Editor's note: Katie Steele Danner is the Director of the Missouri Division of Tourism.
In November 2014, I was scheduled to attend a symposium in Joplin. Having arrived early, I found myself with some free time, so I decided to make a short side trip. Always the tourist at heart, I headed east from Joplin on I-44, then turned south on Route 71, passing through rolling hills and quiet countryside with little traffic. Twenty minutes later, just outside the small town of Diamond, I arrived at the George Washington Carver National Monument.
The 240-acre national park encompasses the birthplace and childhood home of the world-renowned agronomist, educator and humanitarian, George Washington Carver. Funded in 1943 and opened in July 1953, this is the first National Monument dedicated to a black American and the first to honor someone other than a president.
Facilities at the visitor center include a museum, a theater, a discovery center and a gift shop. I spent some time in the museum studying the memorabilia, exhibits and the wealth of information about the famous scientist who had a tremendous impact on the world. I enjoyed the discovery center and thought about how my grandkids would love it.
Born a slave in the early 1860s, he was adopted and raised by German immigrants Moses and Susan Carver and given their sir name. By the age of 12, George was known in the local farming community as “the plant doctor.” As an adult, he mastered chemistry, botany, mycology (study of fungi), music, herbalism, art, cooking and massage therapy. He apparently discovered more than 300 uses for peanuts including food recipes, ink, paper, soap, glue, dyes, massage oil, milk, cosmetics and hundreds more for soybeans, pecans and sweet potatoes.
Throughout the year many interesting events are held at the park. For example, in March 2015, activities include: March 1, a film about the life of a woman who fought against lynching; March 7 & 8, a film chronicling Carver’s life story; March 14 & 15, demonstrations covering some of the products carver discovered; March 19, enjoy freshly brewed coffee and tea as a park ranger shares interesting facts about George Washington Carver and the park named in his honor, highlighting how to grow better tomatoes. Participants plant heirloom tomato seeds and learn best practices from Master Gardeners. A full schedule can be found at www.nps.gov/gwca.
The day I was there was an unusually warm day for November. I needed to work on my 100MoMiles, so I set off on the nearly mile-long nature trail that traverses woodlands, crosses streams and skirts a tallgrass prairie. (The trail is partially handicapped accessible.) Guided tours are offered daily, but I preferred the more leisurely self-guided option. Along the way I saw the statue of Carver as a boy; the location of the 12-foot by 12-foot cabin where he was born; the 1881 Moses Carver house; and the pre-Civil War Carver Cemetery. (George Washington Carver is buried at Tuskegee University in Alabama.)
Side note: The Missouri Botanical Garden in St. Louis has a garden area dedicated in Carver’s honor, including a commemorative statue and materials about his work.
While at this wonderful park, the staff told me about a special visitor who brought his family through while traversing the country. The visitor said he had to ensure his children learned about this incredible man and, although the site was not the reason for his trip, he included it on their itinerary. That visitor was Denzel Washington. He and I encourage you to visit the George Washington Carver National Monument, an important and interesting national park in southwest Missouri. The park is open daily, 9 a.m.-5 p.m.; however, it is closed January 1, Thanksgiving Day and December 25.
After your visit, share your experiences with the world. Post your adventures and photos on our VisitMO Facebook page.