New Museum Exhibits

Conceptual image of American Indian section of new museum exhibits.
A conceptual image of part of the American Indian section of the new museum exhibits at Fort Larned.

We are in a multi-year process of getting new exhibits in our Visitor Center. The design phase of the project is finished and the contract for fabrication was recently awarded. The installation should be complete by February of 2020.

Unfortunately part of this process means that most of the artefacts that complemented our current exhibits are no longer on display. The ones that will be used in the new exhibits were sent to the Western Archeological Center for conservation work. The other artefacts had to be put into curatorial storage when we temporarily moved our exhibits to the Quartermaster Warehouse this past summer to install new carpet. Some of the artefacts are back on display but the amount of exhibit displays have been reduced.

We apologize for the incomplete visitor experience but this is all part of the process to get our new museum exhibits installed.

Conceptual image of the "Defense & Survival" section of the new museum exhibits.

How exactly do you start a new museum exhibit project in the National Park Service? Our project started in 2014 when we identified the need to replace our 40 year old exhibits. We put in a request for the money and once it was approved we started the planning and design phase with the design firm that won the contract - The Design Minds out of Alexandria, Virginia.

While our current exhibits are very informative about Army life at Fort Larned and the Plains Indian tribes in the area, they are not necessarily interpetive, and we don't have anything about the Santa Fe Trail. By "not interpretive" we mean they don't tell the story of how the different people and cultures interacted, how the Santa Fe Trail impacted the tribes living in the area, how the soldiers coped with life at a lonely frontier outpost, or who the traders were on the trail. The idea behind the new exhibits is to put the history into the context of the lives of the people in the area whom the Santa Fe Trail brought together at Fort Larned.


The first thing we needed to do in the design phase was figure out what our "Big Idea" would be. What would tie all the different stories together? Next we had to think about what we wanted the visitors take away with them after viewing the exhibits. Once we figured those two things out, we needed to determine what design approach would best accommodate those things.


These are the key concepts we would like visitors to take away with them after viewing the exhibits:

  • The fort transformed from improvised shelters, to sandstone buildings, to a ranch, to the historic site we see today.
  • Many cultures encountered one another at Fort Larned, including the Cheyenne, Arapaho, Kiowa, Comanche, African Americans, European immigrants and Hispanic traders.
  • In just two decades, Fort Larned’s soldiers played a key role in securing the Santa Fe Trail, protecting US mail, and engaging in military conflicts.
  • Plains Indians had a complicated relationship with this site. This is where they received annuities, but soldiers from Fort Larned also participated in campaigns against Indian populations.

The design approach involves dividing the exhibit area into four sections to tell a sequential story through distinct periods of the fort's history. An introductory “fast track” funnels visitors down a hallway and into the theater. Exhibits include overview panels highlighting major stories within the exhibits as well as two “breakout” areas focusing on Plains Indian tribes and bison. The center of each exhibit explores cultural interactions between specific groups.

Conceptual overview of the new museum exhibit layout.

Last updated: May 28, 2019

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Mailing Address:

1767 KS Hwy 156
Larned, KS 67550


(620) 285-6911
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