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America’s Byways: Missouri

Author: Pj Little
Date of Trip: January 2011

Its largest land mass is sandwiched between east-west routes I-70 in the north, and I-44 in the south; both are accessible from I-55. I-61, I-65, and I-71 divide it north to south. This is where some of its more interesting hidden nuggets are found.

As I don’t like big cities or interstate travel, I usually cross the Mississippi at Louisiana on US 54. It is a sleepy, small, old river town with a collection of beautiful old homes and buildings. I continue west and pass the local radio station before I approach I-61 and turn south. The drive toward 1-70 is a mix of trees, small towns and rolling hills. The largest city is Troy. I usually stop for gas and a bite to eat. Thirty years ago it was a small town. No more! It was the one town on I-61 where I could find great food. I still can. Before reaching I-70 travelers have a choice of detouring through the Mark Twain National Forest for a few miles, or joining interstate traffic at the Warrenton exit.

One of the more interesting points heading west is the City of Hermann. It is hidden deep in a valley accessed by state route MO 20. Long settled by German families before 1842, it may be best known for its fall festivals, and least known for its gorgeous architecture and four wineries. It honors it past with three museums, and more. It one of those rare places that I return two or three times a year.

I continue across I-70 and turn south at US 54. This is a visually interesting route which passes through cliffs and forested areas to the state capital at Jefferson City before reaching Missouri’s largest family playground at Lake of the Ozarks. Here you find everything from Bagnall Dam to Tan-Tar-A (a 3-Diamond resort), to caverns, houseboat rentals, golf, shopping, and all the things kids love to do.

U.S. 54 continues west. I turn south at MO 5 to Lebanon where it meets I-44 and continue west to one of my favorite stops.

Stratford is home to Wild Animal Safari, formally known as Wild Animal paradise. It is a nine mile drive through the park. Be sure to buy food packets! You just don’t know which critter will come up to your car widow for a treat. The water buffalo are big gentle creatures that are as curious as they are ugly.

Branson. Springfield at I-44/I-65 is the gateway to Branson. It is probably better recognized for its Nashville entertainers than it is for golf, or fishing on one of its three lakes. Stay a week; you still will not see all that Branson has to offer.

Springfield is a large city that is not well-known for its federal hospital prison, or its historic cemetery. If you are history buff, one of the hidden surprises is the police Caboose Museum near the intersection of Campbell and McDaniel.

The Springfield National Cemetery was born of many Civil War casualties. Today it is a place of rest for members of all branches of the U.S, military. There are 12 Civil War battle markers placed throughout the city beginning at Central Park. A days ride west of Springfield by horseback is where the engagement raged.

The battle of Wilson’s Creek that started in August of 1861 was the prelude to the 1862 battle at Arkansas. Access to this national battlefield is west of Springfield on Sunshine Street in Republic. Missouri. It can also be accessed from I-44 several miles west of Springfield.

The Pea Ridge battle of 1862 took place on the Missouri and Arkansas border. This national battlefield can be accessed south of I-44 on I-71 at Pea Ridge, Arkansas. (Historic Eureka Springs is nearby.) But the first bloody incursion with heavy casualties that ultimately led to the battles at Wilson’s Creek and Pea Ridge occurred ninety miles west of Springfield.

Carthage, located two miles north of I-44 on I-71 is a small city with beautiful parks, historic places, and a civil war history that began on July 5, 1861 when the Battle of Carthage was waged. This, the first full-fledged battle of the Civil War, had little impact, but it was celebrated as the first victory for the pro-Southern advocates. Access to this national battlefield is located just outside of Carthage. Follow Chestnut Street approximately two miles east of Carter Park and River Street.

Other points of interest in Carthage include the Civil War museum inside the court house, the Carthage Civil War Museum on Grant Street, and the Powers Museum on Oak Street.

The Jasper County Court House on the square in Carthage is the third built, and erected after the Civil War. County business and court business is conducted between 8-5 daily. The 100-year-old elevator is still is service for business and visitors. The second Jasper County Court House was located in Joplin to avoid a regional Civil War due to the distance between the two cities.

Located a mile north of Carthage, the Kendrick House was captured and used as billet and headquarters by both the North and the South. Today it is living museum with tours. To get there follow N. Garrison Street in Carthage (it becomes state road D) to County Road V and turn east a short block. It is on the north side of the road.

West of Carthage is the Oak Hill Cemetery. Across the street is the Park Cemetery. Civil War grave sites are in both.

My tour in Missouri ends when I return to I-71and turn north to Kansas City for dinner wth friends.

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