While the 150th anniversary of the Civil War remains six years away, the Columbia Conventions and Visitors Bureau is already working with the Missouri Civil War Foundation to make Columbia and Boone County a prominent part of the observance.
The bureau gave $2,000 to the foundation to establish and promote awareness of a driving trail through Columbia that will showcase important Civil War sites.
“Missouri has the third-highest number of Civil War sites, but we are so behind in promoting awareness and preserving them,” Lorah Steiner, executive director, said.
The driving trail will wind across the state, focusing on Civil War landmarks such as battle sites in Boonville, Glasgow and Marshall; Jefferson Landing State Historic Site in Jefferson City; the Old Stage Coach Stop Museum in Waynesville; and the Bellefontaine and Calvary cemeteries in St. Louis. Local spots of interest will include the
Columbia Cemetery, where black soldiers who gave money to found Lincoln University are buried; the building that housed the Danville Female Academy; and battle sites in Centralia.
Greg Wolk, director of the Missouri Civil War Foundation, said the trail through mid-Missouri will be called the Gray Ghost Trail. The name comes from the book “Gray Ghosts of the Confederacy: Guerrilla Warfare in the West, 1861-1865” by former State Historical Society Executive Director Richard S. Brownlee.
“Missouri has a fascinating Civil War history,” Wolk said. “We have eight border states, and all of those states will send us visitors to see where their soldiers served.”
Bureau representatives hope their contribution to the statewide project will bring more tourists and revenue to Columbia. Wolk promised that Columbia “will be a center of this project once they get some infrastructure.”
“The more tourists that come to Missouri, the better it is for Columbia,” Steiner said.
Missouri is basing its Civil War trails off Virginia’s successful system. Virginia has five main trails marking more than 300 Civil War sites. Those sites account for 11.5 percent of Virginia’s tourists, according to a 2003 Virginia tourism survey.
Wolk said pleasure tourists, such as those who go to theme parks or beaches, spend an average of $42 per person per day, but cultural tourists such as those visiting historical sites spend an average of $66 per person per day.
“When you get this Civil War bug, you spend all kinds of money and go to all kinds of places,” Wolk said.
In addition to the trails, the bureau hopes to develop a database of significant buildings, historical speakers, war re-enactors and historic images.
“There’s so much that needs to be done so that we can be ready for this huge event,” Steiner said. “The sesquicentennial is in 2011, and that may seem like a long way off, but it’s really not when you’re planning for something like this.”