballot in the near future and would more than double the city in size. All three areas would increase out the city boundaries to the school district boundaries.
Major employers in Liberty include the Hallmark distribution warehouse. Liberty is also home to the operations headquarters for Ferrellgas, the largest retail provider of propane in the United States.
The Liberty Public School District serves Liberty, Glenaire, along with portions of Kansas City and unincorporated Clay County. Its schools (10 elementary, 2 middle, 2 junior high, 2 senior high) have ranked among the best in Missouri in recent years, with achievement of multiple athletic and academic state titles and championships in recent years as well as high-performance district honors from the Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education. Liberty is usually ranked in the top 20 schools in Missouri.