The city started on the banks of the Missouri River in 1843, St. Joseph, Mo., proudly highlights its history in several museums throughout the city. The city’s founder, Joseph Robidoux, is a well-known name from the streets downtown that bear his family’s first names to the preservation of his first trading post at the Robidoux Row Museum, to the interpretive signs along the city’s scenic river walking trail near where he first pulled his canoe onto the banks of present day St. Joseph, Mo. The Pony Express and Jesse James are local names more commonly known to outsiders.
St. Joseph’s museums give both visitors and natives windows to the past. The St. Joseph Museums, Inc. celebrates many aspects of St. Joseph, Mo., history through a historic mansion museum and three other museums all located in one museum complex.
St. Joseph retains much of its history in the turn-of-the-century mansions that once were the dominant hilltop structures that looked down on the river below. The Wyeth-Tootle Mansion welcomes visitors in to see a decadent wealthy home of early St. Joseph citizens. The castle-like exterior gives a glimpse of the opulence that was represented in the old neighborhoods on the hills near downtown. Beautiful architecture and furniture transport 21st century visitors back into the parlors of St. Joseph’s first residents.
On the east side of St. Joseph, Mo., the St. Joseph Museums, Inc., has one building that contains three museums: the St. Joseph Museum, Glore Psychiatric Museum, and the Black Archives Museum. Here, they welcome visitors into a drastically different atmosphere than the one at Wyeth-Tootle.
These museum walls were once the ones where families brought their relatives to be committed as insane. Inside the Glore Psychiatric Museum, the history of State Lunatic Asylum No. 2 unfolds. While some residents lived prominently in the mansions on the river’s hillsides, others were condemned to live their life behind these walls. The museum interprets the history of mental illness treatment with exhibits that are so incredible that this museum has been featured on programs such as The Learning Channel, The Discovery Channel, PBS, and The Science Channel and highlighted in many written publications. It was also named one of the 50 most unusual museums in the country.
Within the wings of the old hospital, the St. Joseph Museums, Inc. also portrays the lives of its citizens, past and present. In the St. Joseph Museum visitors can see Native American items from tribes around the country, an extensive doll collection, the history of Jesse James in St. Joseph, and a Civil War Medial Expedition that makes one grateful for modern medicine.
In other rooms of the old hospital is the Black Archives Museum that celebrates the African-American heritage in St. Joseph, Mo. This more recent museum from 1991 highlights the most influential African-Americans throughout St. Joseph’s history.
So many citizens take pride in the history of St. Joseph, Mo. Multiple museum curators take care in their interpretation of the city. While St. Joseph is by no means done making amazing history, its early years are well-defined and celebrated in the museums that cover the hillsides of this old river town.