More than 50,000 fourth-grade students are eligible to visit the capital city every year.
Between touring the State Capitol and Missouri State Penitentiary, they often walk through parts of the downtown area visiting a few close-by historic districts. What if when they walked by a two and a half-story Queen Anne style home at the corner of Jackson Street and Capitol Avenue, an audio narration through a smartphone app explained the history of this structure known as Ivy Terrace and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places?
Or better still Gov. Lawrence V. (Lon) Stephens, who the home is also named for, reenacted living at this residence while serving as Missouri state treasurer for three years prior to becoming governor in 1897?
A group of citizens representing different organizations and aspects of Jefferson City’s community spurred an idea to create a historic walking tour app of Missouri’s capital city about a year ago. Now, the nonprofit organization Jefferson City Arts Foundation, formerly known as the Cultural Arts Foundation, is spearheading this effort and thanks to a grant through the Missouri HumanitiesCouncil is hoping to officially launch this app, Portals of History, this spring.
The regular gathering of these Jefferson City residents first organized screen prints of future sites along the Capitol Avenue Historic District on electrical boxes earlier last year, with talks beginning to create the virtual walking tour.
Lucia Kincheloe, president of the Jefferson City Arts Foundation, said currently there is no citywide smartphone, informative history based app available in Mid-Missouri and specifically Jefferson City. She said historic walking tour apps are a great way to learn about an area at the users own leisure, allowing them to stop into local businesses, grab a bite to eat or enjoy recreation at a nearby park while discovering the city’s history.
Members of this group discovered HistoricWalkingTour.com, an audio self-walking tour app available with audio histories given by real people to learn more about historic sites in the city they are visiting or live. A tour can begin from anywhere by touching the red bubbles that are nearest and on the tour page. For the past four years, app founder Jeff Wilson and his team have created the Historic Walking Tour app in 14 U.S. cities with more than 710 historic sites and more than 40,000 downloads, the app’s website said.
“We picked up the phone and called HistoricWalkingTour(.com) and asked what it would take to create this app in Jefferson City. We loved his concept so much,” said Lucia Kincheloe, president of the Jefferson City Arts Foundation.
Tony Lutz, board member for the Jefferson City Arts Foundation, said the group checked out Chicago, New Orleans, New York and other cities that already had this app established, deciding that would be great to have in Jefferson City and knowing they would not be able to afford to develop their own app outside of a company like HistoricWalkingTour.com.
“We have been investigating the application and working with the HistoricWalkingTour(.com) group for about a year,” Lutz said in mid-December.
Even though HistoricWalkingTour.com’s current cities are large, metropolitan destinations, the company’s developers are intrigued to make Jefferson City its first smaller community to have such an app.
“They are taking a chance on us because, one, you need people to make it successful, and, two, they liked the idea of a capital city,” Kincheloe said.
“We also have a lot of history,” Lutz added. “That is something they commented on is we have plenty of history here to make this work.”
Portals of History will feature more than 25 historic sites across Jefferson City including historic districts such as the Old Munichburg, Capitol Avenue, Missouri State Capitol, Moreau Drive and Lincoln University. The Lewis and Clark statue, The Village Square formerly known as Warwick Village, Ecco Lounge and Ivy Terrace are just a sampling of sites highlighted on the app.
Kincheloe said the first day tour will concentrate on sites around the State Capitol, Capitol Avenue and downtown areas, with the second day leading users to other important historical sites further out from downtown and accessible by bike or car.
“The other positive thing is we can continue to add sites as needed,” she said, noting the bicentennial bridge to Adrian’s Island being a future site on the tour. “The new bridge will have four railroad cars used as museums to talk about history in Jefferson City, and we’ll be able to animate those as well.”
As the organization has gathered some of the top historic scholars in Jefferson City to help identify and provide information on the sites featured, they also hope to use local people doing reenactments of a significant historic event that happened at that place or property. Lutz said there are many residents, such as volunteers with the Cole County Historical Society, that can reenact a real person that has some sort of historical connection to Cole County.
“The animation will be a click of a button, providing verbiage and a one to one and half-minute video to watch,” Lutz said.
Kincheloe added local narrators will be used as much as possible for the audio recordings with each site, however, some will also use guides’ voices from the national provider.
“The videographer for the animations will be a local person. We are trying to use our arts community as part of this. I think that is the reason why people would ask, ‘Why would an arts organization be involved?’ Well, we want to bring an artistic angle to the colorful history we have here and make it accessible,” she said. “We are relying heavily on our history scholars in town to make it accurate and interesting.”
Kincheloe noted the app also allows for personalization and lets them highlight businesses and restaurants that are specific to this town. They will sell sponsorships for advertisement on the app, which will help pay for the annual maintenance cost.
Starting out as a free app, the foundation knew it needed to raise money to help with its development through HistoricWalkingTour.com, setup and service. Early last fall, the foundation applied for a grant through the Missouri Humanities Council, and were accepted as a first-time applicant in November.
“It is a $10,000 matching grant and we have to come up with the other $10,000. We have been running a crowdsource fundraising online initiative through In Your Own Backyard,” said Kincheloe, adding the website showcases a informative promotional video about the Portals of History app. “So far we have raised about $1,500, but if we could raise $5,000 that would be fantastic.”
The Jefferson City Arts Foundation said the app will reach more than 100,000 individuals per year, anticipating between 3 and 5 percent of those will use the app. Kincheloe said one of their first focuses once the app is launched this spring is to work with school districts and education associations to get the word out for the fourth-grade students visiting the capital city every year. The potential to reach more visitors is there with more than 540,000 visitors travel to and through Jefferson City each year, visiting local businesses and historic sites.
Link to the Portals of History app fundraising initiative website and watch the video through the Jefferson City Arts Foundation’s Facebook page at facebook.com/JCArtsFoundation.