Wilson’s Creek National Battlefield Visitor Center and Museum debuts renovations

Seth Kinker
Aurora Advertiser

The Wilson’s Creek National Battlefield Visitor Center and Museum in Republic held a ribbon cutting on May 28 to celebrate the reopening of the visitor center and museum that wraps up 18-months of the $3.5 million renovations.

National Park Service (NPS) officials, members of the Wilson’s Creek National Battlefield Foundation, Senator Roy Blunt and Congressman Billy Long were on hand for the ceremony and toured the renovations before speaking to the crowd.

“We have finally reached opening day,” said Wilson’s Creek National Battlefield Superintendent Sarah Cunningham at the ceremony. “The project continued towards completion because of the hard work and dedication of staff, partners and contractors. I’d like to thank the many people of this community, our congressional delegates as well as the parks partners and supporters for their patience and their efforts as we work together to realize a space that can showcase the parks collection of artifacts which are tangible links to the history of this country.”

Speakers during the ceremony included Blunt, Long, Vice President of the Wilson’s Creek National Battlefield Foundation Crystal Sharp, President and CEO of Eastern National Kevin Kissling and Deputy Regional Director of the National Park Service for Interior Regions 3, 4, 5 Mike Ward.

“This is a great park. I’ve been coming here my whole life,” said Blunt. “involved for a long time either as a state official, or for 25 years now as a member of congress, and continue to see the use of this space, more impressive. Bigger all the time but really using a lot of the space in new and innovative ways.”

“We went from a collection of states to one country, still not perfect,” added Blunt in closing. “but the constitution didn’t expect we’d be a perfect union, just that we’d always be working toward, ‘a more perfect union,’ There are a lot of lessons that can be learned right here at this park about how ‘a more perfect union,’ was a goal and continues to be a goal of our country.”

Representative Billy Long (left) and Senator Roy Blunt (right) view a case in the renovated Visitor Center and Museum with possessions of General Sterling Price.

“When you see what they’ve done in here, it’s absolutely amazing,” said Long. “Thank you Sarah (Cunningham), thank you Mike (Ward), thank you to all the Park Service persons people here.”

After the ceremony, attendees were given time slots to walk through the new exhibits in the museum.

“I was just excited, coming to see history in its greatest form,” said James Morris, a young man from Vernon County who was at the ceremony. “I thought it was cool to see all the (new stuff), pretty amazing.”

Around 1,800 square feet of new museum exhibit space was added, all within the footprint of the existing building, with most of the new exhibits having interactive features and accessible audio-visual and virtual displays.  

Two brand new exhibits, showcasing the loading and firing of artillery and the transportation of artillery, are there right when you walk in the door.

One of the new exhibits on display the Wilson's Creek National Battlefield Visitor Center and Museum.

A new location for the front desk made way for six monitors with pictures the museum owns along with a touchscreen map that showcases census data from that time period that included males aged 15-19, the enslaved population, slave holders, the ratio of immigrants to native born, farms over 100-acres, farms between 50-99 acres, manufacturing, livestock population, cotton production, tobacco production hemp production, the Trans-Mississippi region map and a map of the Wilson’s Creek Property.

Beyond a redesigned bookstore with more items for children and literature about women's role in the civil war and enslaved persons, as well as those monitors and interactive map, was another portion of the renovation.

The feature piece is the original “Lyon Bed” where the body of Union General Nathaniel Lyon, the first Union General killed in the Civil War, was laid after his death during the battle of Wilson’s Creek.

The new location for the Lyon Bed along with cases showcasing weapons used in the Civil War.

Behind the Lyon Bed are new displays of the parks collection of edged weapons and firearms, including a rare Model 1860 Henry repeating rifle that was recently donated to the park by the Wilson’s Creek National Battle Foundation.

Other cases included possessions of civilians caught up in the fighting and General Sterling Price, former congressman, Mexican-American War general and Missouri Governor. Price led the state Missouri State Guard in May of 1861 at Carthage, Wilson’s Creek and Lexington.

“The renovated Wilson’s Creek National Battlefield Visitor Center and Museum will put historical interpretation at the fingertips of park visitors, connecting more people to the heritage we share,” said National Park Foundation President and CEO Will Shafroth in a press release. “The National Park Foundation is grateful for the innovative, public-private partnership funding model that helped bring this project to life, matching $500,000 in philanthropic support from the Wilson’s Creek National Battlefield Foundation with $500,000 in federal funding authorized and appropriated for NPF under the National Park Service Centennial Act.”