We love exploring America’s back roads and small towns and finding overlooked gems that the tourist brochures never cover. In a series of weekly blog posts we will be sharing some of America’s lesser-known small town museums, historic sites, and oddball attractions, on a state-by-state basis. We don’t have room to cover each and every attraction in every state, but hope to give you some ideas for places to see in your travels.
Bloomfield: Familiar to servicemen and women worldwide, the Stars and Stripes newspaper was first published in Bloomfield, and the Stars and Stripes Museum here displays artifacts, graphics and newspapers dating from the Civil War to the present.
Branson: The Titanic Museum displays artifacts, photos, and other exhibits about the world’s most famous shipwreck.
Branson: The Veterans Memorial Museum is a fascinating and awe-inspiring collection of artifacts and artwork from America’s 20th Century wars. The museum includes the world’s largest war memorial bronze sculpture, a stunning 70-foot long bronze sculpture consisting of 50 life-size soldiers storming a beach. A combat soldier from each of the 50 states was used as models for the life-size figures. The sculpture is surrounded by the names of over 400,000 American servicemen and women killed in action during World War II.
Branson: Called the Smithsonian of the Ozarks, exhibits at the Ralph Foster Museum on the campus of the College of the Ozarks include the original vehicle used in the television series The Beverly Hillbillies, along with antiques, weapons, Kewpie dolls, natural history, and oddball items from around the world.
Defiance: Frontiersman Daniel Boone lived out the last years of his life in Defiance, and died here in 1820. Boone’s home and a collection of other historic buildings have been preserved and are open for tours.
Diamond: Scientist George Washington Carver was born a slave in Diamond in 1860. The farm where he grew up is now a National Monument administered by the National Park Service.
Fort Leonard Wood: The U.S. Army Engineer Museum tells the story of the Army’s construction battalions.
Fulton: The Auto World Museum, located at 200 Peacock Drive, displays a large collection of antique cars, fire trucks, tractors, and automotive memorabilia.
Grandview: The farm where future president Harry S. Truman lived from 1906 to 1917 is now a National Historic Site and is open for tours.
Hannibal: Everything you ever wanted to know about Tom Sawyer, Huck Finn, and their pals can be learned in Hannibal. Museums, a statue of Tom and Huck, and historic buildings transport visitors to the days when this was a thriving river town.
Hannibal: Long before Samuel Clemens was Mark Twain, he lived in Hannibal as a boy. The Mark Twain Boyhood Home and Museum displays his books, memorabilia, and one of the author’s trademark white suits.
Imperial: Mastodon State Historic Site contains an important archaeological and paleontological site, the Kimmswick Bone Bed. Bones of mastodons and other now-extinct animals were first found here in the early 1800s. The area has one of the most extensive Pleistocene ice age deposits in the country. A museum tells the natural and cultural story of the American Indians here and displays a full-size replica of a mastodon skeleton.
Independence: Leila’s Hair Museum displays over 150 wreaths and more than 2,000 pieces of jewelry containing, or made of, human hair, dating before 1900.
Independence: President Harry S. Truman and wife Bess are buried in the courtyard of the Truman Presidential Library in Independence.
Independence: The National Frontier Trails Museum is a museum, interpretive center, and research library dedicated to telling the rich history of America’s major western trails.
Kansas City: You can learn about the process of designing and printing greeting cards at the Hallmark Visitor Center.
Kansas City: The sights and sounds of a uniquely American art form come alive at the American Jazz Museum. The museum includes interactive exhibits and educational programs, as well as the Blue Room, a working jazz club, and the Gem Theater, a modern 500-seat performing arts center.
Kansas City: In 1856 the steamboat Arabia struck a submerged tree stump and sank in the Missouri River with a cargo of goods bounds for trading posts upriver. Over time the river changed its course and the ship lay hidden under a layer of silt and soil until it was discovered in a farmer’s field in 1988. The cargo remained in surprisingly well preserved condition, including tools, firearms, dishes, and even cans of peaches that were still edible. Many of the items recovered are on display at the Arabia Steamboat Museum in Kansas City.
Kansas City: The National Airline History Museum, located at the historic Downtown Airport in Kansas City, honors a different and more graceful age of air transportation. The museum contains a collection of photographs, artifacts, printed material, and audio/visual displays that will bring back the true flavor of an age gone by. Uniforms, galley items, instrumentation, logbooks, and personal mementos bring to life the propeller-driven airliner era. The museum’s aircraft collection includes a Lockheed L1049 “Super G” Constellation, a Martin 404, and a Douglas DC-3.
Kansas City: The National World War I Museum (Liberty Memorial Museum) is the only museum in the United States dedicated solely to preserving the story of the world’s first global conflict. Displays include military uniforms and equipment, photographs, documents, and artwork.
Kansas City: The Negro Leagues Baseball Museum tells the story of African American baseball players with artifacts and photographs dating from the late 1800s through the 1960s.
Kearney: Outlaw Jesse James lived in Kearney and his home is now a museum. The outlaw is buried in the Mount Olivett Cemetery.
Laclede: At the General John J. Pershing Boyhood Home State Historic Site you can learn about the boy who would grow up to chase Mexican revolutionary Pancho Villa and command U.S. forces during World War I.
Lamar: President Harry Truman was born in Lamar in 1884. The Truman family home is now a State Historic Site and open to tours.
Lexington: Once called “the largest and best arranged dwelling house west of St. Louis,” the Oliver Anderson mansion is best known for the three bloody days in 1861 when it was a fiercely contested prize in a Civil War battle between the Union army and the Missouri State Guard. The mansion is now a State Historic Site, restored and furnished in the mid-19th century fashion, but it still displays damage from the shot and shell that hammered it during the Battle of Lexington.
Mansfield: If you are a fan of Laura Ingalls Wilder’s Little House on the Prairie books, you’ll enjoy visiting her home at Rocky Ridge Farm, which is now a museum displaying many of her personal possessions.
Marceline: Walt Disney grew up in Marceline and the old railroad depot is now a museum to his life and career.
New Haven: The John Colter Memorial Museum & Visitor Center has displays on the explorer turned mountain man who made the trip west with Lewis and Clark.
Park Hills: Located within the Old Lead Belt of the eastern Ozarks, the nation’s major source of lead for more than 60 years, Missouri Mines State Historic Site now occupies the site of the St. Joseph Lead Company’s largest mine-mill complex. The 19,000 square-foot mine-mill powerhouse has been developed into a large museum that interprets Missouri’s mining history, displays old mining machinery. and has an outstanding mineral collection.
Sibley: Reconstructed historic Fort Osage, overlooking the Missouri River, served as one of the first United States outposts in the Louisiana Purchase. The garrison established an American presence in the territory.
Springfield: Wilson’s Creek National Battlefield, eight miles southwest of town, is the site of the first major Civil War battle west of the Mississippi River. Today the site has an impressive museum, and a five mile loop road takes visitors through the old battleground.
Stanton: Meramac Caverns, discovered in 1716 and once used as a hideout by outlaw Jesse James, has been a tourist attraction for over 150 years.
St. Joseph: The Society of Memories Doll Museum displays more than 600 dolls from the 1840s to the present day.
St. Joseph: The Pony Express operated between St. Joseph and Sacramento, California from 1860 to 1861. Exhibits at the Pony Express National Memorial, housed in the original stables, tell the story of the daring overland riders who carried the mail and faced bandits and marauding Indians along the way.
St. Joseph: The Glore Psychiatric Museum uses full-sized replicas, interactive displays, audio-visuals, artifacts, and documents to cover 130 years of the treatment of the mentally ill.
St. Louis: Saint Louis University’s Museum of Contemporary Religious Art (MOCRA) is the world’s first museum of interfaith contemporary art. The museum is located in a spacious chapel that was used for over 35 years by Jesuits studying philosophy at Saint Louis University.
St. Louis: Housed in the 600,000 square-foot former International Shoe Company, the City Museum is an eclectic mixture of children’s playground, funhouse, surrealistic pavilion, and architectural marvel, constructed from reclaimed building material such as old chimneys, salvaged bridges, construction cranes, miles of tile, and even two abandoned airplanes.
St. Louis: The American Kennel Club’s Museum of the Dog is home to the world’s finest collection of art devoted to the dog, displaying over 500 original paintings, drawings, watercolors, prints, sculptures, and decorative art objects depicting man’s best friend throughout the ages.
St. Louis: The Jefferson National Expansion Memorial includes the magnificent Gateway Arc, which visitors can ride to the top of in a tram, and the Museum of Westward Expansion, which displays some of the rarest artifacts from the days of Lewis and Clark. Through the museum’s exhibits, visitors can explore the world of the American Indians and the 19th century pioneers who helped shape the history of the American West.
St. Louis: The home where composer Scott Joplin lived, at 2658A Delmar Boulevard, is now a State Historic Site. Illuminated by gaslight, and appropriately furnished for 1902, the Joplin flat where many ragtime classics were composed has museum exhibits interpreting Joplin’s life and work, and St. Louis as it was during the ragtime era.
St Louis: The Museum of Transportation displays one of the largest collections of vehicles in the world, including over seventy locomotives representing the rail power that built America. Also on display are antique and classic vehicles including St. Louis’ oldest express delivery truck, a 1908 Galloway Express Truck; a 1959 Ford experimental gas turbine truck which dramatically advanced turbine technology; and a 1901 St. Louis Automobile made by the St. Louis Motor Carriage Company, the first successful automobile company west of the Mississippi River. The museum’s collection also includes airplanes and riverboats.
St Louis: The Soldiers’ Memorial Military Museum honors the service and sacrifices of our nation’s military men and women with displays that include uniforms, military equipment, photographs, and artwork.
St Louis: The Miniature Museum of Greater St. Louis features an impressive collection of doll houses and other tiny buildings.
Have you entered our latest Free Drawing yet? This week’s prize is an audiobook of my friend Ken Rossignol’s Pirate Trials: Famous Murderous Pirates Book Series: THE LIVES AND ADVENTURES of FAMOUS and SUNDRY PIRATES. To enter, all you have to do is click on this Free Drawing link or the tab at the top of this page and enter your name in the comments section at the bottom of that page (not this one). Only one entry per person per drawing please, and you must enter with your real name. To prevent spam or multiple entries, the names of cartoon or movie characters are not allowed. The winner will be drawn Sunday evening.
Thought For The Day – Friends are relatives you make for yourself.