While traveling to the East Coast recently, I was simply amazed at the number of history museums along the route.
I didn't get to stop at most of them, but it was a pleasant surprise to discover their existence. The majority I saw listed on the road atlas as I was navigating. I was prepared, of course, for the Civil War battlefield sites while traveling through Tennessee and Virginia, and have visited some, but not all, of them before. On our return trip home, we were in a hurry to get back. While considering a long detour around Nashville to avoid a reported traffic jam, my wife looked at the map and said “let's see, we can go south to this town – what's it called, Murfreesboro? — and then go west to this town Franklin, and...” Those who know Civil War history will recognize those towns as sites of two major battles, though that was unbeknownst to my wife. She was just trying to find a detour. I audibly groaned at the fact that we wouldn't have time to stop at either one.
And don't even get me started about Virginia, and its rich supply of battlefields. At one point we had to turn around at an exit. By pure chance, the brown sign just outside my window pointed to the Sayler's Creek battlefield. Those brown National Park Service signs are everywhere there. Of course, if you like Colonial/Revolutionary War history, Virginia is the place to be for that as well, and we did get to make a very short trip to Yorktown (where the last big British army surrendered to our American forces, effectively, if not officially, ending the war and militarily securing our national independence).
Allow me to note that I am the first to stand up and shout about our Civil War sites west of the Mississippi River. After all, Missouri stands only behind Virginia and Tennessee in the number of Civil War battles fought. It's just that west of the Mississippi, the battlefield sites aren't always as close together geographically as they are in Virginia, for instance. And some have been overtaken by residential and commercial development (the Battle of Westport near Kansas City is one good example).
Filling that void somewhat are all the different kinds of historical museums, the topic that opened today's column. There are, after all, many other periods of history besides the War Between the States, (though I have to remind myself of that from time to time). While helping organize an event earlier this year, I found out about many sites within a 100-mile drive of my home in Neosho that I was not previously familiar with. One of those was the Arkansas Air Museum in Fayettville, Ark. Another was the Shiloh Museum of Ozark History in Springdale, Ark. Yet another was the Museum of Native American Artifacts in Bentonville, Ark.
Page 2 of 3 - Perhaps I should go to Arkansas more.
A few great, somewhat off-the-path, historical themed sites within a 100-mile drive that I have been to include the Dalton Defenders Museum (a bit of an odd name) in Coffeyville, Kan., where the Dalton gang met their end in 1892, the Baxter Springs Heritage Center and Museum, the newest addition of which is awesome, and Big Brutus, the giant electric mining shovel, in West Mineral, Kan.
Apparently, I have visited Kansas more often that I thought.
Other places of historical interest outside of Newton County, but within an easy drive, include the Barry County Museum, in Cassville, the Ft. Scott National Military Park, the Joplin Museum Complex, the Powers Museum, in Carthage, the Peel Mansion, in Bentonville, Ark., the Rogers Historical Museum, in Rogers, Ark., and Har-ber Village, in Grove, Okla., among others. I've probably left out a bunch.
Going back to the Civil War battlefields, because I can't help it, there is also the Battle of Carthage State Historic Site and Wilson's Creek National Battlefield in Missouri, Pea Ridge National Military Park and Prairie Grove Battlefield State Park in Arkansas, and the Cabin Creek Battlefield and Honey Springs Battlefield in Oklahoma. All but the last two are within an hour's drive. Now let’s talk about Newton and McDonald counties. Starting off with the Civil War, there is the Ritchey Mansion in Newtonia, which was used as a headquarters and field hospital by both sides. Hopefully, at least one of the two Civil War battlefields there will be fully developed sometime in the not so distant future, complete with walking trails and interpretative markers.
In other matters historical, there is of course the Newton County Historical Park and Museum in Neosho, featuring the 1880s county jail and sheriff’s home (which is used as the artifact museum), the 1850s log cabin and the restored circa 1870s schoolhouse (the framework is from the original schoolhouse, which has been many things over the years). Only the jail/sheriff’s home is on its original site.
There is also the Miner’s Museum in Granby, the little country schoolhouse in Seneca, Jolly Mill on the edge of Newton and Barry Counties, and the Stella History Museum in Stella. I suppose one might also include the George Washington Carver National Monument, and what a monument it is! I love that place.
In McDonald County, the county historical society there is doing a great job with their museum in Pineville. Eventually it will be located in the old courthouse, which the McDonald County Historical Society is restoring with the help of volunteers. Meanwhile, their current museum is located just off the Pineville Square, in the former health department building, and does a fine job in telling the story of McDonald County.
Page 3 of 3 - If I neglected to mention a historical site or two, or more that perhaps I should have, it was inadvertent. Consider the ones I did note as mere examples of some of the great little history museums there are to find around here. The list is by no means exhaustive. And if you feel like driving, study a good road atlas. Most have the museums marked. There are all kinds of neat places to visit. Why, there is even a sod house museum in western Oklahoma, according to my trusty atlas. That I would like to see.
Wes Franklin serves on the Newton County Historical Society Board of Directors. He is also a staff writer for the Neosho Daily News. He can be reached at 658-8443.