St. Joseph, Missouri, is a wonderful place to discover the themes of Freedom’s Frontier National Heritage Area. From an exploration of the landscape at Remington Nature Center, to western frontier stories at the Pony Express Museum and the Civil War struggles at Fort Smith Civil War Park, to African American history at the Black Archives Museum, St. Joseph has a lot of history! In this month’s feature article, seasoned heritage travelers Tim and Lisa Trudell provide some recommendations for an outstanding trip to St. Joseph.
The Pony Express may be the pride and joy of St. Joseph, but the city has much more to offer visitors. We found this out during our weekend getaway. St. Joe offers several museums for the taking.
In the St. Joseph Museums Complex you will find exhibits on African-American history, Civil War, Native Americans and dolls. The Native American collection features photos of historical tribal leaders, as well as clothing, jewelry, pottery and weapons exhibits. The collection is presented in a respectful manner and offered history on the tribes of Missouri, including the Iowa and Sauk. The Civil War collection was truly impressive. The exhibit features medicine during the war. Surgeons are portrayed operating on an injured soldier. We learned that the Civil War resulted in the most medical advancements than at any other time in our history.
In addition, the Black Archives Museum, located in the same building, tracks the history of African-Americans from slavery to today. One exhibit displays historical events during “The March to Freedom”- from separate water fountains to the right to vote.
If the Pony Express draws you to St. Joe, be sure you check out the Pony Express National Museum, just south of downtown. The museum provides a detailed look at how the Pony Express started, operated and eventually faded away. The museum’s exhibits allow for close viewing. You can stand next to the rider and his horse, as he prepares to leave the stable with his saddlebag of mail.
A must-see is the Patee House Museum. The Patee House has served as a hotel, Pony Express office and a courtroom for Civil War-related trials. But, the museum offers so much more. It was named to True West magazine’s “Top 10 museums in the west.” It offers a look at a variety of items, including light bulbs, telephones, radios, and cameras. Just about anything that can be displayed is on display.
The Blue Room offers paintings featuring western figures, including the James boys (of course) –Jesse and Frank, Bat Masterson, Annie Oakley, Judge Parker – AKA the “Hanging Judge,” and, of course, the most famous Pony Express alum, Buffalo Bill Cody.
A steam engine and mail car stand on display on the first floor. You can step up into the engine and get an engineer’s view. Or, you can go back into the car and sort mail. I like the engineer’s view better.
The museum also has a working carousel. Children of all ages (including my wife) can take a ride. Each character on the ride was hand carved and has its own story. Two that stood out were a Pegasus, with its beautiful art work, and a hummingbird, with a nest under the saddle.
Jesse James remains quite possibly the best-known bank robber of the 1800s, so we had to check out the house where he was shot and killed by Robert Ford. The hole in the wall where the bullet allegedly went through is framed for visitors to see.
Nothing goes better with culture and history, than a good meal. We found a great Neapolitan-style pizzeria. The Il Lazzarone opened a couple of months ago downtown. A restaurant has to meet specific requirements to be considered Neapolitan-style. The owner imported the oven from Naples, Italy. The chef traveled to Italy for additional training. The restaurant imports its flour and tomatoes from Italy.
Pizzas are baked for about 90 seconds. The oven reaches a temperature of 1,200 degrees Fahrenheit. We had an appetizer of bruschetta. Talk about mouthwatering. The tomatoes were so sweet and delicious. The sausage pizza we each had was very tasty.
Our weekend getaway continued with dinner at the JC Wyatt House. The Victorian-style home has been converted into a fine dining restaurant. The owners and chef offer a freshly made three-course dinner. We sampled the menu. I feel the word “delicious” is an understatement. We overheard a diner at another table express her love of their food when her meal was delivered, “I have missed you so much,” she exclaimed with a smile on her face.
The former New York City residents and owners of the JC Wyatt House, said they fulfilled their dreams of owning a restaurant in their adopted hometown. They sing the praises of St. Joseph every chance they get. We topped our night off with a visit to Foster’s Martini bar downtown. The menu has several options for drinks, including non-alcoholic.
When we travel, I’ve always been a proponent of hotels. However, in the past year, I’ve become more open to bed and breakfasts. St. Joe marked the third time we’ve stayed at a B&B. The Shakespeare Chateau was a wonderful experience. The owner offers guests a tour of the house, built in 1885. Located on the famed “Millionaires’ Row,” Shakespeare was a great place to stay. Each room has a theme. Ours was “Twelfth Night.” The Shakespeare has 47 stained glass windows. The stained glass at the top of the stairs landing is beautiful.
Breakfast at Shakespeare was amazing, – baked French toast and fruit. We met three couples during the meal. They were all from the Kansas City area and each were on a weekend getaway. While we had some of the same interests to visit, such as the Glore Museum, we learned about other places to check out, such as Lucky Tiger vintage merchandise store, and lunch at Boudreaux’s or Geneo’s Pizza downtown.
We’ve come up with a list of other places we want to check out in the future, including downtown architecture, Robidoux Row Museum which features the last home that was lived in by the founder of St. Joseph, Joseph Robidoux, Fort Smith Civil War Park, Remington Nature Center, and Mount Mora Cemetery, which includes memorials related to the Civil War and many different mausoleums.
St. Joe has much to offer visitors. You can find so many things to do over a weekend or a few days. Have fun during your stay!
As you can see, St. Joseph offers heritage travelers a perfect destination for a day trip or weekend getaway. In case you need any more reasons, our friends at the St. Joseph Convention & Visitors Bureau would be happy to share all there is to see and do in St. Joseph.
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