George Washington Carver National Monument

George Washington Carver National Monument turned out to be a delightful diversion from our Route 66 journey through Missouri. We thought our visit would be short because we arrived with few expectations and very little knowledge about the site or the man. However, this turned out to be one of the best stops of our road trip, and while we spent more than two hours at the park, we could have stayed much longer.

Beautiful drive into the extremely well-maintained national park site

Where is it?

The monument is located at 5646 Carver Road in Diamond, Missouri.

Features of the site include:

  • Visitor center and gift shop
  • Introductory film
  • Three levels of museum exhibits with a special area for kids
  • Guided and self-guided tours of the one-mile Carver Trail
  • Junior Ranger programs
  • Picnic area

Link to the monument’s website here.

The gorgeous gardens and grounds at George Washington Carver National Monument were worth the stop alone.

Why is this national monument significant?

The monument preserves the birthplace and honors the extraordinary life of George Washington Carver. It was on the site that George was born to an enslaved woman named Mary in 1864. No records exist to show his exact birthdate, and very little is known about Mary except that she was about thirteen years old when she was purchased by Moses Carver. What is known, however, is that George Washington Carver faced a great deal of adversity throughout his younger life. Though despite the odds, he became one of the most respected environmental agriculturalists and teachers the country has ever known. Furthermore, George Washington Carver National Monument is the first national monument to an African American.

This structure represents the approximate location of Mary’s one room log cabin and the birthplace of George Washington Carver.

George’s Early Years

George’s parents, Giles and Mary, were purchased in 1855 by Moses Carver, a German American immigrant who farmed in southwestern Missouri. Giles, who by some accounts was actually owned by a neighbor, died in an accident before George was born. When George was only a few weeks old, Arkansas night riders, who were known to terrorize blacks, kidnapped him, his mother, and his sister. George’s brother, James, somehow escaped the kidnapping, but the other three were taken to Kentucky and sold. Moses Carver hired a man to find them, but he was only able to find George, and Carver had to “buy” the baby back by rewarding the man with a $300.00 horse. The Carvers raised George and James as their own children and gave them their name. No one knows what happened to Mary or her daughter.

“Boy Carver Statue” by Robert Amendola, 1961

George’s Boyhood Years

As a boy, George enjoyed a daily trek into the woods where he would pray and absorb the beauty of his surroundings. With an innate sense of curiosity, he became interested in the plants that grew near his home. Moses Carver and his wife Susan had taught George and James the basics of reading and writing. However, young George yearned for more – he wanted to go to school. Black children could not attend the public school in Diamond, so at about age twelve George left home and walked eleven miles to Neosho, Missouri where he knew there was a school that would accept him. Information about James is unclear, but he left the Carver’s farm and went to Fayetteville, Arkansas around the time George went to Neosho. Later, he may have worked as a house painter or plasterer in Missouri. James died of Smallpox in 1883 at the age of 23.

The Carver Homestead

This is a restored version of the Carver’s second home built in 1881. George likely visited the Carvers here, but he never lived in the house.

Excerpt from a park information board:

“In the 1860s and 1870s Moses Carver grew hundreds of bushels of oats, corn, hay, and Irish potatoes in these fields. The farm where young George played and worked also produced fruit, wool, beeswax, honey, molasses, and livestock. When he left, G. W. Carver carried with him the conviction that farmers should be self-sufficient and good stewards of what had been entrusted to them…ideas he learned living here.”

The Carver family cemetery where Moses and Susan Carver, along with other members of the family as well as neighbors are buried. The last burial here was in 1919.

A Thirst for Knowledge

After spending two years in Neosho under the care of a woman named Mariah Watkins, George left to travel to Kansas with a group of people who were traveling west. Over the next few years, he traveled around the Midwest attending secondary school and working, usually as a domestic. He graduated from Minneapolis High School in Minneapolis, Kansas. In the late 1880s, George found himself in Winterset, Iowa where he enrolled in nearby Simpson College to study the fine arts of painting and music. One year later, he enrolled in the Iowa Agricultural College and Model Farm in Ames, Iowa, now Iowa State University. It was there that he earned a bachelor’s degree in in 1894 and a graduate degree two years later. After graduation, he became the first black faculty member of the university.

Black and white image on George Washington Carver as a teenager.
George as a teenager – National Park Service image

Tuskegee Institute

In 1896 Booker T. Washington asked George to head the agriculture department at Tuskegee Institute in Tuskegee, Alabama. George accepted and spent the next 47 years educating students as well as farmers. Although he was sometimes referred to as Dr. Carver, he never earned a doctorate degree. However, Selma University and Simpson College each awarded him with honorary doctorates of science. In 1994 Iowa State University issued a doctorate of humane letters posthumously.

The national monument has recreated Carver’s Tuskegee Institute classroom in its museum.

The Peanut Man

In addition to teaching, Carver did extensive plant research, especially with peanuts. He established an agricultural extension service, later issuing a bulletin entitled “How to Grow the Peanut and 105 Ways of Preparing it for Human Consumption” and encouraged cotton and tobacco farmers to rotate their crops with peanuts in order to restore nitrogen to their soil. With the invasion of boll weevils, many southern cotton farmers followed Carver’s advice by turning to peanuts. As a result, former cotton mills retooled to become peanut oil mills. Some say George Washington Carver saved the south’s farm economy due to his crop rotation and soil enrichment methods. His tireless research resulted in over 300 uses for peanuts and hundreds of uses for other food plants such as soybeans and sweet potatoes.

An exhibit from the museum at the national monument

Some of Carver’s uses for peanuts included:

  • foodstuffs such as mayonnaise, carmel, chili sauce, and coffee
  • cosmetics such as shampoo, face powder, and hand lotion
  • industrial items such as rubber, plastic, insecticides, and paint
George Washington Carver (center front) and staff, 1902 – Library of Congress image

There is no doubt the man was a brilliant biologist. However, in addition to his teaching and research career, Carver was a promoter of racial equality and traveled throughout the South spreading his message. He never married, and he spent his life living in a dormitory on the Tuskegee Institute campus. When George got older, his good friend and automotive manufacturer Henry Ford had an elevator installed in the dormitory so that George would be able to access his lab without having to use the stairs. Sadly, George died on January 5, 1943, after falling down the stairs in his home. He is buried next to Booker T. Washington on the campus of Tuskegee University.

The National Monument

The national monument is interesting on the inside and beautiful on the outside. Below are some additional photographs of the site.

A perfect reflection of nature, this creek would have piqued the interest of a curious little boy. It certainly piqued ours!
While it isn’t a peanut plant, this stunning zinnia would have undoubtedly been of interest to George.
Turtles sunning themselves on a log during an algae bloom in their pond.
Beautyberry
Trail through the woods. Perhaps we walked in George’s footsteps here.
White clematis

Thank you so much for joining us on our visit to George Washington Carver National Monument!

Want to visit more national monuments? Click on these interesting destinations:

Scotts Bluff National Monument

Craters of the Moon National Monument

Colorado National Monument

Travel safely, and we will see you on the road!

Mike and Kellye

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As always, we strive to be as accurate with our information as possible. If we made a mistake, it was unintentional. (Hey, we’re only human!) We aren’t paid for our recommendations, and we only recommend our own tried and true vendors and venues. Our suggestions are for places that we’ve heard good things about but haven’t visited personally, and our opinions are our own.

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37 thoughts on “George Washington Carver National Monument

  1. We visited this monument several years back. Thank you for your post and reminding me of how much I enjoyed it. I remember walking around a garden and seeing some of his quotes displayed there. There were some very inspiring quotes. Your post makes me want to visit it again!

  2. Ah Kellye, this was a wonderful slab of history with my morning coffee here in autumnal Georgia. Don’t you just love it when you speculatively pop your head in somewhere with low expectations and uncover a cultural/historical gem? I knew this guy by name and that he was a scientist, but the rest was all new, fantastic stuff. Once again this is a national monument that’s been beautifully crafted in terms of its layout, the presentation of the exhibits and the surrounding nature. So sad and predictable that slavery reared its ugly head in this story. I can’t take my eyes off of the 1902 photo of George and his staff. Good old Henry Ford… that’s friendship.

    1. Thank you, Leighton! Our National Park Service does a great job of telling the stories and doing so in some prime locations. If you get a chance to shoot some pictures of autumn in Georgia, I sure would love to see them.

  3. Loved this post! This is really close to my in-laws house and yet we have not been there to see it. I’m going to make a point of going here next time we’re visiting them. He was such an interesting man and his story is so inspiring. 🙂

  4. Very informative. Many people have heard of George Washington Carver but don’t know his many accomplishments. How ironic and sad he had an elevator installed so he wouldn’t have to take the stairs to his lab but then he fell down the stairs at home and died.

  5. Great post and tour of a facility which obviously is chock-full of history. I wasn’t aware of its existence until now, and I learned a lot more about Carver in this post. Easy to see why two hours isn’t enough to take it all in.

  6. Such an amazing place and what an inspiring man. I love looking at old photos where the person is so alive and you wish you could step back in time and talk to them. I also love the sunning turtles 🙂

  7. I feel like I just had an amazing history lesson!!! I wish I had those flowers but more so, that rock wall at the cemetery. Thank you for all your hard work writing this one, I really enjoyed it.

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