The renovated Stephens Museum of Natural History is now open in Stedman Hall Room 106. The entire natural history collection was moved from T. Berry Smith Hall to the renovated Stedman Hall and the new exhibit space is open the following hours in Fall 2023: Monday 1-4 pm, Tuesday 1-3 pm, Thursday 3:30-5:30 pm, during special events, and by appointment. Follow the museum on IG (cmu_stephensmuseum).
The Stephens Museum originated in 1875 when then-Central College Curator, Lawrence V. (Lon) Stephens donated $5,000 for the purchase of a brick residence located on the edge of the college. This is where the museum was originally housed.
The museum’s collection has greatly expanded over the years, first boosted by the efforts of J. W. Kilpatrick, a professor at Central. Before he died in 1904, Kilpatrick had been preparing to retrieve a collection of fossils and minerals from the Scarritt Bible and Training School in Kansas City. The items were secured for the museum, and students, alumni, and friends have added to the collection ever since.
Dr. Kenneth P. Stephens, head of the college's biology department in the 1930's, is credited with much of the museum progression. Later curators included "Doc" Farris Woods, Mary Ellen McVicker, Dr. Joe Geist, Professor Tom Yancey, and Dr. Dan Elliott.
The museum’s historical artifacts include items from the Civil War, World War I, both African and Native American tribes, the Methodist heritage, and 19th century life.
A variety of Civil War goods from Jordan Coller, a Union soldier who settled in Fayette, can be found in the museum. Coller donated the land where Fayette’s public library is located, and for years, his Civil War relics resided there. The items now have a permanent home in the museum, and include a Union soldier's uniform, military caps, a knapsack, bedroll, rifle, bayonet, drinking cup and canteen, and various historical documents.
The Stephens Museum also has a mid-nineteenth century tool collection. Displays include weaving utensils, folk paintings, early photographs, arrowheads, and pottery, as well as paintbrushes owned by artist George Caleb Bingham.
Next to the History Room are the original tombstones of Daniel Boone and his wife, Rebecca. The two markers, given to the college in the late 1800's by descendants of Daniel Boone, bear the names "Daniel Boon" and "Rebecca Boon," both with the "n" reversed. This is a one-of-a-kind set no one else will ever possess.
Our museum boasts a variety of natural history displayed in animal specimens which include a bobcat, snowy owl, nine-banded armadillo, and alligator, and in objects such as fossils, minerals, shells, primate skulls, and numerous large bones of Ice Age mammals.
Best known for its bird collection, the museum displays more than 300 avian species. Whooping cranes, Birds of Paradise, tanagers, owls, eagles and hawks peer down at visitors. Two highly prized specimens of extinct species - the passenger pigeon and the Carolina parakeet – also can be found in the bird collection.
Over 100 specimens of wild animals from all over the world have been received by CMU over the last several years. The first group that arrived in 2001 included a full body musk ox, two Alaskan wolves, a mountain goat, and head and shoulder mounts of African hoofed mammals.
A favorite item in the museum is a large chunk of rock in which is a clear outline of a dinosaur footprint. Another is a rare 350-million-year-old starfish fossil found along the Missouri River in 1997.