National Parks in Missouri: History and Karst Topography

Alley Spring and Mill
Alley Mill at Alley Spring along the Jacks Fork River near Eminence, MO. One of the prettiest and most photographed locations in the Ozarks, the spring is a natural wonder and especially beautiful in the fall.

 Eifel Kreutz / Getty Images 

The national parks in Missouri feature historic sites commemorating the Civil War, the residences of two presidents and a world-famous agricultural chemist, and a scenic riverway sculpted out of limestone bedrock. 

National Parks in Missouri
Map of the national parks in Missouri, managed by the National Park Serice. National Park Service

There are six national parks in the state of Missouri, and the National Park Service reports that nearly three million visitors come by each year.

Gateway Arch National Park

Gateway Arch National Park
Night view of the St. Louis, Missouri downtown through the Gateway Arch National Park. Lightvision, LLC / Moment / Getty Images

Gateway Arch National Park, which also includes the Jefferson National Expansion Memorial, is located on the eastern border of central Missouri, on the Mississippi River in St. Louis. The park memorializes the Lewis and Clark expedition, as well as the landmark Supreme Court cases Dred Scott v. Sandford and Minor v. Happersett

The park includes a small green space, a museum, and an enormous stainless-steel-faced parabola known as the Gateway Arch. Built by the Finnish architect Eero Saarinen (1910–1961), the 630-foot tall monument commemorates U.S. President Thomas Jefferson's 1804 purchase of the Louisiana territory, and the feat accomplished by explorers Meriwether Lewis and William Clark, the men who were sent to traverse the new lands that doubled the size of the United States. People riding to the observation platform at the top of the monument can still get a glimpse of the breadth of that notion. 

The two Supreme Court cases which began at the Old St. Louis Courthouse were started by Dred Scott (1847), a Black American who thought he ought to be free; and Virginia Minor (1872), a White woman who thought she ought to be able to vote. Scott lost his case, but was freed by his enslaver in 1857, one year before he died; Minor lost her case and was never able to vote. 

George Washington Carver National Monument

George Washington Carver National Monument
Statue of George Washington Carver as a boy at the George Washington Carver National Monument. Eddie Brady / Lonely Planet Images / Getty Images

George Washington Carver National Monument, located in Diamond, in the southwestern part of Missouri, celebrates the tremendously influential chemical botanist who transformed agriculture in Alabama and around the world. 

George Washington Carver (1864–1943) was enslaved from birth in a cabin on this property, to a woman named Mary who had been purchased by the eccentric enslavers, Moses and Susan Carver. As a freed boy, Carver was abducted by Confederate night-raiders—in his memoirs, Carver invented a word for it: he was "kuclucked" by the Ku Klux Clan. Moses eventually recovered him and sent the 11-year-old Carver to a Black school in Neosha, Missouri. 

He attended Simpson College in Indianola, Iowa, then transferred to what would become Iowa State University in 1891, to study plant science. After receiving his master's degree in 1896, he was hired there as a faculty member. In 1897, Booker T. Washington convinced him to teach at Tuskegee Institute in Alabama, where he worked for 47 years. 

It would be very difficult to pick out the most important of the thousands of ideas and pragmatic solutions for farmers that Carver came up with over his lifetime. He invented hundreds of uses for peanuts and soybeans, pecans, and sweet potatoes, and he also created appropriate crop rotation technologies for many of those crops. 

Harry S. Truman National Historic Site

Harry S Truman National Historic Site
The Summer White House where Harry Truman spent most of his life, part of the Harry S Truman National Historic Site, Independence, Missouri. Darita Delimont / Gallo Images / Getty Images

The Harry S. Truman National Historic Site, located in the towns of Independence and Grandview, outside of Kansas City, include homes that are associated with the 33rd president of the United States. Harry S Truman (1884–1972) was Franklin Delano Roosevelt's vice president, and finished Roosevelt's last term in the White House after he died in 1945. Truman was elected in the fall of that year, but decided not to run in 1952. 

The grounds of the park in Independence include four houses belonging to the family of Bess Wallace Truman (1885–1982). The "Summer White House" is where Harry and Bess lived most of their lives; next door are two houses owned by Bess' brothers Frank and George Wallace, and across the street is the Noland house, owned by the president's favorite aunt and cousins.

The Farm Home is located in Grandview, where Harry lived as a young man between 1906–1917. Grandview includes the farmhouse built in 1894 and some outbuildings constructed after a tornado.

Truman's legacy is mottled. It was Truman who signed the order to drop atomic bombs in Hiroshima and Nagasaki, who supported the Marshall Plan to help Europe rebuild after World War II, and who became ensnared in the Korean War.

Ozark National Scenic Riverways

Ozark National Scenic Riverways
Hidden away near the Current River by Eminence, MO, Klepzig Mill is an old, forgotten grist mill located in a beautiful area made of rocky shut-ins formed by pink rhyolite in the Ozark National Scenic Riverways. Eifel Kreutz / iStock / Getty Images Plus

The Ozark National Scenic Riverways is a linear parkway in the southeastern part of Missouri tracing the banks of the Current River and its tributary, the Jacks Fork River. The park includes 134 miles of riverfront and 80,000 acres of riparian ecosystems, river, forest, open fields, and glades dominated by sycamore, maple, cottonwood, and willows. Numerous protected sections known as "natural areas" are found within the park, remnant prairies, old-growth forests and woodlands, rare wetlands, and many other kinds of native habitat.

Much of the physical environment of the rivers is the result of the underlying bedrock of limestone and dolomite. The bedrock is easily eroded by flowing water, and that process has created caves and sinkholes, springs, and losing streams that appear and disappear along the rivers. 

Over 300 caves have been created by karst erosion, and they are home to several species of bats, including the endangered grey bat. Missouri's Ozark National Scenic Riverways is one of the last centers of abundance for the endangered grey bat. An outbreak of White Nose Syndrome has led to the closure of all the caves in the park except the Round Spring Cave, and that is only open to guided tours. 

Some of the springs resulting from the karst topography are huge; the largest, called Big Spring, produces 286 million gallons of water every day. Studies show that the water flows into the springs from underground sources some tens of miles below the surface, traveling weeks to arrive above ground. Early European American settlers put the springs to work, and there are numerous 19th century mill structures scattered throughout the park land. 

Ulysses S. Grant National Historic Site

Ulysses S Grant National Historic Site
Ice House and Chicken Coop located behind White Haven. National Park Service

The Ulysses S. Grant National Historic Site in St. Louis memorializes one of several homes of the Civil War general and 18th president of the U.S., Ulysses S. Grant. The park is centered on White Haven, the original home of Grant's wife Julia Boggs Dent, and where Grant met (in 1844) and married (in 1852) her. Grant was a military careerist, and he was often away, and when that happened, he left his wife and children with her parents at White Haven, the large green-painted home on the site. 

Grant himself lived at White Haven with his wife and in-laws and their enslaved workforce between January 1854 and 1859, and after that, the Grants used it as an occasional vacation spot and to raise horses. There are five buildings on the site which were there when Grant resided at White Haven. The core of the family mansion was built in 1812; the horse stables which Grant helped design in 1871; the stone building built about 1840, which served as a summer kitchen and laundry room, and perhaps living quarters for some of the enslaved people; and an ice house (ca. 1840) and chicken house (1850–1870). 

Wilson's Creek National Battlefield

Wilson's Creek National Battlefield
The Ray House at Wilson's Creek National Battlefield, Missouri is the only surviving structure from the Wilson's Creek battle, which took place on August 10, 1861. Jordan McAlister / Moment / Getty Images

Wilson's Creek National Battlefield is located in Republic, Missouri, ten miles southwest of Springfield, in the southwestern corner of the state. Wilson's Creek was a Confederate victory on August 10, 1861. It was the first major Civil War battle fought west of the Mississippi River, and the site of the death of Nathaniel Lyon, the first Union general killed in action.

The confines of the park map many of the routes of the advances and retreats, as well as the headquarters and battery emplacements of both sides of the conflict. It also includes the Ray House, the only surviving residence from the battle, and its spring house. 

The Ray house was built on the Wire or Telegraph road, an early road that ran from Jefferson City, Missouri, to Fort Smith, Arkansas. The house was used as a "flag stop" on the Butterfield Overland Stage Company route between Tipton, Missouri, and San Francisco. During the conflict, the road was the main artery for transportation for both sides. 

While the fighting went on, Roxanna Ray, her children, and household help hid in the cellar, while John Ray watched from a cornfield. After the battle, their farmhouse was converted to a hospital for the wounded and dying. 

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Hirst, K. Kris. "National Parks in Missouri: History and Karst Topography." ThoughtCo, Nov. 14, 2020, Hirst, K. Kris. (2020, November 14). National Parks in Missouri: History and Karst Topography. Retrieved from Hirst, K. Kris. "National Parks in Missouri: History and Karst Topography." ThoughtCo. (accessed June 8, 2023).