State Historical Society of Missouri to relocate in favor of larger space

Its current space can only show one half of one percent of what the historical society holds.
The Historical Society is scheduled to move from their current location in the bottom of Ellis Library to next to Peace Park.

The State Historical Society of Missouri has been located in Ellis Library since the library was built in 1905, but in spring 2017, the historical society will move to a new location.

“As you can imagine, our needs have changed a lot from 100 years ago,” said Mary Ellen Lohmann, strategic communications associate for the historical society. “The space is just too small for what we hold. Our collection — we can only show one-half of one percent of what we hold. So that’s one area that we vastly hope to improve in the new building.”

The historical society will move to the block directly across from Peace Park and Lee Hills Hall. Groundbreaking is scheduled for spring semester, depending on weather. The historical society hopes that the move will lead to an increase in visitors and allow the society to be a bridge between the campus community and the citizens of Columbia.

“We’ve heard from a lot of patrons that the pedestrian campus, the fact that they can’t park right outside our doors, is a barrier for them being able to come,” Lohmann said. “Just for accessibility — being able to walk that far, inclement weather, those kinds of things.”

The new building will have climate controls to protect the artifacts that the historical society holds. Ellis Library is currently steam-heated, which can be a problem for preservation efforts.

“There’s definitely instances where there’s some damage, and a lot of it has to do with the environment, and so in the particular case of the things I’m seeing, it’s more temperature and humidity-related damage,” historical society photograph archivist Anne Cox said. “It’s things like curling of photographs. I know that the artwork has also had some issues in the past with water infiltration.”

The historical society currently features art from two particularly prominent artists, Thomas Hart Benton and George Caleb Bingham. Benton is best known for his mural at the state capital.

“George Caleb Bingham is the oldest well-known painter that we have in the collection,” Lohmann said. “He’s actually called ‘the Missouri painter,’ and he’s known across the country. He actually has a painting in the White House.”

With its expanded space, the historical society hopes to show documentaries and bring in lecturers from all over the country and traveling exhibitions from other institutions.

“We’ve dreamed about all kinds of things, from having a film on the side of the building and people being in Peace Park,” Lohmann said. “We hope to do really great imaginative work that brings history to life in the new building.”

As for the space that the historical society will leave behind, it is currently undecided how the university will fill it. The library’s proposal is that the university archives, which are considered a part of the libraries, be moved from their current location in Lewis Hall.

“It’s not the most centrally located location, so that is our recommendation that the archives be over here,” MU Libraries spokeswoman Shannon Cary said. “There is a gallery space, which means that we could have materials available. There’s a lot of great historical materials that people would be able to see. That’s the library’s proposal, and something that the campus is considering.”

This would also allow the current gallery space to be used for rotating, themed exhibitions for materials in the archives.

“Something that’s really popular this time of year is Homecoming items, old Homecoming programs, pictures from the games and clothing that people wore at that time,” Cox said. “It’s not just documents — it’s all kinds of things that the university wants to keep for historical purposes.”

A university representative contacted about other potential options for the space did not respond to requests for comment.

Edited by Kyra Haas | khaas@themaneater.com

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