Route 66 in the News
Museums Nominated for Special Designation
BAXTER SPRINGS, Kan. - The museums in Baxter Springs and Galena have but one thing in common, and it is that which makes them stand out.
The museums are among 24 finalists for the 8 Wonders of Kansas History. They were nominated because they share a common history: lead and zinc mining.
“The museums through their mining exhibits tell a very special Kansas story, but they tell it in a different manner in each place. They share the same niche, the same story,” said Marci Penner, director of the Kansas Sampler Foundation, which is conducting the program.
The Tri-State Mining District, of which extreme Southeast Kansas was a part, from 1870 to 1945 was rated “as the leading producer of lead and zinc concentrates in the world,” Penner said. “We are very pleased to have them listed as finalists.”
Phyllis Abbott, with the Baxter Springs Heritage Center & Museum, said she is thrilled that something in Southeast Kansas is being recognized by the state.
“We’re thrilled, absolutely,” she said. “Southeast Kansas is totally ignored by the rest of the state, but it has a great history. We have a lot of other history here too, but mining was a big part of who we are.”
The museums in Baxter Springs and Galena are not static. They are growing in size and evolving with the addition of new historical material. The Baxter Springs museum recently acquired the historical records, maps and photos from the Picher (Okla.) Mining Museum.
“We’re digitizing all of the images from Picher to preserve them. We have a lot of photographs,” Abbott said. “We are very pleased to be able to exhibit this important piece of our local history.”
Preservation of the area’s mining history is becoming more important as the physical evidence of mining, including the towns of Picher, Cardin and Hockerville in Oklahoma, vanishes from the landscape via a government buyout. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency also is reclaiming hundreds of acres of mined land in the Tri-State Mining District.
The museum in Baxter Springs, which was founded in 1976, not only reflects the importance of mining, but other social and cultural events that shaped the town. Among them were the Civil War, the cow town era, the Victorian era, the world wars, tribal affairs, African-American migration and Route 66.
“We have thousands of visitors a year who come through here from all over the world to just experience Route 66,” Abbott said.
The same is true at the museum in Galena, which is overseen by Joe Douffet, a Galena native who became associated with it after it was founded in 1983 by the late Howard Litch.
“What we have is mostly the mining and smelting history, and just the history of Galena in general,” he said. “We’re right on the old Route 66. For people traveling that highway, we are a must-stop-and-see site.”
Douffet said the museum has at least 2,000 visitors a year. To accommodate its collection, it added a 1,764-square-foot annex. A new concrete floor will double that space.
“We need the space,” he said. “We are crammed and jammed inside and out. We need a little more room for people to move around and see what we’ve got. We get a few historians from time to time, but many of our visitors have been from Japan, Germany, the Netherlands and even Australia.”
The purpose of the history contest is to educate the world about Kansas and to encourage travel in the state.
“Orphan trains, stagecoach stops, land races, forts and a successful effort to end segregated schools are just a part of the assortment of topics presented around the state,” said Penner, the Kansas Sampler Foundation director. “All of these places are built for visitors and for sharing the Kansas story.”
Over a period of a month, the foundation received 170 public nominations from every part of the state. A selection committee, which included history experts, whittled the list to 24.
“What I want to make clear is that they did not just pick the 24 most significant historic events in Kansas,” Penner said. “They picked 24 specific events accompanied by something of substance to see. If neither museum existed, the history of mining in Southeast Kansas would not lend itself to this contest.
“We have to have something to see if we are going to encourage travel in the state.”
The history contest is one in a series organized by the Inman-based Kansas Sampler Foundation. Previously, the top eight wonders have been decided in architecture, art, commerce, cuisine, customs and geography. After history, the last contest will feature people.
You can vote
The public may vote for the top eight Kansas history choices. Voting has started and will continue until midnight June 15. The public may vote online at www.8wonders.org or once by paper ballot. Ballots are available from the finalists or by dialing 620-585-2374.
~Wally Kennedy, JoplinGlobe.com