Location: 6601 Swope Parkway, Kansas City, MO (It’s at the West entrance to Swope Park–it will be on your right as you drive through the gates.)
Web site: www.battleofwestport.org
If you’re interested in Civil War history, you’ll be delighted to learn that there were, in fact, Civil War battles fought in the Kansas City Metro Area. The largest of these–indeed the largest Civil War battle west of the Mississippi–was the Battle of Westport.
On a lark one Saturday, I stopped by the visitor center with Peanut and Sprout in tow and was delighted to find that it was actually open. (It can be challenging to gain entrance to the museum; their hours are from 1 – 5 p.m. Thursday – Saturday, April – October, but they’re often closed because volunteers are sick or just don’t show up. If there are cars parked in front of the building, give it a shot–otherwise, I’d assume that they’re closed.) We were met in the lobby by a kind volunteer who proceeded to give us a guided tour.
The museum itself is really one mid-sized room filled with “Interpretive Panels;” basically, there are a series of panels with historic photos and information about the battle and relevant history. This would have required a lot of reading, except our volunteer accompanied us through the room, telling us about the battle and pointing out the pictures. If you’re lucky enough to find a history buff like we did, the museum can be fairly interesting. He was able to answer questions, add anecdotes, and share that people still find Civil War ordinance in the metro area–evidently, the Trolley Trail is a hot spot, if you’re interested in finding shells and the occasional cannon ball.
There’s a large dummy display in the center of the room with a horse and two soldiers; each soldier is based on an actual person alive at the time. There are a few Civil War relics in small cases that are about waist high; they’re not at a great height for small children, and they’re not even remotely tactile. There’s a second, smaller back room that has all sorts of Civil War books, what appear to be some period documents in plastic that you can pick up and examine, and some period-style clothing that you can try on to get more of the experience. Our guide helped Peanut try on both a Confederate and a Union hat; Peanut, being 3, was bored out of his gourd at this point and not terribly interested in the clothing. It was nice that these elements were there, however, as they provided a tactile way to interact with history.
All in all, I think this would be a good place to visit for Civil War enthusiasts or people with older children who are doing homework assignments and want to get some local color, but it’s not the best for people with small children or people who are blind or visually impaired. There’s no braille and very little tactile interest, and there’s not much of the “museum” element; it’s largely a series of info boards in a semicircle that you can follow to learn the history. If you do like history (or have kids who like history), and you’re lucky enough to stop by when they’re open and a history-buff volunteer is there (like we were), you’ll probably enjoy your visit.
Our volunteer–who was truly excellent–mentioned that they’re planning a reenactment of the battle in 2014. They’re going to limit the cannon to one per side, so it won’t be horribly loud, and it should be an interesting way to learn about history, regardless of how good your eyesight is.