How many times have you overlooked a small town, because you didn’t think it had much to see? If we are being honest, this happens too often, because we have been programmed to believe this. Creating our travel blog has opened our eyes and minds to the wonderful collection of artifacts found in villages and towns across North America. One of our day trips provided history lessons about the Village of Arrow Rock, Missouri. This town of about 55 residents has seen a lot of changes since the first trading post was erected in 1814.
A Thorough History Lesson
Our first stop was the Arrow Rock Visitor Center, so we could get some background information on this village. Inside we discovered the rich history that makes up the Boone’s Lick region of Missouri. The native tribes were aware of the riches that the land offered centuries before European explorers arrived. As we made our way through the visitor center, our travel took us through time. After the period of ownership by Spain and France, the Louisiana Purchase opened it up for pioneering Americans. Our history lessons continued, as we moved through the Civil War and right up to present day.
Marking the Way
The Village of Arrow Rock has a number of historic sites for visitors to explore. Stopping in the shops on Main Street allowed us a chance to grab one of their town maps. While the village is not overly large, it has quite a few points of interest. Finding them is as easy as following the map and referencing the appropriate number to the information in the handout. It makes learning some history lessons as easy as 1, 2, 3.
Sitting on a hillside not far from Main Street we came upon the Lyceum Theater. This 1872 structure began life as a Baptist church. In 1960 it was converted into a professional repertory theater. It has hosted a variety of Broadway-style shows. Its popularity required the addition of a large auditorium that was completed in 1993. As we passed by, the building sat in majestic silence. The pandemic has created the need to curtail all shows for the present time. We hope this will change before long, and the performances can return.
Call for a Cure
Our visit to Arrow Rock was unexpectedly appropriate. We had made the trip because we were searching for safer destinations to explore during the pandemic. One of the stops along the town map led us to the Sappington Museum. Here we discovered that one of the town’s early residents was instrumental in helping slow the spread of malaria. As we read the information boards inside the family home, it reminded us that there are many out there working hard to solve today’s medical issue.
“The” Missouri Artist
The title above may bring to mind a variety of names. Every famous Missouri artist had their moment in the sun. George Caleb Bingham earned this distinction during the mid to late 1800s. Growing up in a challenging situation, he learned to paint from an art teacher at his mother’s school. His gift for portrait painting led him to St. Louis, where he started his first studio. Later success would carry him to a lucrative career on the East Coast.
By the age of 34, he was ready to return to the Midwest. In 1848, he would be one of just a few artists who has ever been elected to office. He served as a Missouri delegate during the period of the Civil War, where he supported the Union. One of our surprise history lessons was learning that Bingham would become the first President of the Kansas City Board of Police Commissioners. These days visitors can arrange a tour of his Arrow Rock home.
The Silent Residents
In 1995, an archaeologist from the McClung Museum, in Knoxville, came to Arrow Rock to study the life and culture of the town’s African-American residents. His teams excavated a variety of sites that showcased the changing impact that these people had made in the village. Some of the information they uncovered is included in the African-American Experience Museum. Housed in the Arrow Rock Free Will Baptist Church, the museum helps explain some of the issues that black residents faced from the earliest days through the 20th century. This space is not to be missed when you make your visit.
All of these history lessons had created quite an appetite. It was just a couple of short blocks to Catalpa Restaurant. From the moment we arrived, we knew it was going to be a good meal. Since our visit occurred during the Covid time-frame, dining was restricted to tables set up on the lawn. Of course, there was plenty of shade, which made for a fun setting. Our sandwiches were spot on delicious and tossing in a specialty shake supplied our sweet treat.
Going Old School
With all of these history lessons swirling in our brains, it was time for a little less serious exploring. Arrow Rock has a few unique shops that really stand out. While most are on Main Street, we located Thunder Lodge Trading Company just down the street from our lunch stop. They tout themselves as a home goods store, but it is so much more. While it does offer some interesting artistic accents for the home, it also has some that are out of the ordinary. A selection of black powder horns is one of these, as is the assorted fur pelts that hang from the wall. If you are looking for that one-of-a-kind gift for the person who has everything, you are sure to find it here.
As we were leaving Thunder Lodge we ran into a couple who was also visiting from Kansas City. It’s surprising just how often this happens to us. The really unusual part was that the gentleman grew up two doors behind me in KCK. What an interesting turn of events. After we spent some time catching up, we bid our goodbyes and headed back to Main Street. The historic porch covered boardwalk looks like something straight out of a movie. Many of the shopkeepers were enjoying the pleasant weather and had set up shop on the boardwalk. As we shopped, we chatted with them about the history lessons we had found in Arrow Rock.
New Trading Post
At the far end of the row of shops, we came to the Arrow Rock Trading Post. Being in such an antique-style setting, we weren’t exactly sure what we would find inside. To our surprise, this space was performing double duty as a boutique and home accents shop. While Crystal browsed through the whole store, I focused my attention on some of the interesting foodstuffs. We both enjoyed the variety of products that this place had in stock. It was hard to believe how much they offered since all of the spaces looked much smaller from the outside.
History Lessons Achieved
With a day full of history lessons complete, it was time to start heading back to Kansas City. While the pandemic may be making travel more complicated, it has forced us to take a renewed look at destinations we missed in the past. Many of these smaller towns and villages are the perfect destination for a casual day trip or overnighter. We have found that they offer a safer atmosphere and the business owners are so thankful to see visitors. It looks like 2020 will be filled with these types of adventures, but we are finding that they can make for some of the most memorable excursions.