Exploring the past helps us understand the present, and in Springfield, the award-winning History Museum on the Square is a fun and interesting way to step back in time. The museum’s galleries explain the area’s history with interactive displays, interpretive exhibits, unique artifacts and fascinating videos showcasing what made Springfield the intriguing place it is today. Named the nation’s best new attraction in a “USA Today” readers’ poll in 2019, the state-of-the-art museum is a must-see during your visit to Springfield.
Your journey into the past begins as soon as you enter the museum when you’re greeted by two large screens showing videos, a Frisco locomotive and Native Crossroads at the Spring, a display chronicling the Native American heritage of the Ozarks. Learn about the Osage, Delaware, Kickapoo and other tribes that called the Ozarks home before white settlers arrived, view artifacts and gain an understanding of the people and their culture.
From there, take a ride on the Frisco that represents an important part of Springfield’s development from small town to city. While you’re seated, life-like scenery flows past the windows, giving a sensation of movement through forested land. Passengers also can play a game called “Can You Make it From St. Louis to Springfield” where they guide a train through various obstacles on their journey.
Next, hop aboard the trolley, and guide it along a historical timeline where you can select and view videos about the city’s past. The recreation and transportation area also showcases some of the city’s oldest public parks — Doling, Fassnight and Phelps Grove — with wheels that can be turned to show images from each park, and a video tells the story of how the city’s infrastructure developed. Once you’re done with all that riding, pull up a stump at Gen. Smith’s Tavern, and relax with another video about the area’s history. That’s the beginning of the gallery telling the story of how the area was settled
from the city’s founding and beyond.
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View artifacts from early homes and businesses and learn about the men and women who were part of Springfield’s early years. Then move on to an area dedicated to the Civil War. Interpretive signage, photos and video along with war artifacts provide an understanding of the battles that took place in the area.
Your journey into the city’s past includes a touch of the Wild West with a gallery dedicated to one of the most infamous incidents in the city’s history. After a dispute about a poker game — and a woman — “Wild Bill” Hickok and Davis Tutt faced off on the square. With remarkable aim, Hickok shot Tutt through the heart and cemented the city’s position as the location of the first recorded quick-draw shootout of the Wild West era. Museum patrons can learn more about what led to the dispute and even try their hand shooting at a target to test their skill.
Telling the story of Springfield’s past wouldn’t be complete without including how it became known as The Birthplace of Route 66. The largest gallery in the museum includes replicas of neon signs from local businesses, such as the Rail Haven Motel, Red’s Giant Hamburg, Sunset Drive-In and Graham’s BBQ. A wall meanders through the gallery with timelines on both sides telling how the highway developed. You can’t miss the large replica Route 66 postcards from each state Route 66 visitors pass through on their journey from Chicago to San Bernardino, California. A gas pump, menus, matchbooks and more fill the displays, and murals cover the walls, presenting just a taste of the past that continues to lure visitors today.
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Along with permanent displays, the History Museum on the Square hosts events and temporary displays highlighting significant historical events, businesses and eras from the city’s past. When you’re in Springfield, be sure to take an entertaining step back in time at the History Museum on the Square to gain a better understanding of the modern city you see today.