The goal Gary Kremer set when he became executive director of the State Historical Society of Missouri is now in sight, just at the edge of the horizon, and he couldn’t be happier.
Later this spring, construction will begin on the $35 million Center for Missouri Studies, the new home that will move the society out of its basement quarters of Ellis Library, giving it room to display priceless art and make more documents and images available for researchers.
“This is a day I was not sure would ever come,” Kremer said after groundbreaking ceremonies Wednesday afternoon. “When I interviewed for the job of State Historical Society executive director, I was asked what the goals were for the society. I said the first was to get a new building. Now, 13 years later, it is like a dream come true.”
The construction schedule anticipates an opening in the summer of 2019, Kremer said. The building, with double the space of the current society offices, will have multiple galleries on the first floor, named after famed Missouri artists George Caleb Bingham and Thomas Hart Benton. A multipurpose room for 250 will become a meeting space for historical societies and other groups.
On the second floor, expanded research areas will provide better access to newspapers, document collections and images such as maps and photos.
The groundbreaking ceremony Wednesday, in what is now a parking lot at Sixth and Elm streets, drew about 150 people including politicians who helped secure the construction funds, long-time boosters who also dreamed of a new building and staff who try to preserve artifacts in spaces unsuited to their survival.
In his remarks, society President Bob Priddy said he awoke on a recent morning with the song “That Great Come-and-Get-It-Day” from the musical Finian’s Rainbow in his head.
“This is the great come-and-get-it-day for the state of Missouri, for its heritage and for its future,” Priddy said. For all involved, “it is the day when Missouri history and the society it represents begins to move away from an obscure corner of a basement of the university library and moves into a dynamic building that boldly says, history is important.”
Other speakers at the groundbreaking were U.S. District Judge Stephen Limbaugh of Cape Girardeau, who was president of the society while it worked to secure state funding, former state Sen. Kurt Schaefer, who made the appropriation a top priority, state Treasurer Eric Schmitt and Secretary of State Jay Ashcroft, ex-officio members of the board, Mayor Brian Treece and U.S. Sen. Roy Blunt, R-Mo.
Blunt, a one-time history teacher and a long-time trustee of the society, said the westward movements that settled the plains and the Pacific Coast moved through Missouri. And even the events earlier in the day in Washington, when a Columbia church’s case on church-state relations was before the Supreme Court, show Missouri’s place at the center of many…