Wilson's Creek National Battlefield Renovations Will Mean Larger Exhibit Space

Aug 12, 2019

Wilson's Creek National Battlefield Visitor Center
Credit City of Springfield

A major renovation of the Wilson's Creek National Battlefield Visitor Center is expected to begin later this year, and the park has announced it has secured all funding necessary to move forward.

The battlefield's superintendent, Ted Hillmer, said it's been approximately 35 years since the building got a facelift.  The project will add 1800 square feet of additional exhibit space, according to Hillmer. 

Wilson's Creek National Battlefield purchased a museum containing thousands of Trans Mississippi artifacts collected by Dr. Tom Sweeney and his wife, Karen, in 2005.  After the renovations are complete, the park will be able to display some of the artifacts that are currently in storage.

"We have several weapons that were not on display when we inherited the collection because we didn't have the space, and this will allow us to put that on display," said Hillmer.  "We'll also have (Major General Sterling) Price's pistol, which was on display, but it was back in a corner someplace in the visitor center.  Now, that will be right out in front, and then we'll have the Lyon's bed, which will be on display in the visitor center."

That bed, on which General Nathanael Lyon's body was placed after he was killed in the Battle of Wilson's Creek, has been at the Ray House for years.  Moving it to a climate-controlled space will help preserve it and keep it secure.  General Lyon was the first Union general to die in battle during the Civil War.

The project includes a new HVAC system for better climate control, reconfiguring the space, including the information desk and restrooms, new office space, a curatorial area, interactive videos about the Trans Mississippi Theater and exhibits that will showcase two types of cannons.

Hillmer said they'll be able to start rotating Wilson's Creek National Battlefield's flag collection, something they don't have the space to do now.

The new space will allow the park to show visitors that it is committed to caring for the battle's artficacts for the next generation.

"To me, that's critical," said Hillmer.  "I mean, that's what I get up in the morning for, and if they can see that we're preserving those artifacts for the next generation in a very nice location and climate control, to me, we can say that we've done our part." 

And the new space, he said, will allow the park to educate visitors about the importance of the Battle of Wilson's Creek in the Civil War.

"We want people to learn from what has happened in the past so we can not make those mistakes in the future, and having the artifacts, having the documentation, having the photographs that explain, you know, these items," he said, "that's invaluable."

The Wilson's Creek Visitor Center will be closed for about nine months during renovation, but a trailer will house a temporary visitor center with restrooms and information about the park.

Hillmer said they still plan to hold the annual Luminary Driving Tour in December.

The renovation project is made possible through a combination of private philanthropy and federal funds.  The Wilson's Creek Foundation worked with the National Park Foundation to maximize local contributions. 

Scott Anderson, spokesman for the National Park Foundation, said the funding for the project came from several sources.  NPF provided $500,000 in philanthropic support, matched by $500,000 in federal funding authorized and appropriated for the foundation under the 2016 National Park Service Centennial Act, according to Anderson.

"We found the opportunity to work with partners--local partners and community partners--who wanted to do something special for this place and improve it," he said, "and we were able to work through our connections with the National Park Service and others and the donor community to help stand this up and to kind of create a foundation to do more and better work for the project and the park there."