After an enjoyable tour of Iowa, we continued our southward journey into the state of Missouri. Never having been to the Midwest, we were enjoying our time in America's heartland. As we left our campground outside of Des Moines, we watched the cornfields of Iowa spread into the flat-lands of Missouri. If not for the "Welcome To" sign, you'd be hard pressed to distinguish one state from the other.
Our first stay in the Show-Me state was at the Wakonda State Park in La Grange, about 200 miles from our former campground and about a half a mile from the Mississippi River.
We had a picturesque spot right next to a lake. We rated this park a 5/5 stars! Fairly wide roads, gravel pads and large concrete patios. Plus location, location, location!!
One of my favorite pastors, Tony Evans once said, "sometimes God gives you Ice Cream and sometimes God gives you Okra.." We were definitely enjoying God's ice cream at this spot!
We learned an interesting story about this park. Back in the 1920's, a large deposit of high-quality gravel and sand was discovered on this plot of farm land. The shallow depth of the minerals allowed for open-pit mining. So the digging began, and for the next thirty years, the gravel hauled from this site was used to build the roads that crisscross this state. Once depleted, the scarred landscape was transferred to the Parks Department which flooded the barren pits, and in 1960 opened the park to campers, boaters, and recreationalists!
--The arrow in the above picture points to our campsite--
One strange thing about this park, we saw many structures like this placed throughout the park. We think maybe they are storm shelters?
Checking our map, we found four surrounding cities that looked worthy of exploration. The closest was tiny La Grange, population 931. A little further north was the slightly larger Canton (pop. 2,377) which had the country's oldest continuously operating ferry across the Mississippi River up until 1984. To the south, and across the Mississippi, was Quincy, Illinois (pop 46,303) and about 30 miles to the south and back across the river was Hannibal (pop 17,800).
With a plan in hand, we set out to visit these four locations during our four day stay.
The closest city to our RV park. Hard to believe a place this tiny has the official state-designation of "city" but at the time of its founding in 1830, it was a key crossing of the Mississippi. Its future looked bright and its population swelled to over 1,500 people. But as fate would have it, its founding fathers (and mothers) did not give enough forethought to its proximity to the banks of the writhing and unpredictable Mississippi river because every decade or so, it would get flooded and wrung out to dry. The powerful river washed away any economic top soil.
--picture courtesy of google maps--
The town's only two "claims to fame" are:
(1) the giant grain silo collapse of 2019..
(2) And the birth of Ella Ewing in 1872, who grew to a height of 8'4'" (her actual height is in dispute). She was touted as "The World's Tallest Woman". She died from tuberculosis at the age of 40.
--Here she is with her parents--
Even today, the tiny city seems to be hanging on by its fingernails. With a dwindling population, those that have stayed are some hard core loyalists. People of the fruitful soil. People who farmed the land right alongside the vivid memories of generations before.
We drove right through the city. Didn't even stop. No reason to. And given its declining growth, others have had this same sentiment.
Further north was the city of Canton. It has a little bit more to offer but we found most of the stores in their downtown area were shuttered. Looking like eager kittens in an adoption shelter, these buildings seemed to cry out for a new owner to come along and bring them back to life. So sad to see. The past, reaching out to the present, with no one there to grasp its hand.
It's nice to see that the city has taken good care of the facades of these structures. We've driven through so many small towns whose main streets have been allowed to rot. Towns that radiate discouragement. But here, because of the cleanliness of the surroundings, we spent a pleasant few hours strolling the streets.
As the sun began to wane, we stopped by the only open restaurant/tavern in town. As I've written about in the past, one of the most enjoyable aspects of our trip has been visiting local taverns or pubs. Not so much because we are big drinkers, but because we've found bartenders and their patrons make the best tour guides. Most know an amazing amount of local history and folklore (and town gossip). If you want to know what's going on in a community, forget the Visitor's Center, visit a pub!
Today's pub was Pub 3-One-4. The food was good, the staff was friendly and the few locals that happened in, were welcoming. This is how we found out about the "Lincoln Colored School" on the out skirts of town (pictured below).
Here are pics of the outside and inside of the pub.
We enjoyed an evening of cold drinks and warm conversation.
--Photo courtesy of Notley Hawkins--
Quincy, Illinois was a pleasant surprise. It's a town overflowing with history (which we love). At one time it was the gateway to the west with many rail and steamboat lines converging here. Founded in 1825 (the city's original name was Bluffs), the city was renamed after the newly-elected President John Quincy Adams.
Lying across the river from the slave state of Missouri, the city was a hotbed of abolitionist activities in the 1850's. It was an active stop for the Underground Railroad ferrying slaves from the deep-south up to Chicago. This provoked the ire of many Missourians. And, any place where religious and social emotions run hot, conflicts soon ignite. There were many skirmishes between both sides. Our friends and fellow RV'ers, Connie and Vivian, wrote an interesting blog post about the conflict that raged between pro and anti-slavery forces of Missouri and (the then Territory) Kansas. You can read about "Bleeding Kansas" here.
Here are a few pictures from the city's downtown area.
The downtown was very nice. Many old historic buildings. Its also happens to be the location of the first U.S. Catholic church to install an African-American priest (1886).
--this is the rebuilt St. Joseph's Catholic Church--
It was an unexpected surprise to discover that Quincy was the site of the sixth Senatorial debate between Democrat Senator Stephen A. Douglas and his challenger, Republican Abraham Lincoln. With an estimated crowd of 12,000 in attendance, it was the largest community at which Lincoln and Douglas debated.
There's a memorial plaque commemorating the event at Washington Park.
--photo courtesy of Ron Cogswell--
We visited a small museum across the street dedicated to the memorable event. To our surprise a curator told us they aren't sure where the exact location of the actual debate occurred! But it is believed to have happened somewhere in the vicinity of the park. It left us scratching our heads as to why the location of such importance had faded from the city's memory.
Before leaving town we decided to stroll along the city's Riverwalk only to find the Mississippi blocking our way. Due to excessive snow in the northern parts of the country, the river had breached its banks and flooded the entire area. Nobody seemed particularly alarmed by this so I'm guessing it happens often.
The mighty Mississippi won again. After an enjoyable day of sightseeing, we headed back to camp for our evening campfire.
Thirty five minutes south of us was the boyhood home of author Samuel Langhorne Clemens (aka Mark Twain). Named after the Carthaginian General, the city was founded in 1819, thirteen years after the land had been acquired by the United States in the Louisiana Purchase.
The downtown area is very quaint and tourist friendly. Many local eateries and boutique shops.
We stopped to listen to a Mark Twain impersonator.
The city sits high above the mighty Mississippi.
There are lots of memorials honoring it's most famous citizen.
Above is the boyhood home of Samuel and the white picket fence we've all read about!
Also in town is the home of Becky Thatcher, Tom Sawyer's first sweetheart.
Below is his father's law office.
If you're a fan of Mark Twain, then this is a great place to visit. I would plan ahead because many of the shows and museums require advanced reservations.
After spending a hectic four days in the area we packed up and prepared to move to our next campground outside of the "Gateway to the West", St. Louis. But before I conclude this post I wanted to tell you about the state's unofficial motto, the "Show-Me" state. It's on their license plates. As with many of these sobriquets, their origin is fodder for much debate.
When we asked those we met, we found most folks fell into one of two camps. The first group claims it came from a Missouri Representative (Willard Duncan Vandiver) who in 1899 gave a speech which contained this declaration: "I come from a state that raises corn and cotton and cockleburs and Democrats, and frothy eloquence neither convinces nor satisfies me. I am from Missouri. You have got to show me." While the rest believe it came from uneducated Missouri miners who had traveled north to work in the mines of Colorado. Being unfamiliar with Colorado mining methods, they required frequent instructions. Pit bosses began saying, "That man is from Missouri. You'll have to show him." Whether that statement was meant as an insult is also debated. But regardless, almost everyone agreed that today it describes the conservative values and noncredulous nature of most Missourians. And there you have the "rest of the story".
Until next time, safe travels!