It’s Music to Our Ears

Can you guess which of JNPA’s museum stores sells harmonicas, a guitar-shaped bottle opener, and a St. Louis license plate magnet?  If you said the gift shop at the National Blues Museum, you’re right!  JNPA has operated this unique retail location since 2019, and you’ll find it chockful of cool music-related products that are found nowhere else. 

Credit: Explore St. Louis

If you haven’t paid a visit yet to the National Blues Museum, it’s high time to treat yourself.  The museum celebrates the blues as the foundation of all modern American music with high-tech exhibits, unique artifacts from famous musicians, and a state-of-the-art concert venue.  It’s open daily from 12-5 p.m.

The site’s location in downtown St. Louis is intentional.  Situated along the historic Blues Highway (Highway 61), the city had an important influence on the evolution of blues music.  Musicians and song writers performed there as they traveled from the South to the recording studios of Chicago.

The museum traces the development of the blues and its various styles.  It recognizes the musicians who created the musical genre as well as those who contribute to it today. To keep the traditions alive, part of the museum is devoted to an intimate concert space where audiences can hear local and touring blues artists perform.  And at the Thursday night Sittin’ on the Porch jam sessions, aspiring blues players are welcome to bring a musical instrument and sit in with the pros during the musical numbers.

When you visit the National Blues Museum, be sure to stop by our handsome store.  We feature a wide range of blues-themed merchandise, from books, CDs and instruments to hip apparel, bar glasses and gifts.  For instance, check out this snazzy hand-painted glass ornament . Proceeds from product sales – either at the museum or from our online store – help support the educational mission of the museum.     

The Newest Addition to Ste. Gen is also the Oldest

The newest acquisition to Ste. Genevieve National Historical Park’s historic buildings happens to be the oldest structure in the community.  While the Green Tree Tavern has played numerous roles in the small Missouri town, it now serves as a reminder of the complex history of this unique European settlement.

The Green Tree Tavern in Ste. Genevieve, Missouri, is a rare surviving example of French Colonial architecture known as poteaux sur sole (post on sill). Its unusual construction featured walls made of hand-hewn white oak logs arranged vertically rather than the more traditional horizontal log structure used elsewhere.  Recent studies of the building’s timbers confirmed a construction date of 1790, making it the oldest home in the town and possibly the oldest home west of the Mississippi.

Green Tree Tavern c. 1934

The tavern has filled many different roles for many different people.  It was originally built as a home for French Canadian Nicolas Janis and his family.  When they migrated to the area, they brought with them at least 10 enslaved people, many of whose ownership transferred to the original owners’ descendants. 

When Nicolas’ son, Francois, inherited the property, he opened it as an inn.  The tavern offered lodging, entertainment, socializing, and news to the many travelers pouring into the new Louisiana Purchase territory. Guests could enjoy food and drink in the public room, then sleep in rooms heated by an unusual triangular fireplace.  In later years the building served as a tobacco store and as the first Masonic Lodge in Missouri.

Interior view of Green Tree Tavern showing the triangular fireplace

The grounds of Green Tree Tavern are open year-round.  National Park Service rangers offer free interior tours daily, but registration is required either in person at the park’s Welcome Center (66 Main Street) or by phone at (573) 880-7189.

Meet the New Leader at Gateway Arch National Park

Gateway Arch National Park has a new superintendent.  Jeremy Sweat, a 15-year veteran of the National Park Service, took over the job late last year.  He oversees operations not only for the Gateway Arch but also for Ste. Genevieve National Historical Park.

Sweat has a background in resource management and policy at the park, regional and national levels, and has experience working with non-profit partners, with other agencies, and with local communities.  JNPA is excited to be working with him.

We recently caught up with Jeremy Sweat to learn a little more about him.

Why did you start working for the National Park Service?   

My first experience working in a national park was as an undergrad archeological field school student at Great Smoky Mountains National Park in 2004. The field school was a partnership between the University of Tennessee and the NPS, so we got to live and work in the park for the summer. I enjoyed it so much that I returned to the Smokies in 2005 as a graduate teaching assistant to supervise the field school. That winter the park archeologist encouraged me to apply for a seasonal position as an archeological technician and I was hired in the summer of 2006 to conduct backcountry archeological surveys. After that first season, I fell in love with the mission and the people, and never left the NPS.

Credit: Debbie Franke

What is particularly special about Gateway Arch National Park, or why should someone visit? 

Aside from the incredible local and regional pride that the park inspires, one of my favorite things about Gateway Arch National Park is how relevant the park’s story is to America today. The Arch helps to tell the story of the European American settlement of the west, which for some people meant new opportunities and greater freedom, while for other people, it meant the loss of rights, lands, and freedom. The Old Courthouse is a place where people fought for racial equality, women’s rights, and voting rights during the 19th century. Telling these complicated, challenging stories gives our visitors the opportunity to connect that history with many of the challenges and conversations that are still happening in America today.  

What’s your favorite part of the job, or what do you hope to accomplish at Gateway Arch National Park?  

My favorite part of the job is seeing people enjoy the park. Each time I look out my window and see families enjoying the Arch grounds, or when I walk through the museum and see children learning about history, it reminds me why I joined the NPS.

What kinds of careers are available in the Park Service?

Honestly, it would be easier to make a list of what careers are not available in the NPS. If you look at the 423 sites that make up the national park system, there are opportunities for nearly every kind of skill and profession. Everyone knows that we hire park rangers, but we also have jobs for scientists, plumbers, law enforcement officers, engineers, carpenters, lifeguards, boat captains, arborists, livestock supervisors, scuba divers, veterinarians, accountants, and more. I encourage anyone who is interested in working for the NPS to learn more about how their skills might be needed in a park or office around the country. 

What’s your favorite activity to do at the park?

I moved here in the middle of winter, so now that it is getting warmer, I enjoy just being out in the park on sunny days. It’s nice to bike through the park on my way home from work and see so many people from the local community, and from around the country and world, here enjoying this place.

The park’s best kept secret is…?

If I told you, it wouldn’t be a well-kept secret, would it? 

How Many National Park Sites Have YOU Visited?

The National Park Service system currently includes 423 sites throughout the United States and its territories.  These range from national monuments and battlefields to national historic sites and recreation areas to national rivers and seashores. 

Don’t feel bad if you haven’t visited the majority of these places (most of us haven’t!). But luckily, National Park Week is just around the corner – a perfect time to add to your NPS “life list.”

National Park Week is an annual celebration jointly hosted by the National Park Service and the National Park Foundation to encourage everyone to discover our nation’s diverse historic, natural, and cultural treasures.  This year, the week runs from April 16 through 24.  Parks across the country will host a variety of special programs, events, and digital experiences, including National Junior Ranger Day for kids on Saturday April 23.  You can find out more about programs and themes you might be interested in by going here.  

Another bonus for park visitors during National Park Week – entrance fees are waived at all parks on Saturday April 16.  (Other 2022 free fee days can be found here).  Luckily, there are never entry fees at JNPA’s partner parks but each of them would be glad to see you in April, or any time!

If you’re planning to visit any of the 63 parks that have “national park” in their name, you’ll want a copy of National Geographic’s national park guide as well as the Passport to Your National Parks, which not only contains park information but allows you to collect the passport stamps from every park you visit. 

The Legacy of the Dred Scott Decision

The road to freedom from slavery was a long one for Dred and Harriet Scott.  Just over 170 years ago, on March 22, 1852, the Missouri Supreme Court ruled that enslaved people entering a free territory were not automatically free, delivering a blow to the hopes and dreams of the Missouri couple. While this was not the end of the Scotts’ pursuit for freedom, this blight on Missouri history was not corrected for over a century.

Dred Scott was born in Virginia sometime around 1799. He was enslaved by the Blow family, who moved him to Alabama and then Missouri. He was then sold to an army surgeon, Dr. John Emerson, who took him to Illinois, a free state, and then Fort Snelling, Wisconsin, a free territory. At Fort Snelling, Dred met and married Harriet Robinson, an enslaved woman whose owner transferred ownership of Harriet to Dr. Emerson, who then brought the couple back to St. Louis.

In 1846, the Scotts sued for their freedom at the Old Courthouse in St. Louis on the grounds that they had lived in a free territory, and Missouri had been known to follow the legal precedent of “once free, always free.” However, the Scotts lost their case on a technicality and began a decade of litigation that would lead to unfavorable rulings in both the Missouri Supreme Court and the United States Supreme Court.

The final decision from the United States Supreme Court in March 1857 ruled that Black people, whether free or enslaved, were not United States citizens and therefore had no right to sue in federal court. The court also ruled that the Missouri Compromise was unconstitutional, and that Congress did not have the authority to prohibit slavery in territories. This outraged abolitionists and is thought to have hastened the onset of the Civil War.

Dred Scott’s “free negro bond.” Credit: Missouri Historical Society

The Scotts did eventually gain their freedom later in 1857, after the son of Dred’s original enslaver purchased and subsequently emancipated their family. Sadly, Dred Scott passed away the following year from tuberculosis.

To watch a dramatic re-enactment of a conversation between Dred and Harriet Scott, you can view the short video A Bid for Freedom.  JNPA helped produce this video for Gateway Arch National Park.

It was not until 2021 that the Missouri State Legislature finally passed House Concurrent Resolution 4, formally denouncing the Dred Scott decision. JNPA Board Member Lynne Jackson — Dred and Harriet Scott’s great-great granddaughter — is the President and Founder of the Dred Scott Heritage Foundation. She said:

We started seriously inquiring about a renunciation of the 1852 Dred Scott decision in 2013 and hoped something along that order would be in the Missouri time capsule in 2015. The next serious push was in 2018 when we came close to a senate vote, but time ran out. We are very pleased at the bi-partisan and unanimous votes by the MO State Legislature in 2021.”

The Dred Scott Heritage Foundation continues the work of recognizing the Scott Family’s place in history both at the Old Courthouse in Gateway Arch National Park and through efforts to construct an educational memorial at Dred Scott’s gravesite in St. Louis’ Calvary Cemetery.

New Leader at U.S. Grant National Historic Site

We’re excited to welcome Nathan Wilson as the new superintendent at Ulysses S. Grant National Historic Site.  The National Park Service announced his appointment, effective this month.  Wilson is a 17-year veteran of NPS and has a wide range of experience working in historical parks, mostly in the Midwest.  We recently caught up with him to learn why he’s excited about his new role at our partner park.

Why did you start working for the National Park Service?

I’ve always enjoyed the outdoors and parks as places to reflect, learn, and recreate. As a student in the Parks, Recreation, and Tourism program at the University of Missouri, I became interested in public land management and the various agencies tasked with overseeing them. I found the National Park Service mandate to protect and preserve our nation’s most significant resources – for everyone’s enjoyment – to be particularly special. That’s what led me to pursue a career working for the agency. I was fortunate to receive an internship at Fort Smith National Historic Site as I was finishing my undergraduate degree and that opportunity turned out to be a springboard for my career with the NPS.  

What is particularly special about U.S. Grant National Historic Site, or why should someone visit?

I think the story we tell in conjunction with the physical resources at the site make for a very impactful experience. The period of Grant’s life spent here in St. Louis is often overlooked in comparison to his time served as Union general and president. However, it was critical in shaping and influencing the values, character, and identity that we associate with this American hero today. Visitors get a meaningful glimpse into this part of his life when they visit our park.

What’s your favorite part of the job, or what do you hope to accomplish at ULSG?

The park staff does an incredible job of interpreting the Grant story and administering and caring for the resources here at the park. The level and variety of skill among our team is impressive and inspiring to me, and collaborating with them is a highlight of the job. I’m truly honored by the opportunity to take on this leadership role and look forward to continued collaboration with this amazing team during Grant’s bicentennial year and into the future.

What’s your favorite activity to do at your park?

I really enjoy the historic structures and cultural landscape here at the park. The restoration and rehabilitation work that took place at White Haven in the 1990s transformed the park structures and makes for a great historic preservation experience, and the landscape provides a nice greenspace to enjoy the outdoors in suburban St. Louis.   

Your park’s best kept secret is…?

Not necessarily a secret but I’d be remiss if I didn’t give a shout out to our park volunteers. We’ve got over 20 volunteers here at Grant who help us with everything from visitor services and tours to cultural resource management and museum operations. These dedicated team members provide a tremendous amount of support to our park and are a major contributor to the high-quality visitor experience we provide at the Ulysses S. Grant National Historic Site. 

A Mighty Woman of the Mighty River

In honor of National Equal Pay Day, we are taking a look at the life of an influential woman in the history of JNPA partner park Mississippi National River and Recreation Area who never received equal pay nor recognition in her lifetime, Marguerite Bonga Fahlstrom.

Marguerite Bonga Fahlstrom and Jacob Fahlstrom. Credit: Historic Fort Snelling

Marguerite was born in 1797 in Duluth, Minnesota. Her father, Pierre Bonga, was the son of former slaves and a successful fur trader. Her mother, Ogibwayquay, was an Ojibwe woman. Her lineage was notable in that the slave trade was very much alive at the time, and while it was somewhat common for fur traders to marry Ojibwe women to establish trading partnerships, these typically involved white traders. Two of Marguerite’s brothers, Stephen and George, went on to become well-known fur traders in their own right.

Stephen Bonga (left) and George Bonga (right)

Today, Marguerite is best known for being the wife of Jacob Fahlstrom, a Swedish immigrant known as the “first Swede of Minnesota” who helped establish the Swedish community of Minnesota. But Marguerite’s role has largely been forgotten. As Haddy Bayo, National Park Ranger at Mississippi National River and Recreation Area, notes in Women of the Mississippi: Marguerite Bonga Fahlstrom, “It’s unlikely that Fahlstrom would have risen to the social position, which has so captured historians and the public, without Bonga’s contribution.”

Marguerite provided Jacob with critical knowledge and social connections in order to establish trade with the native Ojibwe community. Additionally, traders’ wives did not stay home to tend the house and children like other women of the time. Instead, they were travel partners who fully participated in the work. Later, as a minister’s wife, Marguerite was also expected to assist with her husband’s missionary work in addition to raising the couple’s 10 children!

Despite her influential role in early Minnesota history, she has largely been forgotten, and very few photographs of her exist. Today, we celebrate Marguerite and all women who never received the recognition they so deserved in their lifetime.

You can learn more about Marguerite and other influential women in the history of Mississippi National River and Recreation Area by exploring Women of the Mississippi River, an NPS interactive map that highlights the narratives of women who shaped the history of the Twin Cities and the greater American Midwest.

License a Piece of History

Have you ever wondered what it would be like to be one of the first people to own an automobile? Did you know that in order to drive this new and exciting creation, that you would need to make your own license plate?! The modern-day license plate has had quite a history since then, and on the 111th anniversary of the very first Missouri license plate, JNPA has a way for you to make history with your own license plate!

Way back in 1907 Missouri car owners had to register their cars and trucks for $2.00 per year. If the vehicle was to be operated at night, two lighted lamps were required, and the registration number was to be painted on the lamps.  Cars back then were registered by fuel types: gasoline, electric, or steam. License plates were handmade out of tin and leather.

It was 111 years ago this month, in March of 1911, that the first state-issued license plates were distributed in Missouri. They featured unpainted numbers embossed on a yellow background. In 1949, the state began adding year tabs to plates, although they were made of metal and affixed through slots in the license plate. For a brief period between 1967-1979, Missouri actually issued a brand new license plate to registered vehicles every single year!

License plates have come a long way since then.  But in addition to going with the standard state plates, Missourians now have another option – one that honors our world-famous Gateway Arch.  When you order a custom Gateway Arch license plate for your car, you’ll be showing your fellow drivers that you’re proud of our state and our iconic Arch.  Your tax-deductible contribution to JNPA helps support vital education programs at Gateway Arch National Park, including living history demonstrations, exhibits, and teacher workshops.

You can order Arch license plates at any time, regardless of when your current Missouri plates expire.  To get the process started, visit archplates.jnpa.com. Then you can start cruising around town in style!

A Symbol of Resistance

You may not be familiar with the name Elizabeth Eckford, but at age 15 she became an unwitting participant in the historic battle to integrate America’s public schools by seeking to attend Central High School in Little Rock, Arkansas.  We think it is fitting to honor Eckford on this first day of Women’s History Month.

In 1957, several years after the Supreme Court mandated school integration, a group of nine African American teenagers sought to attend school at the formerly all-white Central High. They were met by angry mobs opposing integration who taunted and threatened them. 

While eight of the teens tried to enter the school as a group on September 4, Eckford wasn’t among them.  She had gotten off the bus alone after a mix-up in the students’ planned meeting place. As a result, she was forced to endure the protesters’ obscenities and chants of “Two, four, six, eight, we ain’t gonna integrate” all by herself.  She made her way to a bench at the end of the block after trying to enter the campus twice. 

She and the remaining Little Rock Nine were eventually removed by the police, fearing for their safety.  They were only admitted to the school weeks later, after President Dwight Eisenhower mobilized the U.S. Army’s 101st Airborne Division to escort them into the school.  Many of the Nine – including Eckford – left Central High School after that first year to attend other schools.

In 2018, a commemorative bench was erected near the Central High School campus as a reminder of Eckford’s struggles in 1957. She has received many other prestigious awards including the Congressional Gold Medal, the NAACP Spingarn Medal, and the Humanitarian Award presented by the National Conference for Community and Justice. Eckford herself remains a strong proponent of tolerance in every aspect of life.

JNPA sells numerous publications that relate the story of the Little Rock Nine at the national park’s bookstore and online, including Remember Little Rock which features Elizabeth Eckford on the cover.

Honoring our Presidents

Just in time for Presidents’ Day (February 21), JNPA has a wide array of cool gift items for that POTUS* geek in your life.  What else would you expect from a non-profit with stores at three national parks that honor U.S. Presidents:  Gateway Arch National Park, Clinton Birthplace Home National Historic Site, and Ulysses S. Grant National Historic Site?

Gateway Arch National Park is a memorial to President Thomas Jefferson and his role in greatly expanding the borders of the United States.

JNPA greatly respects Jefferson’s accomplishments, as evidenced by the many books and statues we sell at The Arch Store.  But we also sell a few more whimsical items that still honor our third president, like this stately bobblehead and  mini-building block set.  (We trust Mr. Jefferson doesn’t object to our…ahem…taking “liberties” with his likeness.)


President Bill Clinton spent his early boyhood years in a comfortable two-story frame house in Hope, Arkansas, an experience that he says helped develop his broad views on race relations, social justice, and public service.  Our book on Clinton’s early life features numerous photos of the home as well as of the young future president. 

Credit: Clinton Foundation

An image of the home is featured on this handsome earthenware mug.  And of course, we also sell a fun bobblehead version of the 42nd president.


Credit: David Newmann

If it’s President Ulysses S. Grant you’re interested in, JNPA offers numerous items commemorating both Grant and his wife Julia.  From books to sturdy mugs to fun kids’ products, there’s something for everyone.  And don’t forget our popular bobblehead version of our 18th president.

*President of The United States