1905 BUILDING BEING TRANSFORMED INTO CIVIL WAR MUSEUM
April 12, 2011 opening of museum at Jefferson Barracks to coincide with
Civil War Anniversary
by Fran Mannino
View the article on South County Times Website
|John Maurath points out a spider web window, one of the many historic aspects of a 1905 building
currently being converted into the Missouri Civil War Museum at Jefferson Barracks. photo by Diana Linsley
March 06, 2009
Overlooking the parade grounds at historic Jefferson Barracks in South County is the Post Exchange and Gymnasium Building, a beautiful federal-style structure that will one day house the not-for-profit Missouri Civil War Museum.
The building was built in 1905 for Army officers, and once contained a library, gymnasium, saunas, indoor pistol range and bowling alley. It was decommissioned after World War II, and sat empty for decades.
The structure has undergone a remarkable transformation from the crumbling, uninhabitable space it was just a few years ago to the structurally sound, updated building of today.
Museum Founder and Chairman Mark Trout and his volunteers have been working around the clock since 2002 to get the building habitable.
"We have two goals," said Trout. "Our first goal was to save the building. The second goal is to find a way to open on April 12, 2011, the 150th anniversary (marking the start) of the Civil War.
"We're not an organization of hard-core Civil War people," he said. "We started as an organization of three and have grown to an organization of 400. Without a doubt this is a true grassroots project, funded entirely by the generosity of people and businesses, with no government funding."
The most immediate challenge for the museum organization is trying to raise funds during one of the worst recessions to hit the country in decades.
"In reality we are a half-million dollars away from finishing this and opening it," said Trout.
The restoration budget for the 15,000-square-foot space is about $2 million. Funds raised to date have been pumped into massive improvements to shore up the decaying building.
"It's a big challenge," said Trout. "If you're a Civil War enthusiast or historian and want to get involved and do some good, we have 24 months left. We could really use your help."
New Life for an Aging Beauty
Trout is one of those rare individuals who can see past the neglect of the past to the potential of the future - even if it involves years of back-breaking labor and sacrifice in the process.
Trout, a resident of Wildwood, first spotted the decaying Post Exchange building in 2002 while on a visit to Jefferson Barracks.
"A couple of us talked about how it would be nice to see some sort of Civil War museum here," he said.
"Jefferson Barracks is without a doubt the most significant military historic site in the state," he said. "We felt the need to fill a void in this city that sent more soldiers into the Civil War than any other city west of the Mississippi."
Trout and company struck a deal with St. Louis County, which owns the building, for a 99-year lease at $1 a year. Trout's end of the bargain is to restore the structure to its former glory.
Trout's right-hand man is John Maurath, director of library services for the Missouri Civil War Museum organization. Maurath is a former Sunset Hills resident who now lives near Jefferson Barracks.
Trout and Maurath both quit their day jobs to work on the restoration, doing everything from shoveling tons of debris out of the building to laying floors.
The challenge for the group is a daunting one due to the extreme neglect the building suffered over the years, and the trying economic times.
"When we took this building over it had been out of service since 1946," said Trout. "There were gaping holes in the roof. There were raccoons and pigeons in here - we even had to chase a Mallard off the running track."
Volunteers working on the project range from high school students to senior citizens, even retired colonels and major generals.
|Mark Trout describes Jefferson Barracks as the most significant military historic site in the state. It will serve as a fitting locale for a new Missouri Civil War Museum. The former elevated track will serve as a gallery. photo by Diana Linsley
Some of the group's older members said when the building was decommissioned, ads were placed in the newspapers encouraging people to come salvage what they could before it was torn down.
"The first thing they took was the slate roof," said Maurath. "Every time it rained the building filled with water. They took all the beautiful hardware, the chandeliers.
"We're restoring it to its original look so that if a World War I soldier walked in here today it would look the same as it did in his day."
The Post building at Jefferson Barracks has three "sister" buildings still in service in other states. Trout found the original blueprints for his building at one of the sister locations in Wyoming.
"Everything we do here is guided by the original blueprints," he said. "That's the gospel of the restoration."
Mahogany front doors are ready to be installed, but will remain in storage until all the major construction is completed to keep them from being damaged. In the meantime, plywood is doing double duty at the front entrance.
"People judge our progress by what they see boarded up on the outside," said Trout. "They have no idea what we're putting into the infrastructure."
Improvements include a new roof, a fire suppression system costing upwards of $100,000, and restoration and replacement of exterior soffits and fascia that were destroyed by years of water damage. Nearly every floor and wall in the building has been replaced.
Plastering is complete on much of the second floor of the building, which will house staff offices and a full kitchen for artifact cleaning and restoration.
Education and Enrichment
Trout stressed he is not a Civil War scholar, just a former police officer and Marine veteran with ancestors who fought on both sides of the Civil War conflict. He studied political science and history at Webster University, and has a great appreciation for historic preservation.
Maurath, who also has Civil War ancestors, said the true measure of success for the project will be how many yellow school buses full of kids pull up outside the new museum when it opens.
"The museum is geared to work with the outside curriculums of school districts," said Trout. "They'd come to the museum to learn about the Civil War, instead of limiting it to the classroom."
Maurath said they already have 2,000 books on the Civil War for the museum's library, and a host of other artifacts, stored for now in a climate-controlled environment off site.
Visitors to the completed museum will be able to learn about Missouri's involvement in the Civil War through interactive displays, exhibits and a library resource center.
"We've got blood, sweat and tears in this building," said Trout. "The museum is the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. In the end we're creating something tens of thousands of people will see."
Learn more about the Missouri Civil War Museum at www.mcwm.org. Volunteer and donation information is also available on the Web site, or by calling 845-1861.