BAXTER SPRINGS — More than 30 years ago Baxter Springs Heritage Center and Museum opened its doors, inviting residents to explore the wonders and history of the small cow town and its surrounding areas. Three separate additions have been made to the museum since its inception, with the last being completed only one year ago.

All displays have been donated by area residents and businesses, and offer a wide array of interests.

Incorporated as a city in 1868, Baxter Springs has the distinct difference of being founded as a city, rather than a “mining camp,” as were the cities of Joplin, Galena, Picher, Hockerville, and other surrounding towns. Provisions were made in the incorporation papers that would not allow mining within a certain distance of the town’s city limits, therefore preventing the long-lasting damage caused by the underground tunnels that was prevalent in nearby townships.

Several years ago, the Heritage Center acquired the entire mining museum from Picher, Oklahoma, and have a large and impressive display dedicated to the once booming mining town. All procurements from the mining town are in the process of being digitalized, cataloged, and when completed, viewing will be available online.

The museum has installed five interactive viewing stations, which allows the visitor to view old Route 66 slides on DVD. Some of the slides are from 1928.

Housing an extensive genealogy section, the Heritage Center holds seminars to assist in family research for area residents. Funeral records, birth records, obituaries, mining employment records, and marriage records are just a few of the resources offered. “How to Trace Your Native American Heritage” is another subject covered in the seminars. The records have been painstakingly complied by museum volunteers.

The genealogy department also houses a large selection of 1920s and 1930s gangsters present in the area. Since Route 66 runs from Chicago through Baxter Springs, the town has had its fair share of notorious criminals during the Prohibition Era.

One striking display in the museum is the Wall of Bricks. Donated by Frank and Catherine Brewster in memory of their son, a wall of nearly 1,000 bricks collected from around the world has been carefully laid out and presented in a mosaic fashion. Included in the bricks is a bust of President Abraham Lincoln.

Currently in the planning stage, Baxter Springs’ 150th Anniversary of the Civil War will be celebrated by the center, with interactive activities and lectures, in 2013.

The Heritage Center and Museum is overseen by curator Phillis Abbot, and historian Larry O’Neal. The museum is located at 740 East Avenue. Persons interested in genealogy seminars may call for schedules at 620-856-2385.