After a sweaty decade of shoveling pigeon droppings and replacing rotted woodwork, the steadfast creators of a new Civil War museum at Jefferson Barracks County Park are in frenzied final assembly of display cases and exhibits.
“I wish we had another six months, but it’s time to open,” said Mark Trout, founding director of the Missouri Civil War Museum. Its home is a thoroughly renovated three-story building left over from the old Army base in south St. Louis County.
On Friday, County Executive Charlie Dooley joined Trout in a ceremonial ribbon-cutting on the front steps. The museum is to open June 29.
“You had an idea and a dream, and you have created a real destination,” Dooley told the gathering.
The museum leased the 108-year-old building in 2002 from the county, which maintains much of the old Jefferson Barracks grounds . Trout’s original goal was to open by April 12, 2011, the 150th anniversary of the the Civil War’s commencement at Fort Sumter in Charleston, S.C., harbor. He’ll happily settle for just beating the 150th anniversaries of the pivotal battles of Gettysburg and Vicksburg, which took place in the first week of July 1863.
Trout, of Wildwood, said it simply took this long to restore the formerly dilapidated building at a cost of about $1.7 million, financed through donations and $650,000 from the county government, the latter in tax revenue from the River City Casino in the Lemay area. He said a small group of volunteers did most of the work, helped by apprentices from the bricklayers and plasterers’ unions, and specialists hired as needed.
A next-door neighbor calls the restoration “stunning and first class.” William Florich, director of the Jefferson Barracks Heritage Foundation, has watched the Civil War group carefully revive the three-story former pigeon roost.
“The sweat equity they poured into that project, the quality of their craftsmanship — it’s all amazing,” said Florich, whose foundation is in the former base Red Cross building. The Civil War museum will be the largest of several independent museums completed or planned in former Army buildings along the old parade grounds.
After giving it a new roof and windows, the group replaced nearly all of the interior woodwork and tried hard to copy what was there, or had been.
“A soldier from World War II should be able to walk in and recognize the place,” Trout said. “We were as meticulous as possible.”
Jefferson Barracks dates to 1826 and once was the Army’s main base in the West. It was a busy installation through World War II, and the Missouri National Guard still uses part of it.
INSTALLING THE COLLECTION
Meticulous is a good trait when the subject is the Civil War. The group has been working this week to install uniforms, muskets, medical equipment, swords and other artifacts in custom-made display cabinets. The museum owns more than 1,500 items. Installation will continue through the summer.
In the center of the main room, a former gymnasium, are a field cannon, a Studebaker-model supply wagon and a stuffed horse. Trout said the horse serves as tribute to all the animals that died in the four-year war.
Helping with the finish work is Trout’s daughter, Kristen, who caught the Civil War bug during family trips to battlefields and now studies history at Gettysburg College, next to the famous battlefield in Pennsylvania. She is assisting Melinda Frillman, a former collections specialist at the St. Louis Science Center, in installing displays according to plan.
“We want to arrange it so anyone who walks in here will understand the story,” said Kristen Trout, 20, the eldest of Mark and Jackie Trout’s four children.
The exhibits are designed to cover the years leading to the war through its aftermath, including a study of the war’s enduring power in popular culture. A major theme is Missouri itself, which was torn internally by the war. There also is a gift shop, offering books, Abraham Lincoln top hats and DVDs of famous movies about the war.
Mark Trout, 50, grew up in St. Louis, served in the Marine Corps, was a police officer in Kansas City and Maryland Heights and earned a history degree from Webster University as an adult − all before embarking upon the dream of a museum. His organization persuaded the Emerson Charitable Trust to donate $200,000 to begin. A recent gift of $19,000 from the owners of River City Casino paid for the final preparations.