REPUBLIC, Mo. — “Wow” is the word Steve Pickett, of rural Carthage, used to describe his favorite new exhibit found inside the newly renovated visitor center and museum at Wilson’s Creek National Battlefield: a bed.
But not just any bed, Pickett said. It is the very bed in which the bleeding body of Union Brig. Gen. Nathaniel Lyon lay after he’d been shot in the heart and killed at the Battle of Wilson’s Creek in the summer of 1861. He was the first Union general to die in the war.
The Lyon bed now serves as the centerpiece of the national battlefield’s refurbished visitor center and museum, which is located just outside Springfield. Dedicated with a recent ribbon-cutting ceremony that included U.S. Sen. Roy Blunt and U.S. Rep. Billy Long, the visitor center and museum reopened to the public after the completion of an 18-month, $3.5 million renovation project.
According to Wilson’s Creek Battlefield Superintendent Sarah Cunningham, the renovation added roughly 1,800 square feet to the museum’s exhibit space. Aside from the Lyon bed, visitors can also view new displays of the park’s “impressive collection of edged weapons and firearms,” Cunningham said, including a rare Model 1860 Henry repeating rifle, one of the most technologically advanced weapons of the conflict. Visitors will now be able to view around 90% of all the edged weapons and firearms from the park’s vast collection.
The museum, she said, also provides several new interactive and accessible audiovisual displays and virtual displays, allowing visitors to view items that previously had been kept in storage.
“It’s great to have one of our major attractions fully open to the public again,” said Susan Wade, public relations manager for the Springfield Convention & Visitors Bureau. “People could still use the tour road and explore the battlefield, but having the visitor center and museum open enhances the experience by providing an opportunity for people to explore more and stay longer.”
Wade said the battlefield is among the area’s top tourist attractions, with about 200,000 visitors annually. After seeing the quality of the completed renovations, she said, “I’m sure it will be even more popular.”
Wilson’s Creek was the first major Civil War battle fought west of the Mississippi River. The costly Southern victory focused national attention on the war taking place in Missouri. Though Southwest Missouri fell into Confederate hands, Southern forces were too exhausted after the battle to continue north and claim the entire Show-Me State for the Confederacy.
Hours of operation for the Wilson’s Creek National Battlefield visitors center and museum are from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily. It features a 5-mile tour road; historic structures, including the 1852 Ray House; a preserved section of the historic Wire Road; and hiking and horseback trails. Admission is free; fees are charged for the tour road.