Since it’s founding in 1835, the Springfield area has been the backdrop for many historic moments. It’s known as the site of the first major battle of the Trans-Mississippi Theater of the American Civil War, the first “Wild West” quick-draw showdown and the birthplace of Route 66. The newly-opened History Museum on the Square joins a fantastic mix of museums, trails and sites dedicated to telling the history of Springfield.
Visitors to the new History Museum on the Square are transported into the rich tapestry of southwest Missouri’s history told through interactive exhibits, video and photography and a treasure trove of artifacts.
History Museum on the Square.
The museum that opened in 2019 has more than 18,000 square feet of space. There are three floors with eight dedicated spaces including a Welcome Center, six permanent galleries and traveling exhibit space.
Highlights of the museum include a transportation gallery with a time machine built into a replica of a trolley car, an immersive reenactment chamber of the Hickok-Tutt confrontation, interactive touchscreen maps of Springfield comparing vintage photos to contemporary depictions, and a 66-foot-long timeline and map of the Iconic Mother Road. Perhaps one of the most dramatic features is a Frisco locomotive engine that literally emerges through the upper mezzanine wall.
Museums and Halls of Fame
For an in-depth look at the history of the Civil War in the Ozarks, the Hulston Library at Wilson's Creek National Battlefield has one of the largest collections of bound volumes on the Civil War in the National Parks Service. Additionally, a driving tour detailing the 1863 Battle of Springfield can be found throughout downtown Springfield.
Several museums cater to niche interests ranging from the natural history of the region to the athletic achievements of Springfieldians and athletes from around the state. The Dr. Michael J. Clarke History Museum of Ozarks Scouting in the Clarence and Edna Wheeler Scout Service Center is the only Boy Scout Museum in Missouri. For railroad enthusiasts, the Railroad Historical Museum is dedicated to the preservation of the history of railroading. Kids can ring the bell and explore the cab of the Frisco 4524 locomotive, the Burlington Baggage Car, the Chicago Northwestern Commuter Car and the Burlington Northern Caboose.
Missouri Sports Hall of Fame.
Operated by the Springfield-Greene County Park Board, The Springfield Softball Hall of Fame Museum features the Springfield and Missouri ASA Hall of Fame with displays dating from the 1920s, including state, regional and national tournaments; Sister City Isesaki, Japan, uniforms; trophies; photos and much more. The Missouri Sports Hall of Fame is a fun, family-friendly environment featuring more than 4,000 pieces of sports memorabilia, hands-on exhibits and interesting displays.
Historic Trails and Sites
Thanks to a group of citizens working to create the Springfield-Greene County African American Heritage Trail, a series of markers are being installed at sites of historic significance to the city’s black community.
The first marker, installed in 2018 at Silver Springs Park, commemorates the only public park where blacks were allowed during segregation. The marker is few feet west of Timmons Hall, a stone structure built in 1932 that served as a church and was often considered an anchor for the city’s black community.
The park also is significant because it’s home to the Park Day Reunion that has drawn African Americans to Springfield since 1952 for a celebration of family and friends. The annual event takes place the first weekend in August and includes a parade, beauty pageant, concerts and a picnic.
Springfield-Greene County African American Heritage Trail
A second marker was installed on the southeast corner of Park Central Square in 2019. It recognizes where three black men were lynched on Easter weekend in 1906 after being accused of various crimes. Horace Duncan, Fred Coker and William Allen were in jail when a mob broke down the doors and drug the men to the square, hung them and burned their bodies. It was later determined they were innocent.
Additional markers are planned at a variety of locations including churches, Alberta’s Hotel, Lincoln School and others. The markers cost about $8,000 each and donations are appreciated. They can be sent to the Springfield-Greene County African American Heritage Trail, Community Foundation of the Ozarks, 425 E. Trafficway St., Springfield, MO 65806.
In the late 1830’s, Cherokee Indians were forced on a westward migration along the Trail of Tears. Springfield and Greene County have several markers commemorating this tragic journey. Now under development, the Trail of Tears Greenway trail seeks to preserve a portion of the route. Ozark Greenways is accepting tax-deductible donations to extend this trail.
Pythian Castle was built in 1913 by the Knights of Pythias as an orphanage and retirement home until the U.S. military took over it in World War II to house POWs and to serve as a rehabilitation facility for U.S. troops. In the 1940s, the swinging sounds of the era’s big bands filled the ballroom while U.S. troops took to the dance floor.
Today, you can schedule a history tour with an optional 15-minute escape room or a ClueKeeper History Hunt Game. Depending on when you visit, ghost tours, murder mystery dinners, and holiday events are offered. Reservations are required for all Pythian Castle activities.
For a look at even more historic Springfield attractions, visit SpringfieldMO.org/history.