One cannot travel any road in America or Canada without running into some sort of historical site, monument or building. That is part of the fun of a back road adventure. Our country of 2017 is defined in great part by the history of the country dating back to the 1600s (and earlier if you count the Native Americans).
Dotting the roads of America are historical markers that tell about events that occurred in that exact location or nearby. There are literally 1000s of these. In the eastern US many of them are about Civil War incidents while in the west many are related to Indian Wars, Lewis and Clark or pioneers. They are often interesting to stop and read. As a History/Geography major in college, I have found these to be a sort of “roadside wikipedia.”
When traveling through the heart of the country, one can come across a myriad of monuments and historical sites dedicated to Meriwether Lewis and William Clark…better known as just Lewis Clark. From May 1804 to September 1806, these two, accompanied by 29 or 30 others, in what was named by then President Thomas Jefferson as the “Corps of Discovery.” They left Camp Dubois (near St. Louis) and ventured westward to the Pacific Coast. In my travels I have come across dozens of monuments, plaques, museums and other places all dedicated to or referencing this amazing expedition. Their pioneer spirit has always amazed me.
Of course, after them went the pioneers. There were those who followed the Oregon Trail. Others, chiefly the Mormons, forged their own trail, now called the Mormon trail. In the south there was the famed Santa Fe Trail. Then, along the way there were other smaller, lesser known trails, such as the Oyate Trail in South Dakota, and others. Travel the roads that follow these trails and an abundance of unique history can be seen. As a member of the LDS Church (Mormon) I have been able to visit many church historical sites.
Across a good portion of the southeast and all the way into Ohio and Pennsylvania, one will come across a plethora of Civil War related monuments, historical sites and otherwise. Many sites have annual Civil War reenactments.
The big parks such as Vicksburg and Gettysburg are huge and have a ton of history. But there are smaller ones, such as Perryville Battlefield in Kentucky that are unique in their historic perspective.
In the far eastern parts of the United States one comes across places like the Jamestown Settlement and Williamsburg. There are many others.
For fun, many cities have the “Birthplace of …” signs when you enter their small towns. These could be famous actors, historical figures or athletes. Typically there are monuments or statues. I have come across many of these. They are always a fun little side adventure.
I have come across many of these over the years. Its always fun to “discover” the birthplaces. (Ironically, Lucille Ball was born in Jamestown, NY…not the same as Jamestown, VA which I posted above.) Some of the “birthplaces” are a bit on the corny side.
Then, of course, there are the historical buildings. Hundreds of unique courthouses and their fascinating architecture can be seen in diverse little towns and counties. There are old churches large and small. And many long forgotten dilapidated old buildings. All of them tell some sort of story about the place.
I have visited dozens of courthouses around the country. I love the old architecture. I have some favorites. Some are more interesting than others. I have added a few below.
Finally, there are the many “oddball” or “quirky” historical sites and objects. One never knows what they will run into in a small town. A quaint historical museum? An oddball monument? A unique cemetery?
I have had fun discovering historical sites, quirky museums and other fun stuff. Here are a few below.
The final day of our five day whirlwind trip to Nebraska and back began in Columbia, Missouri and took us through St. Louis and then some interesting spots in Illinois along old Route 66 and then eventually home to Lexington. Following is our final day route:
Columbia was a pleasant surprise. A beautiful college town with lots of murals and color and historical buildings, like the administration building for the University of Missouri (shown above). Before we headed down the road towards St. Louis, we took a brief drive around Columbia. Here are a few shots:
We drove by Shakespeare’s Pizza and they have a very unique long painted wall of art on the outside of the shop. Here are a few close-ups of bits of the wall. This wall was painted by Columbia artist Ned Vail and members of some of his art classes.
Besides Shakespeare’s Pizza there were a few other colorful items in town:
New Mexico artist Howard Meehan built Keys to the City in 2010 for the city of Columbia. The 19-foot-tall, 16-foot-wide sculpture, one of 11 Columbia Percent for Art projects, is made of structural steel and placed atop concrete bases holding color-changing LEDs.
From Columbia it was time to head eastward towards St. Louis. I have driven this stretch of Interstate 70 well over a dozen times, so we pressed forward to our next destination – The Butterfly House at the Missouri Botanical Garden in Chesterfield, Missouri’s Faust Park.
In the front seasonal gardens is a giant butterfly sculpture called the Mysterious Monarch, which is a 28-foot tall butterfly created by St. Louis sculptor Bob Cassilly in 1997 and given to the Butterfly House by Rosemary and Joe Shaughnessy in honor of their grandchildren.
The Butterfly House is GREAT and absolutely fascinating. It is well worth a visit, especially if you are with kids. The museum section has a number of kid-friendly exhibits and an extraordinary video presentation about butterflies. But the best part is the tropical conservatory. It has a controlled environment that houses nearly 2,000 tropical butterflies in free flight and a number of unique tropical plants not seen in most locales in the U.S. As many as 80 butterfly species and 150 tropical plant species can be seen. Following are a number of shots we got of butterflies and plants while in the conservatory.
The Blue Morphos is common to South and Central America. The blue only shows when they fly; the underside of their wings is brown with several eyespots.
Just a short walk from the Butterfly House is the St. Louis Carousel, an original carousel created by the Dentzel Company of Philadelphia in the 1920s. The Carousel was installed in 1929 at the Forest Park Highlands. When the Highlands burned to the ground in 1963, the carousel was the only thing left standing. Howard C. Ohlendorf purchased the carousel to prevent it from being dismantled and donated it to St. Louis County Parks in 1965. It is a throwback to the olden days….my grandkids got to enjoy the ride on this old fashioned wonder.
After a few rides on the Carousel, it was back on the road. We headed into St. Louis for a stop at the Brown Shoe Company. This company is the home company for a number of shoe brands (inclduing Famous Footwear, Dr. Scholl’s, Naturalizer, Life Stride and more) , but we were only going to visit to see ONE shoe…..
From the Big Shoe it was on to Downtown St. Louis. All of us were excited to visit the Gateway Arch (no link since the US Government is still shut down as I write this). On the way we made one more stop at a unique, quirky place…The Christman Studio and Sculpture Park and Joe’s Cafe in the Skinker Neighborhood of St. Louis. This is like the birthplace of quirky art and other kitsch.
Bill Christman was trained as an artist, has taught and made art, and has worked for years in the design and production of signs, murals, billboards, exhibits, sculptures, assemblages and theatrical scenery. He’s the Proprietor of Beatnik Bob’s, and the Director of the Museum of Mirth, Mystery, & Mayhem at St. Louis’ Ultra Quirky and OffbeatCity Museum (I wish we had gone there on this trip!!!!!! See more here). He is also the owner of Christman Studios and the Impresario of Thursday Nite Music at Joe’s Café in the Skinker/DeBaliviere Neighborhood.
The studio is apparently closed except on Thursday evenings, but you can at least take a peak through the gates of the back yard. What a menagerie awaits as you gander at all of the goodies behind the fence and around the fence.
Finally, on to downtown St. Louis and the Gateway Arch….
The Gateway Arch in St. Louis is a 630-foot tall (and 630 foot wide) monument and is the tallest man-made monument in the United States. It is also the world’s tallest arch. The Gateway Arch was designed by architect Eero Saarinen and structural engineer Hannskarl Bandel in 1947. Construction began on February 12, 1963, and ended on October 28, 1965,costing US $13 million at the time. The monument opened to the public on June 10, 1967. Currently, the Gateway Arch is one of the most visited tourist attractions in the world with over four million visitors annually,of which around one million travel to the top. I had the opportunity to go to the top in 1997 and what an adventure that was. Here is what I saw back then…
Much of St. Louis has changed over the last 16 years. It is interesting that the photos above were taken on Sept 14, 1997. Our visit this time was on Sept 13, 2013, almost exactly 16 years later.
Our visit this time was on a beautiful sunny day with a few clouds. I got a few shots of the arch closeup and then we were on our way across the Mississippi River.
From the Arch parking we lot we headed down the river and took a drive around the arch to get us back on to Memorial Drive heading north. We then took the Eads Bridge across the river.
We figured there has to be a park on the other side of the river that would give us a view. So, after crossing the Eads Bridge it put us onto Riverpark Dr. in East St. Louis, Illinois. We followed Riverpark Dr. to S. Main St. and took a right. We followed Main to W. Trendley Avenue and took a right. This took us right into Malcolm W. Martin Memorial Park, which offered us a spectacular view of the Gateway Arch and St. Louis. Though we got to see the Arch, we were not there at the right time to see the Gateway Geyser which explodes 8000 gallons of water per minute to a height of 630 feet (the height of the Gateway Arch), which makes it the tallest water fountain in the United States.
After a nice visit to the big city to see the big arch, we veered eastward toward Staunton, Illinois to the famous Henry’s Ra66it Ranch on Old Highway 66.
Henry’s Ra66it Ranch (the 66 is intentional) celebrates Route 66 and the people along the highway with its emporium of highway and trucking memorabilia that includes a collection of Campbell’s Trucklines “Humpin’ to Please” trailers next to a replica of a vintage gas station.
Copper Dock Winery is on Pokey Road and has a 15 foot tall Giant bunch of Copper Grapes, ripe for the picking!! From Pokey we headed NE on I-70 (along the old National Road) towards Vandalia, about a 30 minute drive.
Vandalia is a historical Illinois town. From 1819 to 1839 it served as the state capital of Illinois. And, early on, it was the terminus for the legendary National Road. The road, also known as the “Road That Built the Nation”, was created in 1806 by legislation signed by President Thomas Jefferson. Sometimes called “The Cumberland Road” and “The Old Pike”, it was the only road completely built with federal funds. Originally winding from Cumberland, Maryland to Vandalia, Illinois, the National Road opened Illinois to settlement. Today, the Illinois National Road stretches 164 miles from Marshall to East St. Louis and is mirrored by U.S. Route 40 and Interstate 70. Today the National Road stretches 824 miles.
The Vandalia State House was the fourth Illinois state house (The first (1818-1820) was at Kaskaskia, the state’s first capital. The second (1820-1823), third (1824-1836), and fourth (1836-1839) were at Vandalia.). The present one is the oldest surviving capital building in Illinois. It is significant because of its association with Abraham Lincoln, who served in the House of Representatives at the time.
The “Madonna of the Trail” statues are a series of 12 statues that can be found along the original National Road and now all the way into California. I have only visited one, but they are now on my “To Do” list as I travel to different destinations. They honor the pioneer heritage of the mothers that traveled across the country. The following is from Wikipedia’s article on these monuments.
There is one monument in each of the 12 states along the National Old Trails Highway The monuments in order of dedication are:
Springfield, Ohio—July 4, 1928
Wheeling, West Virginia—July 7, 1928
Council Grove, Kansas—September 7, 1928
Lexington, Missouri—September 17, 1928
Lamar, Colorado—September 24, 1928
Albuquerque, New Mexico—September 27, 1928
Springerville, Arizona—September 29, 1928
Vandalia, Illinois—October 26, 1928
Richmond, Indiana—October 28, 1928
Beallsville, Pennsylvania—December 8, 1928
Upland, California—February 1, 1929
Bethesda, Maryland—April 19, 1929
As of 2005, all 12 monuments are still available for public viewing, although several have been relocated short distances due to highway improvements, etc.
From downtown we made our way to the…..
One of our trip highlights and, significantly, the last stop on our long 5 day trip, is the huge Kaskaskia Fire Breathing Dragon in Vandalia. This monster was the brainchild of Kaskaskia Supply owner Walt Barenfanger. This 35 foot long beast is not only a nice piece of metal art, it is also FIRE BREATHING! Yes, go across the street to the Liquor Store or over to the Kaskaskia Hardware store and get a token for One Dollar, stick it into the self-service coin box and this guy’s eyes light up red and he breathes REAL fire for about 10 seconds!!
Since 2001 the Dragon has been anchored on the corner of Rock Island Ave and Progress Way, just off of US 40/Veteran’s Avenue. (see complete details at Roadside America).
And thus the five day Midwest Adventure comes to a close as my daughter, three grandchildren and I make our way back to Lexington. I did get tired, so I thought I would let my little Lyla drive the rest of the way home. What a great trip this was!!
Some roadside assistance provided by our friends at……
A couple of days ago I was informed I have an opportunity for some work in Idaho, and possibly full time employment. They want me to come out for two weeks and suggested I drive out instead of fly, especially since they know I love to do that. So, today (March 8) I drove 848 miles over a 15 1/2 hour stretch, finally arriving in Savage, MN for the night. Following is the map of the trip:
I left Lexington at about 6 AM and just drove straight through Indianapolis and eventually made my way to Advance, IN. This is a small town located in Boone County. I went there because of the name.
Advance is a small town of about 500 people. Originally platted in 1820 and named Osceola, but, since there was already a town with that name in Indiana, the name of Advance was chosen “in anticipation of the advancement which the coming of the Midland Railway would bring to the community.”
Advance Water Tower
Perhaps the funniest thing for me was the bank in town. The State Bank of Advance is perhaps the funniest name for a bank since my visit to Tightwad Bank in Missouri.
From Advance I moved into Illinois. I first made a stop at the Salt Kettle Rest Area. Typically I don’t comment on Rest Areas, but I got a kick out of the name:
Apparently, there were pioneer salt mines nearby and thus the name. From the rest area, I took a quick drive to get a shot of the Possum Trot Supper Club. Once again, I thought it was a unique name. It really didn’t look like much from the outside….
From Oakwood, I drove by Bloomington and then was a few miles from Normal…(what else is new – never quite normal…). As you drive towards Peoria out of Bloomington/Normal I headed north towards Davenport, IA.
One of those “Roadside Attractions” was in a park in town…a giant Mother Goose…
From Davenport I headed west towards Iowa City and into Walcott, which is home to the Iowa 80 Truck Stop, which claims to be the biggest truck stop in the world…and it is really big!!
From Walcott I continued west and then north thru Cedar Rapids and Waterloo. I then made my way north on US 218 towards Charles City, where I came upon the Charles City Wind Farm which has 38 turbines. It was right at sunset as I passed by so I got the shot at the top of the page and the one below as well.
Just north of there was Floyd, IA, my last stop in Iowa for fuel. I stopped in the small town of about 300 at a unique truck stop that had a “Floyd Bear” and a wagon wheel.