Stepping back in time

Driving into Arrow Rock is like entering an intriguing time warp. ElegantGreek revival and Georgian homes, vestiges of the days when the state was partof the Old South, are set on wide, tree-shaded lawns along the few streets inthis mid-Missouri town. Humble log buildings, put up well over a century agoby pioneers, dwell peacefully among the grander structures. The Old Tavern,which played host to hundreds of travelers headed west along the Santa Fe,Oregon and California Trails, as well as the nearby antique courthouse, gunshop, blacksmith shop and schoolhouse all have been restored to their early19th Century appearance.

There are no stoplights in town, no service stations, no fast-foodrestaurants and most definitely no shopping malls, we were told on a recentvisit by Mary Ann Turley, whose husband, Harold, "was a Bingham -- frontierartist George Caleb Bingham, his ancestor, lived in Arrow Rock," she said.Turley is one of the 70 year-round residents of this antique town. She, likeothers in the quaint community, don 19th Century clothes and introducevisitors to their town as it appeared years ago, when it was a center ofpolitical power and high society. The people who lived here "were certainlynot hillbillies," she says.

Turley, who leads tours, many of them school groups, plays the role of AuntNanny -- Nanny Toole, an "outgoing woman beloved by children" -- who came herein 1831 after her marriage to John P. Sites. On a recent occasion Turley,standing in the doorway of the Sites home, coffee cup in hand, awaited a groupof 3rd graders from a nearby town. Next door, she pointed out, is Sites GunShop, also restored, that was built in 1850 and served the community into the20th Century.

Three Missouri governors came from Arrow Rock -- Meredith Marmaduke and hisson John Sappington Marmaduke and Claiborne Fox Jackson, governor of the statewhen Missouri tried to secede from the Union just before the Civil War. Dr.John Sappington also lived here -- he came up with a way to mass marketquinine pills for treating malaria, a scourge of the frontier.

Arrow Rock was propelled into prominence when it became the head of theSanta Fe Trail. In 1821, St. Louis trader William Becknell, moving a stepahead of the law, had established what would become an enormously lucrativetrade with Mexico. Within short order a rawboned frontier town, home to 1,000wagon train outfitters, blacksmiths, innkeepers and newspapermen, sprang up onthe south bank of the Missouri River.

Today it's hard to imagine the town "bustling." The streets are so quiet,in fact, that a pair of local dogs, Sundance and Blackie (who seemed to arrivejust ahead of us at every stop we made, yet serenely ignored the frenziedbarking of our three dogs from the motor home only feet away) relaxed withoutfear where elsewhere they would have been quickly run over.

Visitors to town today can watch frontier-attired townspeople demonstraterug and lace making, candle dipping, weaving, quilting, blacksmithing andother life skills from the days when Arrow Rock was young.

Long before the town came into being, early 18th Century French explorerstraveling up the Missouri were the first white men to see the "arrow rock."They saw local Indians gathering flint from the high limestone river bluffsfor spear tips, knives and bird points (often called arrowheads), and namedthe site Pierre a Fleche -- in English, Arrow Rock.

In 1804, after the land had become part of the United States through theLouisiana Purchase, and Lewis and Clark and the Corps of Discovery came paston their famous expedition, Clark noted in his journal that the "arrow rock"bluffs would make a "handsome spot for a town."

In 1811 a ferry was set up across the Missouri -- charging 12 cents for apassenger, double that if he was riding a horse -- and traders could moreeasily continue traveling west. The following year, a trading post was openedto serve local Indians. But once traders traveling the Santa Fe Trail begandeparting from here (the trail originally began across the river at Franklin,now long since washed away by the Big Muddy) and steamboats reached the town,Arrow Rock began to flourish.

The town was platted in 1829 as New Philadelphia, but the name stuck foronly four years. Then residents legally changed the name back to thedescriptive one it had been given more than a century earlier.

Arrow Rock served for one year as county seat of Saline County, so namedfor the saline springs where the sons of Daniel Boone and others establishedsalt works (and thus the area was dubbed "Boone's Lick Country"). In 1839 thecounty seat was moved to Marshall, a dozen miles west.

Forty years after Arrow Rock's founding, the town's power and prestige cameto an end. The Civil War freed the labor force -- slaves who had toiled in thefields tending tobacco and hemp crops -- and the town's Southern sympathiesresulted in its being bypassed after the war by the railroad and all majorhighways. No bridges were built here. Arrow Rock was a town suspended in itsantebellum state. Twice it was devastated by fire, and by the turn of thecentury, it had been reduced to a backwater village of decaying buildings.

But the town had residents with vision who understood the importance ofpreserving their history. Restoration began in 1913, when the Daughters of theAmerican Revolution took an interest in The Old Tavern, now the centerpiece oftown but at the time so dilapidated it was slated to be torn down. In 1923,the state bought the old building, and two years later, after extensiverenovation, it looked like it had in 1834 and was again serving family-stylemeals as it did to travelers on the Santa Fe Trail.

Townspeople hoped to continue restoration by buying other originalbuildings, but money wasn't available at the time, says Turley, whosehusband's family had donated land for the town a century earlier. TheDepression and then World War II put a halt to restoration, but "by the late1950s we knew something major had to be done. If our town disappeared, ourhistory would go with it."

She and others formed Friends of Arrow Rock, a group with now more than1,000 members from all over the country. They held an auction in 1960 and,with the $1,960 in proceeds, bought the Old Courthouse. The tiny building,logs covered with walnut clapboard, was restored to its prime and now is opento visitors.

For 17 years auctions were held to raise money for restoration, and asuccession of buildings bear the results, among these the IOOF Lodge Hall,built in 1868 and rented to the Saline County Herald, the town's firstnewspaper. Now the building houses the Pioneer Press Museum, where CordellTindall, a reporter and editor for the Missouri Ruralist for 40 years,demonstrates early presses to visitors.

One of Friends of Arrow Rock's best efforts was the creation of the Lyceum.In 1961, two local couples bought the then-vacant Baptist Church and decidedit was the perfect place to start a repertory company. The Lyceum, now one ofthe town's main attractions, has earned a national reputation for qualityproductions and auditions nationally. Attendance now averages 35,000 a year.

To mark its 40th year, the Lyceum has scheduled its longest season to date,running from June 2 through Oct. 22. Patrons were asked to vote for the showsthey've enjoyed most over the years, and the favorites are being performedthis season. Among them: "Fiddler on the Roof," "Joseph and the AmazingTechnicolor Dreamcoat," "Cabaret," "The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas" and"One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest." Performances take place Wednesday throughSaturday evenings, with matinees Wednesday, Thursday, Saturday and Sunday.(For information and reservations, call the box office at 660-837-3311.)

Another must-see, in a 169-acre park just south of town, is the $1.2million visitors center, which opened in 1991to "interpret" the historic town,the trails west and Boone's Lick Country. In addition to its many exhibits,the center offers walking tours of the town that visit 11 restored buildings-- the Bingham House, Sappington Museum and a Victorian home, among others.

The National Park Service designated Arrow Rock a National HistoricLandmark in 1963, and the state followed with a historic site designation in1976.

Corinne Jackson and her sister Buena Stolberg, former president of theHistoric Arrow Rock Council, moved here permanently in the 1970s from St.Louis, where they both had taught school.

"We came out here after retiring to help preserve this unique town we'dvisited many times," Jackson said. "History is what the town has to sell, sowe're doing all we can to maintain it in its authenticity."

But, as her sister noted, "This is a living community, not a museum, so wemust make some concessions to the 20th Century -- we wouldn't want to livewithout running water or electricity. But we want to preserve what's left ofan era that has passed from the American scene, to keep it alive. We're proudto have been part of this, and like most others in town, we welcome visitors.We want to share what we have."

IF YOU GO

GETTING THERE

Arrow Rock lies a little more than halfway between St. Louis and KansasCity. From Chicago take Interstate Highway 55 to St. Louis, then InterstateHighway 70 west to Missouri Highway 41, near Boonville. Drive 13 miles northto the town.

BED-AND-BREAKFASTS

There are seven in town, most in renovated homes. For information onBorgman's, Cedar Grove, Down/Over, Kusgen Farms, Miss Nelle's, The KeepingHouse and Westward Trails, contact the Arrow Rock Area Merchants Association(see phone and Web site below).

DINING

Only one restaurant, Grandma D's Cafe, is open year-round. The Old Tavernis open on weekends from spring through December, and on theater dates. TheOld Schoolhouse Cafe serves breakfast and lunch on weekdays and Saturdays fromMemorial Day through Labor Day. Ye Old Ice Cream Shoppe serves sandwiches,soups and salads full-time from April through October, and on weekends therest of the year. The Country Store offers snacks and sandwiches. EvergreenRestaurant is open on theater dates and every Friday and Saturday night.

SHOPS

The town has six antique shops with an intriguing diversity of items forsale. The shops include Arrow Rock Craft Shop, with items made by localartisans; The Country Store (once owned by Jackson and Stolberg) wherecrystal, educational toys and games, and books are sold; and the House of MaryB for handmade items such as baskets and dolls.

HISTORIC SITES

The state historic site, museum and park (all handicapped accessible) areopen daily from March through November. Call for winter opening dates at660-837-3330. The park includes a campground, with sites available on afirst-come basis; fees are $6 for primitive sites, $12 with electrical hookup;senior and handicapped rates are offered.

INFORMATION

Arrow Rock Area Merchants Association, 660-846-3031; www.arrowrock.org.

P.S.

Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times
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