A $4.5 million project is planned to make room for more Civil War-era artifacts at the site of the first major battle west of the Mississippi River.

The project will add 1,873 square feet (about 175 square meters) of exhibit space to the visitor center at the Wilson’s Creek National Battlefield in southwest Missouri. There were an estimated 1,200 Union and 1,100 Confederate casualties at the site in August 1861.

Fundraising got a major boost last week when Bass Pro Shops donated $25,000 to help jump-start a $300,000 local campaign for the project, the Springfield News-Leader reported.

Mike Ussery, president of the Wilson’s Creek National Battlefield Foundation, which is conducting the local campaign, said the project was a “tremendous opportunity” to improve the experience of the roughly 200,000 people who visit the battlefield each year. Remaining project funding will come from the National Park Service and the National Park Foundation.

Hundreds of artifacts have for years remained in storage because of lack of space. As part of the project, offices and restrooms will be relocated in order to make room for displays of guns, cannons, documents, soldiers’ clothing and other artifacts.

When the war started, most long guns were primitive flintlocks, which used a piece of flint stone to create a spark that ignited black powder inside the barrel — it was cumbersome and sometimes didn’t work, according to Jeff Patrick, the battlefield’s curator of artifacts.

“Both sides scrambled to find more modern arms for their men,” Patrick said as he held up a .69-caliber musket that will go on display when the renovated space opens in the summer of 2020.

The firearm, which Patrick clutched with a gloved hand, was converted from a flintlock to a more reliable percussion cap system.

The display also will include a .52-caliber Hall carbine breech-loader rifle that was dug from the ground at the battlefield park, which is near what is now the city of Republic, about 25 miles (40 kilometers) southwest of Springfield.

The visitor center might need to close for a week or so during the massive renovation. But the park’s acting superintendent, Gary Sullivan, said he hopes to keep the disruptions to a minimum. If the fundraising goes as planned, work should begin by October of this year.

Along with a major expansion of exhibition space, the project will upgrade the heating and air conditioning systems to protect many of the 8,500 fragile artifacts.

There will also be some interactive displays and “virtual displays,” allowing fragile artifacts and other items in storage to be viewed in 3-D.

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