Archives for posts with tag: Mississippi River

Traveling has always been more than just a drive to get somewhere in my life.  Looking for the details was something my parents taught us, making sure we saw all the sides of the places we visited.  When I went to Europe for the first time in high school, I was surrounded by buildings that have endured for centuries, changing uses dozens of times.

Coming from one of our newest states, where progress meant constantly moving forward and not looking back, it took the Historic Preservation efforts of the 1980s to make community leaders stop and see the value there was in the Main Streets and the historic homes.  There was money to be had in the tourist trade and civic pride to be boosted in the salvation of buildings of various architectural trends through the years.  These structures and neighborhoods became works of art to be treasured for future generations.

About 1985 or so, I attended a preservation conference that forever changed the way I looked at towns and cities I visited, especially the city I live in and the surrounding towns.  Neighborhoods that had been decaying suddenly became trendy and adventuresome investors began restoring and updating old oil mansions around town.  The payoff was immediate as property values rose and visitors responded well.  Once, just a few years ago, I was driving an international guest through town, watching him gape at the number of beautiful homes in the older neighborhoods.  We came to a neighborhood shopping area with restaurants and shops in the old storefronts and he beamed…until he saw the section where someone had decided to “modernize,”  making it just another city in his eyes.   I understood because I feel the same way when I visit another city.

But, preservation isn’t always easy.  How do you save a town that let it all go for too long?  A couple of weeks ago, we detoured off the road to visit Cairo, Illinois.  This town sits where the great Ohio and Mississippi Rivers meet, an important location in our country’s history.  This should be bustling with tourists and historians learning about the commerce that flourished in that important time when the riverboats ruled the waterways.  Way back, money was diverted from other river communities to build levees in Cairo due to its importance so it wouldn’t be flooded and lost.

Instead, history and man dealt Cairo severe blows with racial tensions and changes in the use of the rivers and the building of the highways that went around the town.  It has become not even a shadow of its former glory.  And, yet, there are those who would like to restore it, an uphill struggle of epic proportions.

We came in under the bridge…DSC_0314…and headed along the main street.  Under a lovely sign declaring the Cairo Historic District, there was only this to be seen.DSC_0316 DSC_0317There was a beautiful old custom house, library and courthouse we’d driven by.DSC_0325A fading sign on a building gave a glimpse of advertising back then.DSC_0318Driving around the residential areas was dismal to one who loves to imagine the old homes bustling with life.DSC_0322I’m not sure I’ve seen such a stretch of sadness.DSC_0319A town that is being reclaimed by nature.DSC_0320Where would you begin?DSC_0321But, another sign had proclaimed an historic neighborhood district and we found a lovely park and a couple of restored mansions that could be toured.DSC_0338And admired…DSC_0328These are on a lovely brick, divided boulevard with a few other homes in various states of livability.  Grass grows through the bricks in different lengths.DSC_0334I salute those who are doing their best to preserve what’s left and I mourn for what the town might and should have been.  Our history is fragile and preservation is important.  We learn from where we were, where we are, and where we’re going.  At the conference I attended so long ago, a statement that stuck with me was the difference in a shopping mall that springs into existence and a downtown that has evolved through its history, showing all the difference eras through its architecture.

Here’s to those who fight to preserve and to make others aware.  It’s worth the battle.

Road trips teach you so much about the country you travel, letting you enjoy the scenery and absorb the flavors of the communities you pass through.  I always think of the first people to explore these areas and what they saw, the thick woods, the flowing rivers, the mountains and plains, pure in their abundance, beautiful in their vistas, frightening in their scope.  What courage, or ignorance, they brought on their journeys.

My recent trip through Missouri was full of summer beauty from the Ozarks to the Mississippi.  Missouri borders my home state of Oklahoma and neighboring Arkansas, so the scenery is familiar to me, but recent rains and the July bounty made it a lush vista to view as we traveled through.

First stop was in Springfield, a wonderful city where I saw this sign that seemed so perfect for the area…DSC_0008…and ate a delicious steakburger and fries in this landmark stop.DSC_0012Leaving the interstates, which is the best way to explore and enjoy, it was mowing time and the hay bales, now round instead of the familiar rectangles, gave a somewhat festive design to fields we passed…DSC_0017…and even the medians.DSC_0033We stopped in Fulton to visit the campus of Westminster College, where two of my children graduated.  The Winston Churchill Memorial, where Winston Churchill gave his famous Iron Curtain speech now is the home of a piece of the Berlin Wall, repurposed into a sculpture by Churchill’s granddaughter and a Christopher Wren designed chapel.  The church bells chimed and I smiled at how that wakes the students across the campus early in the morning.DSC_0020DSC_0022I walked up the hill to the columns which my daughter and son both walked through twice, as they entered as Freshmen and as they graduated, a Westminster tradition.  I’m not sure what it is about columns on Missouri campuses, as there is a similar set on the campus of the University of Missouri, 25 miles away.DSC_0030Heading north to Hannibal, we left the southern Missouri Ozark regions and headed into the agricultural fields nurtured by the Missouri and Mississippi Rivers.  It’s almost harvest time and the corn was high, rippling off into the horizons to the rolling hills beyond.  Soybeans were the other crop we saw bursting in the fields.DSC_0036
DSC_0038In Hannibal, we traveled the Mississippi by riverboat, feeling the pull of the river’s strength and its ability to lull you along on a summer day.  Eagles rested in trees… DSC_0105…and barges were pushed along by trusty boats like the Sir Randall with its two-man crew.DSC_0114Signs of times gone by when the frozen river was cut up and the ice stored in straw until summer when it could be used for ice cream.DSC_0095We left Hannibal for St. Louis, choosing to travel the road along the river.DSC_0172This route took us along the river for beautiful scenic outlooks, starting with Lovers Leap which showed the layers of the bluffs along the river…DSC_0139…and gave us lovely views of the river’s twists and turns.DSC_0162Far below us in our view of the swollen river, we spotted a bit of a town and a cemetery that seems to have survived the rages of the river.DSC_0159The reality of living along the river was apparent when we explored the town of Clarksville…DSC_0182which boasts that you can touch the Mississippi there.  I did put my feet in, but the river was high as evidenced by the sandbagging that lined the streets closest to the water.DSC_0184The richness of the soil was shown as the road took us once again into the rich farmlands with corn stretching as far as we could see.DSC_0166 DSC_0164We came around a bend and spotted this house, deserted and surrounded by corn.DSC_0178A road took us into the cornfield for a closer look at the other side with an overgrown yard of flowers.DSC_0173Across the road was this once beautiful home.DSC_0175I wonder what stories these two places, surrounded by the corn, could tell.DSC_0177We reached St. Louis, where stories of history awaited.DSC_0343On our way home, we stopped by a roadside stand, back in the Ozarks of Missouri and bought some of the summer fare to take home and enjoy a Missouri meal.  We grow all these things in Oklahoma, too, but it was a nice finish to our short trip through Missouri, where we were treated like the neighbors we are.IMG_4985Happy summer travels!DSC_0054

It’s hard for me to believe that I’d never spent much time in St. Louis since I’ve been by, through or around it many times, so I stopped for a quick day there, studying up on the history and geography of the city as I traveled.  First, you have to see the Arch, gateway to the West.  What a great structure, simple and pure in its message.  I’m so glad it’s surrounded by a park and all the museum, gift shop, ticketing, etc is located underground.   DSC_0220You approach the arch and look out to the Mississippi River.DSC_0192Entering the pods to go to the top of the arch is like being in a sci-fi movie…DSC_0199…but the view from the top is 30 miles in each direction.DSC_0205The arch is glorious in all lights and weather.DSC_0190The history of St. Louis is intertwined with the expansion of our country west with the Mississippi River an important part.DSC_0223From the old LaClere’s Landing, the neighborhoods expand westward, each a piece in the map of history.  The Hill had been recommended to us as a “must go to” place for Italian food.  This area developed around the Italian immigrants who mined the hills.DSC_0231  Today it is a wonderful neighborhood of extreme pride and an Italian restaurant on just about every block, sometimes on every corner of an intersection.  DSC_0234I tried to find out which ones were the best and they all got great reviews.  We settled on this one for a lunch of toasted ravioli, a local favorite.IMG_4978IMG_4979Yummy!  We left the neighborhood with its Bocce ClubDSC_0232and drove around the city with all its diversity.  There are the French homes around Lafayette SquareDSC_0240and brick homes around the city that matched my image of St. Louis from before I arrived.  Downtown is the wonderful old train station, now a hotel…DSC_0227and the beautiful areas around the University of St. Louis where this old standpipe at the Compton Hill Reservoir rose above us as we drove.DSC_0238Driving around, there were so many signs of the city that tell some of its story, like this one from the days when it was sometimes referred to as Mound City for the many ancient Native American mounds in the area,DSC_0260or this old bath house.  We know there were at least six of them.DSC_0253Or this Farmer’s Market sign.  That’s an OLD business…DSC_0274I can’t leave out the food and drink that are St. Louis traditions, starting with the beers…DSC_0263with the gargoyles on the building across from the iconic Anheiser Busch structures.DSC_0273 DSC_0272There are Ted Drewe’s famous custard shoppes with frozen custard called the “concrete” because you can turn it upside down and your spoon won’t fall out…DSC_0268and ooey gooey butter cakes.  This one was ranked #1 in St. Louis for the past six years.  I attest to its deliciousness.DSC_0270

Crown Candy is famous for its Heart Stopping BLT along with its candies.  I went in but didn’t eat anything.  An old soda shop that brings lines every day.DSC_0247We ate some St. Louis BarBQue in the old industrial area.  Their most popular item was Snoots (pig snouts).  While I stood there, every call was for snoots.  They’re kind of like pork rinds, crispy.  I figured I HAD to try them.  How bad could they be if everyone was ordering them? They were good.  IMG_4974I passed this bottle sign every day, situated at a busy place near Rams stadium.  I liked everything about it.DSC_0258We ended our day with a baseball game, watching the St. Louis Cardinals.  I’d grown up listening to the games on the radio.  The new stadium is great, easy to get around, the crowd friendly and relaxed.  IMG_4981From the stadium, you can see the Arch, a few blocks away, always framing the city.DSC_0282St Louis is celebrating its 250th birthday this year.  Decorated birthday cakes are in front of businesses around town in support of this momentous occasion.  There is so much more to see and do in St. Louis, but I’m happy I got to enjoy the birthday party.  It’s an intriguing, entertaining city.DSC_0250