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Missouri: Eastern Missouri’s rivers and railroads

Courtesy St. Charles CVB
Pottery demonstration in St. Charles

From Mark Twain’s Hannibal in the north to the pioneering spirit of St. Charles and the European flavor of Ste. Genevieve near its boot heel, Missouri’s towns on the Missouri and Mississippi rivers represent unique slices of Americana.

St. Charles 

Missouri’s first capital still captivates visitors who walk down its shady brick streets and sidewalks lined with flowers as the mighty Missouri River rolls by. As evening approaches, gas streetlamps bathe patios and courtyards as visitors shop or dine al fresco.

In this quiet river community, Missouri’s statehood took root. The First Missouri State Capitol State Historic Site offers a glimpse of the past with tours of the restored and furnished building that served the state from 1821 to 1826.

A free iPod walking tour from the tourism center provides an approximately 60-minute historical and architectural overview of the South Main portion of St. Charles’ historic district.
The History With Hats program walks groups through the 1800s time frame.

“History With Hats is a role-playing situation,” said Carol Felzien, public relations and communications manager for the St. Charles Convention and Visitors Bureau. “The tour guide has 13 to 15 different items of clothing that are indicative of certain time periods and which are used in the narrative.”

At one end of the district, the Foundry Art Centre was originally a 1900s railroad car factory that produced horse-drawn streetcars, private cars for business tycoons, standard railroad coaches and boxcars. Today, part of the foundry has been converted to an art museum and working artists’ studios, along with a special-events venue, and performances by the St. Charles Symphony are also scheduled there.

Modern history has been preserved at the Missouri Wing’s Museum of World War II Memorabilia. This patriotic organization is dedicated to the restoration and preservation of World War II aircraft. It currently maintains in flying condition a B-25 Mitchell bomber; a TBM Avenger Torpedo bomber, which carries a crew of three and has a maximum speed of 267 miles per hour; and an Aeronca L-3 observation aircraft.

Ste. Genevieve  
Charming Ste. Genevieve, established between 1735 and 1749, is the oldest European settlement in Missouri. Its founders started farming the land before building began.

Antique stores, specialty shops and a variety of galleries with artists in residence line the streets of the five-block downtown. The Sainte Genevieve Winery, which offers tastings, and Sarah’s Ice Cream and Antique Shop are always popular stops.

“More than once, she has been voted the best ice cream shop in southeast and rural Missouri,” said Stephanie Bell, director of tourism for the city of Ste. Genevieve. “The antique shop offers a wide and constantly changing collection of pieces varying from furniture to glassware and knickknacks.”

With more than 100 homes in its National Historic Landmark District, Ste. Genevieve mixes French and German styles of architecture. The town boasts the oldest brick home west of the Mississippi plus three vertical log homes built in the 1790s. Mud and horsehair hold the structures together.

“There are only five vertical log homes left in the U.S. today,” said Bell. “It’s a French style that combines Quebec-style homes with Caribbean influences.”

Tours April through October showcase five historic homes, with the oldest built in 1792 and the youngest in 1820. All have been restored to their original states with period furnishings. A passport allows visitors into the homes and the Ste. Genevieve Museum, built in 1935 to commemorate the city’s 200th anniversary.

In the heart of the historic district, the museum offers a large collection of farming equipment and Civil War memorabilia. It highlights the region’s railroads and the Mississippi River ferry once used as transportation. Five Indian tribes lived in the area, and their stories are recounted there, too.

Established in 1787, the Oldest Cemetery in Missouri remains the resting place for many of the city and state’s foremost pioneers. Interpretive panels and architectural cemetery masterpieces tell the stories of those who made their marks on the community.

“People are extraordinarily friendly, because this is small-town America,” said Bell. “Our extremely quaint town has successfully maintained its authenticity, originality and heritage.”


Interest in Mark Twain never seems to waver. This year, Twain’s complete autobiography will be released. Twain stipulated that his entire story couldn’t be published until 100 years after his death. Volume I was released in November and quickly made the New York Times best sellers list.

“You can’t read the autobiography without thinking about Hannibal,” said Megan Rapp, assistant director and group sales manager of the Hannibal Convention and Visitors Bureau. “The places that Mark Twain talked about and that he used as fodder for his stories are still here and can be explored today.”

A CD put together last year on the 100th anniversary of Twain’s death, the 175th anniversary of his birth and the 125th anniversary of the “Adventures of Huckleberry Finn” highlights Twain’s life in words and music. Garrison Keillor narrates, Clint Eastwood is the voice of Twain, and Jimmy Buffett is the voice of Huck Finn.

Songs and narrations, with artists such as Brad Paisley, make this a must-have for Twain fans. The CD, sold nationwide, plays at the Mark Twain Boyhood Home and Museum.
Mark Twain Cave and Sawyer’s Creek Fun Park now offer wine-tastings for groups. The park’s restaurant overlooks the Mississippi River, and visitors can browse its Christmas and wine shops and play miniature golf.

At the cave complex, wine-tasters can also take a cave tour, enjoy a 30-minute nature loop or watch candle-carving demonstrations at the Candles Aglow Gift Shop.

“We’re very excited to be able to offer tastings to groups featuring Missouri wines,” said Rapp. “The cave complex makes a unique setting for a wine-tasting.”

As always, Tom Sawyer and Becky Thatcher, Hannibal’s ambassadors, greet groups who book through the CVB. Award-winning storytelling on a variety of topics is also available.

“We want to do as much as we can to make the group experience unique and fun while keeping in mind their budget,” said Rapp. “That’s why we’ve always offered the welcome bags and Tom and Becky greetings and will continue to add new things for groups who call the CVB to book our free perks.”

More on Missouri:

Route 66
Southern Missouri

Elizabeth Hey

Elizabeth Hey is a member of Midwest Travel Journalists Association and has received numerous awards for her writing and photography. Follow her on Instagram and Facebook @travelbyfork.