George Washington Carver National Monument
Located near Diamond, Missouri, the George Washington Carver National Monument is a gem in Joplin’s backyard. It’s the first national park dedicated to an African-American, and a day spent here offers recreation, education and inspiration.
The welcome center contains an exhibit about the life of George Washington Carver, known as the “Plant Doctor” and the inventor of many applications for the use of peanuts and other plants.
George and his mother, a slave owned by Moses and Susan Carver, were kidnapped by Confederate night-raiders shortly after George’s birth. George was later found and returned to the Carvers, who then raised him on their farm in Diamond Grove. The park is built on the site of the old Carver homestead, and visitors can walk through the 1881 home (located off of the nature trail).The main building also houses several interactive exhibits which highlight the wildlife and plants native to the area, and allows visitors to understand all of the resources that Carver had access to in his explorations.
Upstairs, there’s also a replica of an old-fashioned classroom which is a definite hit with kids. At the front of the room is a life-size cut out of Carver standing in front of his classroom filled with rows of short wooden tables with benches. Resting on top of the tables are old spelling books and small slate boards, demonstrating tools used in teaching a century ago.There’s also a science lab upstairs where classes and lab demonstrations are often held. We went one day and learned how to make peanut milk, a fitting activity to be held at a center named after a man who discovered numerous ways to use peanuts, aside from eating them as a healthy snack.First, the ranger gave us each a mortar and pestle and placed a few peanuts inside for us to grind. Then, we added water to the mixture and strained out the solid particles, leaving us with creamy peanut milk.
When we are finished exploring inside the center, we always head outside to the 3/4-mile nature trail outside. Near the beginning of the trail, there’s a replica of the base of the 12′ x 12′ cabin in which Carver was born (it was eventually destroyed by a tornado).It’s hard for me to imagine my entire family of five stuffed inside such a small space, and it makes me feel grateful for our home where all of our girls have their own rooms. Whenever they complain, I remind them of this… We then venture into the forest, passing the beautiful statue of Carver as a boy. We cross bridges that cover sparkling clear water, and walk around a shallow pond filled with incredibly huge carp. In the spring, when the water is clear, you can view these massive creatures from well across the pond.
The trail leads to the Carver homestead, a two-story wooden structure with low ceilings. Visitors can walk through the first floor where there are only two small rooms. In a case in the back room, there are samples of original nails with square heads that were used in the home, as well as a piece of original wallpaper. It’s fun for kids (and adults) to see how drastically different homes were built over a century ago.The trail continues through the woods for a bit and then emerges in a grove filled with tall grasses, prairie flowers and vibrantly-colored butterflies.
Just off of the prairie trail is the pre-Civil War cemetery where Moses and Susan Carver are buried, along with other members of the Diamond Grove community.At the end of the trail, there’s a nicely shaded area that’s perfect for picnics. There are several tables and a wide expanse of grass where kids can run around and play.Whenever I visit this park, I feel refreshed and inspired. Carver lived his life with insatiable curiosity, appreciation and humility. In a letter to his students, he shared this list of virtues: I’m fortunate this park is here in southwest Missouri. It’s a place where I often go to learn, to relax, and to be inspired.
George Washington Carver National Monument is located at 5646 Carver Road in Diamond.
To read more about my adventures in the area, visit JoplinMOLife.com.