Expansion’s grand opening

WASHBURN History buffs are enjoying free admission to the Lewis and Clark Interpretive Center in Washburn and to Fort Mandan this weekend.

There is musical entertainment at Fort Mandan and a concession truck is also parked there.

The museum is celebrating the grand opening of its 9,000-square foot expansion and renovation, which includes a 175-seat event center, an art gallery, and a new research library.

“This is exactly what I imagined!” said David Borlaug, president of the Lewis and Clark Fort Mandan Foundation, during a dedication ceremony on Saturday morning.

The Wayne and Bernice Stroup Event Center is so new that the ceiling wasn’t installed until sometime in the last week and the carpet was laid just a few days ago. The event center has a striking view of the Missouri River through its large windows and from a deck located just outside the center. The event center is available for rent and Borlaug hopes it will be used for conventions.

Meriwether Lewis and William Clark led the 1804 to 1806 U.S. Army expedition across what is now the western part of the United States. The expedition was commissioned by President Thomas Jefferson shortly after the lands were acquired in the Louisiana Purchase of 1803. Lewis and Clark spent a winter with the Mandan Indians near Washburn during the expedition.

The library at the Lewis and Clark Interpretive Center will include an extensive collection of books about North Dakota history, the history of the Lewis and Clark Expedition and the history of the American West, many published by the Foundation or donated by patrons. Many of the books on display Saturday were written by Humanities scholar Clay Jenkinson, an expert on President Thomas Jefferson and on the Lewis and Clark Expedition. A rare book on display is a journal by Patrick Gass, one of three sergeants on the Corps of Discovery. The book was donated to the Interpretive Center by Art Thompson from Elmira, N.Y. Thompson and family had looked at other museums along the Lewis and Clark Trail, but decided that the Lewis and Clark Interpretive Center in Washburn would be the best stewards for the rare book. It is on display in a glass case in the library. There was some controversy over the publication of the Gass journal. Meriwether Lewis was angry because he felt it would detract from his own book about the expedition.

Jenkinson said during the dedication that he believes the Lewis and Clark Interpretive Center is the best of the museums dedicated to the Lewis and Clark Expedition. Fort Mandan was at the heart of the Lewis and Clark Expedition. Lewis and Clark had the best relationship with the Mandan of the 50 tribes they met. They also wrote much of their account of the expedition at Fort Mandan, said Jenkinson.

“This is a small village with a major cultural institution,” said Jenkinson.

Borlaug said the expansion and addition of museum exhibits cost about $5.5 million. The state Legislature has allocated $2.8 million for the project. Borlaug said $3 million still needs to be raised, about $2 million to pay off loans and another $1 million for the endowment. Private donations help the museum run, said Borlaug.

About 50,000 people visit the museum and Fort Mandan every year.

The interpretive center is open from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Saturday and from noon to 5 p.m. on Sundays. The museum and Fort Mandan are both open year round.