George Washington Carver center opens in Diamond, Mo.

Todd G. Higdon

After months of anticipation, the George Washington Carver Visitor's and Discovery Center opened its doors June 25.

The facility, which has been renovated and added on to, has expanded from 3,600 square feet to 18,000 square feet.

“Today is a very exciting day because it is our first day of operations for the visitor's center, and we're really looking forward to seeing how visitors respond,” George Washington Carver National Monument superintendent Reginald Tiller said.

Tiller said many people have contacted the center, even when he first arrived in mid-October, to ask when the new facility would be open. The center originally was slated to open in August 2006.

“This has allowed us to exhibit more of Dr. Carver's life and works,” said Tiller. “In the past, it has been more of a condensed version, and hopefully through interpretation, we are able to tell more of the story. This way, people can come in and read and get a better understanding of Dr. Carver, the man.”

Some of the new facets of the visitor center are new display panels with information on all of Carver's life, a new 70-seat theater, hands-on science labs similar to Carver's lab in Tuskegee, Ala., improved museum exhibits, new interactive exhibits, new interactive classrooms and a new Carver Archives and Library.

“I think that a person will come here and not want to leave, want to learn more about Dr. Carver and what made him the person that he was,” Tiller said.

One of the early morning visitors was retired Carver National Monument superintendent Bill Jackson and his wife, Jean.

“This is enormous,” said Jackson, who was the superintendent from 1993 to 2002. “It is a major, major attraction. It has always been, Carver's life, and the history of this site. I can now see it as a destination point, not only for the children, but for the adults as well.”

Not only did the Jacksons come out for the opening, but a bus filled with students ranging in age from 10 to 18, from two groups (Christ Children's Ministries and Dinomights) from Minneapolis.

The Rev. Chris McNair, who brought the students to the building, said it's important that his students -- a majority of whom are black -- "learn about their heritage.”

“(Carver) was born a slave but used his education and his natural curiosity to become somebody,” McNair said.

While walking around, Tyler Moore, 13, said the center was nice.

Looking at one of the informational display panels was Mariah Hickman, 11.

“There are a lot of details here,” Hickman said.

Carver was born a slave on the Moses and Susan Carver farm about 1864. When George was an infant, outlaws kidnapped him and his mother, Mary. George was later found in Arkansas and was returned to the Carvers, but his mother was never found.

Carver became famous later in life when he studied plants, flowers and invented several uses for the peanut. He later taught at Tuskegee Institute in Alabama and, in 1921, he gave a captivating testimony before a U.S. Congress House Committee debating a peanut tariff bill. On Jan. 5, 1943, Carver died at Tuskegee, where he is buried. In July 1943, Congress designated George Washington Carver National Monument, which was the first park to honor an African-American scientist, educator and humanitarian.

On July 14, 1953, the official monument was dedicated, and in July 1960, construction was complete on the visitor center.

A formal ribbon cutting ceremony will be held at 10 a.m. Aug. 8.

The monument is two miles west of Diamond on Route V, then half a mile south on Carver Road. For more information, contact the monument at 417-325-4151.