Docents at the Cole County Historical Society play an important role.

After the establishment of the Cole County Historical Society in 1941, the founding women spent their time in the museum parlor polishing silver, arranging artifacts, and playing cards, typically bridge. According to society oral history, the “dummy” in their game of bridge would automatically become the museum tour guide!

Today, our tour guides are a group of well-trained docents who instead play an integral part in furthering the CCHS mission to share the history of Cole County and its role as the seat of Missouri government. Our docents, both men and women, commit to a regular schedule and volunteer at least two hours of their time each month. As compensation, they receive a society membership.

Cole County Historical Society docent, Jeff Burns

Each docent receives a handbook containing information about the museum’s permanent displays, collections, and society history. 

The society was formed as a not-for-profit organization. The dedication of 50 charter members and those who quickly joined made it possible to purchase the original museum building located at 109 Madison St. in 1946 and to complete necessary renovations prior to the official opening on May 17, 1948.

Although the word “docent” is derived from a Latin word meaning “to teach,” modern docents do more than educate. Docents may work on special exhibits, assist with fundraisers, decorate for holidays, and help with community outreach programs.

New volunteers shadow a veteran docent until they feel comfortable with material and tour format. Guided explorations are usually an hour long, spanning four levels of our two historic row houses with an elevator available to access upper floors. 

A docent’s first duty is to interpret our museum collections. With so much available to engage visitors, docents use their backgrounds and expertise to vary tours according to the group’s age and interests.

Paintings, photographs, furnishings, children’s toys, and Victorian home decor are just a few artifacts in the museum collection. Special collections include the Civil War Room, which houses artifacts and historical documents pertaining to the Civil War in Cole County, as well as Missouri First Ladies’ inaugural gowns that are on display in rotating exhibits. Grannie’s Attic, on the top floor of the museum, showcases smaller objects, historic pictures, toys, and items that might be found stored in the upper level of an old house. A special exhibit of items carried by President George Washington during the Revolutionary War was donated to CCHS by Missouri descendants of President Zachary Taylor — these artifacts are also on display. 

The museum is open to the public February through November for walk-in tours from 1:00 to 3:00 p.m., Tuesday through Saturday. Information on additional tour times or arrangements for groups of 15 or more are available by calling 573-635-1850. All Cole County third- and fourth-grade students are invited to visit the museum during the school year free of charge as part of the CCHS education outreach. 

CCHS docents are invaluable volunteers. Many are long-term volunteers, with one current docent having given her time since 1968! When the museum doors open, our docents are there to enrich the experiences of visitors of all ages.

If you are interested in becoming a docent, please call the museum office at 573-635-1850. We continue to be in constant need of docent volunteers.