Tucked away in the farm fields of southwest Missouri is the nation’s first National Monument dedicated to an African American. This national park site preserves the birthplace and childhood home of George Washington Carver. Best known for his work with peanut crops, George was an avid inventor, teacher, scientist, and artist. The site features a wonderful museum, Visitor Center, and an interpretive nature trail.
History of George Washington Carver
George Washington Carver was born into slavery to a woman named Mary. Mary was owned by Moses Carver who lived on a farm in southern Missouri. During the Civil War, the Carver farm was raided. Mary and baby George were kidnapped by slave traders and sold. Moses Carver sent a neighbor to track them. Mary could not be found, but a very ill George was found and returned to the Carver Farm.
George became a free child in 1865 with the abolition of slavery. He was raised by the Carvers and taught how to read and write. Since he was often frail and sick, he mostly worked around the house and gardens with Susan Carver. From a young age, George took an interest in plants. He became known as the “the plant doctor” to local farmers due to his ability to help improve their gardens, fields and orchards.
When George was around 11 years old, he moved to nearby Neosho to attend an all-black school. He was taken in by an African American couple, Mariah and Andrew Watkins. George did odd jobs for the couple and learned about medicinal herbs from Mariah.
Carver eventually left for Kansas to further his education and earned a high school diploma. He relocated again to Iowa, where he met the Milhollands, a white couple who encouraged him to enroll in college. Carver learned to draw and paint in college and eventually enrolled in the school of botany at Iowa State Agricultural School.
In 1894, Carver became the first African American to earn a Bachelor of Science degree. He went on to earn a Master of Agriculture degree in 1896. He received several job opportunities including an offer from Booker T. Washington to work at the new agricultural school at Tuskegee Institute in Alabama. Carver accepted the offer and worked at Tuskegee for the rest of his life. He aimed to improve the lives of African Americans through practical skills.
Carver devoted his time to research projects that aimed at improving Southern agriculture. He studied soil chemistry and encouraged crop rotation to maintain healthy soils. When he discovered that the soils in the south were well suited to growing sweet potatoes and peanuts, he set out to invent new food, industrial, and commercial products from these crops. Carver’s inventions and convictions helped to improve the lives of many impoverished farmers of the time.
Visiting George Washington Carver National Monument
The George Washington Carver National Monument was established at Carver’s birthplace in 1943. It was the first unit of the National Park Service dedicated to an African American.
Directions to the Monument
The monument is located between Joplin and Neosho, Missouri at 5646 Carver Rd, Diamond, MO 64840.
You can find a part map on the National Park Service site for the monument.
George Washington Carver Monument Hours
The park is open daily 9:00-5:00 except Thanksgiving Day, Christmas, and New Year’s Day.
There is no admission or parking fee.
Things to Do at George Washington Carver National Monument
We weren’t sure what to expect when we visited since I could not find a ton of information online. However, we were very impressed with the extensive museum and the grounds. You can easily spend 2-3 hours to see it all!
Tour the Museum
The George Washington Carver museum contains three floors of exhibits. The museum is very well done and we all learned so much. Other features of the museum include restrooms, a gift shop, and a national parks passport stamp.
The museum features a a park film which makes a good introduction to Carver’s story. The exhibits on the main level tell the story of George Washington Carver from a young age. The displays showcase his life on the Carver farm and his struggle to gain an education.
Our kids enjoyed the upper level the most. This Discovery area includes a large kids area with interactive displays. I was amazed at how many different products Carver had invented using peanuts!
This level also contains a model classroom and a laboratory. The park sometimes offers special events and classes in the lab area.
Walk the Grounds
The park site includes a one-mile, easy trail that passes several points of interest. The park service also usually conducts two guided tours daily along the same path.
The nature trail starts behind the Visitor Center. You can walk the loop either direction. Since we were visiting in the summer, we opted to turn left and hike the exposed part of the trail first before the temperature rose.
Turning left the trail passes by a bust sculpture of Carver before leading to the Carver family cemetery.
The trail then leads into the woods and across a pretty stream.
The next stop on the trail is the 1881 Moses Carver farmhouse. While Carver had already left for school when this home was built, he did return to visit the Carver family when they lived in this home.
You are able to go inside of the home and view the lower rooms.
After leaving the farmhouse, the trail crosses the creek again before reaching Contemplation Pond. A side trail makes a loop around the pond.
The trail then passes by a statue of Carver as a boy. A side path leads to an overlook of the Carver spring outlet.
From here, the trail surface switches to asphalt and switchbacks up the hill to return to the Visitor Center.
Near the top of the trail, a reconstructed wooden frame shows the likely birthplace location of Carver. Carver was born in a log cabin that Moses Carver had originally built for his family. This became George Washington Carver mother’s cabin after Moses Carver built a new home for his family.
Become a Junior Ranger
The George Washington Carver Monument has a Junior Ranger program. Kids can complete activities in the Junior Ranger booklet to earn a badge.
Complete NPS Wellness Challenges
The National Park Service started a new wellness challenge program. The program was launched at all Missouri National Park sites in 2022. The challenge at the George Washington Carver National Monument includes several activities to choose from to support mental, physical, and learning wellness.
More to See
If you are looking for more to see in the area, check out Grand Falls in nearby Joplin. Grand Falls is the largest continuously running waterfall in Missouri.
If you are looking for a unique spot to eat nearby, the Undercliff Grill is located up against the side of a cliff. You can see the rock wall of the cliff from inside!
About 45 minutes south of the George Washington Carver Monument is Big Sugar Creek State Park. This lesser known state park offers a rugged trail past creeks and waterfalls.
I hope this post inspires you to check out the wonderful and educational George Washington Carver National Monument. This hidden gem in southern Missouri offers a great tribute to legacy of George Washington Carver. Happy travels!