A visit to the museums in St. Joseph is … Quirky. Surprising. Curious. Impressive. Enlightening. And totally worth a day, or an afternoon, or a full weekend with the family.
By family, we mean kids, adults and all generations – because there really is something to see, ponder and say “hmm….” about for every age. Even if you’re a local and you’ve walked through these doors before, you must go back, often. There are new things at every turn, from exhibits to hands-on activities, to elements of the buildings themselves, that you will make your trip an entirely new experience.
In fact, St. Joseph’s 13 museums may be some of the most unique of any mid-sized city, anywhere. When Westward expansion hit, the city was a launching point of one of the largest human migrations in history, just in terms of sheer numbers. Long before this, the Missouri River and surrounding bluffs made the area a hotbed of Native American culture, offering an incredible array of archaeological treasures. Entrepreneurship surrounding these events created some of the wealthiest merchants anywhere by the late 1800s, with blocks of mansions and buildings to prove it. Today, St. Joseph has more museums per capita than Washington DC!
These museums are seriously significant – and seriously fun for everyone. Here’s a snapshot of what’s waiting for you when you take the family on a museum adventure in St. Joseph:
Glore Psychiatric Museum: Explore the history of the mental health hospital formerly known as the State Lunatic Asylum No. 2, as well as the history of the treatment of the mentally ill at the Glore Psychiatric Museum. Located on the former grounds of the Asylum, the exhibits are sure to have visitors thinking and asking questions. Exhibits include a tour through a portion of the tunnel system that once connected the hospital buildings. In this section of the tunnels are murals painted by patients, covering a wide range of subjects. Several displays will catch the attention of visitors both young and old, such as the Stomach Contents (featured on Ripley’s Believe It or Not! TV show…twice!), the Television Diary (an early form of e-mail), and a collection of over 100,000 cigarette packs (gathered in the hope of obtaining a new wheelchair). As visitors wander through hallways and rooms, they often gain a new understanding of mental health issues and realize how much progress has been made in the mental health field.
The St. Joseph Museum: Located on the same campus as the Glore Psychiatric Museum, there is a lot to see and do here. There is an indoor archaeological excavation site where children of all ages can “dig” for artifacts. In the Mary Alicia Owen Room learn about St. Joseph folklorist Mary Alicia Owen, as well as put on a puppet show or two, based on one of her stories. Enjoy intricate beadwork and weaving techniques as you stroll through rooms displaying items from the Harry L. George Native American Collection, part of one of the region’s largest Native American Collections. Discover the role St. Joseph played in the Reflections on Community & Conflict, World War I St. Joseph exhibit (if you are over the age of 17, play a round of Battleground while you’re here.)
Black Archives Museum: Also located on the same campus as the Glore Psychiatric Museum, the Black Archives Museum tells the story of the Black community in St. Joseph. From Slavery to Civil Rights, learn more about the struggles and triumphs of African Americans in St. Joseph and the surrounding area. Have you heard of Jeffrey Deroine, a former slave of Joseph Robidoux? Visit this wing of the museum complex and learn more about this interesting man who spoke at least two different languages and ten American Indian dialects. Also, during your visit, discover the impact made on the community by inventor Charles Baker, civic leader John Lucas, and Civil Rights activist Kelsy Beshears.
Wyeth-Tootle Mansion: St. Joseph is known for its beautiful architecture and Victorian mansions. The Wyeth- Tootle Mansion at 1100 Charles is your opportunity to tour one of these amazing homes. Built in 1879 for William Wyeth, this wonderful building resembles the castles found along the Rhine River in Germany. With two rooms fully restored and others with their parquet floors and hand painted on canvas ceilings exposed, visitors can explore the opulence that could be found in St. Joseph during its Golden Age. Exhibits on the second floor examine St. Joseph history from an architectural standpoint where children of all ages can explore building and design. The third floor currently features an exhibit on the Great flood of 1993 and the impact flooding has on communities. While you’re here create your own hills and valleys, as well as rivers and streams with the augmented reality sand table.
The Remington Nature Center: Placed along the Missouri River bluffs, the Remington Nature Center is always a family favorite. From the time kids and adults alike step inside and see the giant replica mammoth, they will be captivated by prehistoric and modern-day exhibits. Walk through a cave exhibit that explains the lives of early civilizations. Check out the 7,000-gallon aquarium and participate in Fish Feeding Fridays at 10:30 am. See animal footprints appear in the sand and learn how water travels from a source to our tap. Kids can also participate in a monthly scavenger hunt and win a prize. Every path and turn in this multi-million-dollar, hands-on center brings nature to life from a historical and cultural view.
Albrecht-Kemper Museum of Art: Forget everything you may have thought about art museums ever being stuffy. The Albrecht-Kemper Museum of Art (AKMA) is bright, inviting, and welcoming for all ages. A work of art itself, the AKMA houses one of the finest collections of American art from the Colonial period to the present as well as many new temporary exhibitions each year. The former William Albrecht historic home is joined with expansive gallery additions and gardens. There’s a café, so plan your visit around lunch on a Tuesday, Wednesday or Thursday. Downstairs is an extensive classroom area, a theater, and a beautiful art library to explore. (Ask about the mysterious mirrored room down there – you’re sure to see some selfie-posing here). Kids and teens will find something to love in the first-floor gift store. Special events, art classes and special camps abound, so check out the calendar before your visit.
The Pony Express National Museum: As the original Pony Express stables, this is an internationally known landmark, but it’s also a very hands-on experience for kids and families. Sit on a row of mochila-covered saddles. Dress up in pioneer clothes, write on the chalkboard, and cook a pretend meal in the mini pioneer kitchen in the children’s play area. Go inside the log cabin to investigate the rope bunks and fireplace. Push buttons and lift flaps. Peer down inside the original 1850s foundation area, which is a huge hole in the floor in the center of the museum. Pump actual water from the original stone well that is underneath the museum building and take a close look down inside the well through a thick glass window. Push audio buttons that bring the story to life in the Hall of Riders. Grab some Western or pioneer-themed toys from the gift shop. Here, you are part of the story and all your curiosity is warmly welcomed.
Walter Cronkite Memorial: The Walter Cronkite Memorial is a dedication to the life of one of the most important journalists of the 20th century, Walter Cronkite, who was born in St. Joseph, Mo. The interactive memorial, housed on the campus of Missouri Western State University, gives visitors the chance to learn about the legendary CBS anchorman’s life and the historic events he covered. Memorabilia and artifacts from Cronkite’s personal and professional life are on display and include his many Emmy Awards, desk, books, personal collections and more. A historic photograph/video display showcases world and national events covered by Cronkite during his years as the CBS Evening News anchor, and visitors can listen to Cronkite’s reporting of these iconic newscasts. Visitors to the memorial can sit behind a desk in a replica of the CBS Evening News Studio, look into the camera and tell the world “And that’s the way it is” while snapping a souvenir photograph.
The uncommon museum experience continues with Robidoux Row Museum, one of the oldest buildings in Saint Joseph. Step back in time while walking through circa 1840s housing units where families and travelers prepared for the hardships of west-ward travel. Learn about the history of Joseph Robidoux, the town founder, and his family while viewing his restored personal quarters and experience artifacts from Saint Joseph’s past including Convent of the Sacred Heart and the Owens Sisters.
Take a stroll down the winding and shaded pathways of the 1851 Mount Mora Cemetery, more alive with history than perhaps any other cemetery in the Midwest. Mausoleum Row is truly special from a historical and architectural perspective. Pony Express Riders, three Missouri Governors, veterans of wars, a US Senator, and 30 mausoleums of the social elite, built during St. Joseph’s Golden Age are located here. Each October, experience St. Joseph’s unique history through intriguing stories told by costumed living history characters at their annual Voices of the Past tour.
As a former school, the Agency Ford Museum located in Agency, MO, just southeast of St. Joseph, documents the history of Agency, a once-thriving community, from the 1836 Platte Purchase to the present. Each year they host a very popular artifact show as well as an Old Fashioned picnic that includes tractor pulls and a car show.
How has rural and small-town America changed over the past 175 years? At the Andrew County Museum, just north of St. Joseph in Savannah, Missouri, guests can explore this history through their award winning, interactive exhibit, “A Rural Way of Life.” Discover more through their temporary exhibits, guest speakers, special events, educational programs and activities, and do research with their Genealogy Department.
As if that wasn’t enough to see, the exhibit room at the Missouri Department of Conservation Northwest Regional Office is free for all visitors and open from 8-5 M-F excluding State Holidays. Enjoy the outdoors on their hiking trail including 2 ponds. See their Events page for special outdoor-recreational events in the Northwest Region.
And this is just the start. St. Joseph’s museums are so many things – but all are inviting, interesting and straight-up fuel for imagination for families. Uncommon? You bet. Quirky and awesome? For sure, and proud of it.
The Museums Association of St Joseph is a collaborative organization whose mission is to educate our residents and visitors and to preserve and interpret our hometown heritage for present and future generations.
Other local museums that do not participate in the Museums Association include the Patee House Museum and Jesse James Home Museum.