6 St. Louis Spots History Lovers Shouldn’t Miss

A lot of visitors to St. Louis may catch a Cardinals game, take in the world-class zoo, or ride to the top of the St. Louis Arch. But after Andrew took a look at the history of St. Louis in some recent programs, we decided to delve a little deeper and bring you some of the best spots for history buffs to visit in The Gateway to the West.

Forest Park

360px-Forest_Park,_St_LouisYou’d never know it to look now, but the vast expanse of green in St. Louis was a bustling city for a while in 1904. Forest Park was home to the 1904 World’s Fair, which included 12 temporary exhibition palaces and one permanent building known collectively as the “Ivory City.” Today, you can still see that permanent structure when you visit the St. Louis Art Museum, which it houses. Park volunteers even lead visitors on a “Then and Now” tour that takes a look at some of the park’s extensive history. And Civil War buffs will find several statues and memorials of interest to them, as well.

 

Missouri_Botanical_Garden_-_Seiwa-enMissouri Botanical Garden
The Botanical Garden is an oasis in the city, and is one of the oldest botanical institutions in the United States. History buffs will also be interested to know that it’s a National Historic Landmark. The garden was established in 1859, and covers nearly 80 acres within St. Louis. It includes a wide variety of gardens — including a recreation of an English Woodland Garden, and a Japanese Garden with lawns and a walking path around a central lake. Its Climatron dome also houses a simulated rainforest.

 

 

Cahokia Mounds

Monks_Mound_in_JulyBefore the great city of St. Louis sprang up — even before Columbus the Americas — another great city dominated the Midwest. Today, visitors can see what’s left of that city and learn about its history at the Cahokia Mounds State Historic Site, just across the Mississippi River from St. Louis in Illinois. Archaeologists believe Cahokia was actually larger than London in 1250, and was the biggest city in the Americas north of Mexico. Today, you can learn about the impressive infrastructure that helped make such a large city possible, and find out more about the people who lived there.

 

800px-Lacledeslanding2640Laclede’s Landing
St. Louis locals know Laclede’s Landing primarily as a home for the city’s nightlife. But during the day, when the area is less crowded, the brick-paved streets tell the story of St. Louis history. French merchant Pierre Laclede Leguest landed in the area as he looked for a spot to build a trading post in 1763. That trading post eventually grew into the city of St. Louis. Today, history buffs can use their smartphones to follow along with a free walking tour that points out historical and architectural highlights of the area.

 

Jefferson National Expansion Memorial Park

Screen Shot 2013-11-03 at 12.28.53 PMThe St. Louis Arch gets the glory, but what’s underneath it may be even cooler. The museum beneath the Arch, operated by the National Park Service, examines the history of St. Louis as a “Gateway to the West.” That includes a look at the westward expansion that began in earnest with the Louisiana Purchase and the expedition of Lewis and Clark. For those interested in that world-changing journey, there may be no better place to soak it all in.

 

Screen Shot 2013-11-03 at 12.29.39 PMMissouri Civil War Museum
One of the newest attractions in St. Louis is a Civil War historian’s dream. It’s the Missouri Civil War Museum, located in Historic Jefferson Barracks, the oldest active military installation west of the Mississippi. Both Ulysses S. Grant and Robert E. Lee trained there, making it an ideal home for a museum that examines and honors the men who fought the Civil War. The museum focuses on Missouri’s unique role in the war, as a central battleground over the political question of slavery that helped fuel the war.

Six D.C. Sites to Visit During a Government Shutdown

I was just in the nation’s capital gathering audio for our daily broadcasts.  For tourists, the government shutdown means many of the sites they planned to see are now closed.  However, there is still plenty to see and do in the D.C. area.  Here are my ideas for a great visit to the city.

 

guardsArlington National Cemetery, which is operated by the military, remains open. That means a visit to the Tomb of the Unknowns should be on any visitor’s list of planned activities in Washington. The Changing of the Guard ceremony is held every hour on the hour at this time of year.   You can get more information about a visit to the cemetery at its website. And the cemetery even has a mobile app that allows visitors to locate specific grave sites on the grounds during their visit.

 

220px-The_Octagon_House_-_Washington,_D.C.Two Executive Mansions.  Let’s face it, the chances of you getting inside the White House were slim anyway, so go to Lafayette Park (on the north side of the White House) and enjoy the view.  The last time I was there, I watched the arrival of a visiting head of state.  Just a couple of blocks to the southwest, you can visit the Octagon House, the executive mansion used by President Madison after the British burned Washington in 1814.  The American Institute of Architects owns the building, but call ahead and they can usually give you a tour. And for an added bonus, the Octagon House is supposedly one of the most haunted in the Washington DC area.

 

Screen Shot 2013-10-08 at 10.09.50 AMMt. Vernon is privately owned and still open.  When I spent more time in D.C., I actually had an annual pass to Washington’s home.  I loved to go there and simply walk the grounds.  The home on the Potomac and its museum are great to see anytime of the year.

You might have seen that the parking lots at Mt. Vernon were briefly barricaded by overzealous federal employees, even though the site isn’t owned by the federal government. Mt. Vernon has gone to great pains to make sure everyone knows that was just a fluke — updating their website to include the words “We’re Open!” right on the front of the page.

 

Screen Shot 2013-10-08 at 10.19.11 AMThe International Spy Museum provides a glimpse at the secret world of espionage.  There are lots of artifacts, hand-on displays and you can even play the role of a spy and compete against others in your group to successfully complete your mission.

The museum isn’t just about real-life spies, either. Right now, they have an exhibit called Exquisitely Evil: 50 Years of Bond Villains, where you can learn more about the bad guys who’ve squared off against James Bond on the Silver Screen.

 

Screen Shot 2013-10-08 at 10.24.07 AMAlexandria, Virginia is an easy metro ride from the city.  Get off at King Street station and walk around Old Town.  Many sites in this city are still open.  Log on to get maps for walking tours and hours of these sites.  It’s also a great place to catch lunch or enjoy a nice dinner along the Potomac. The local tourism bureau even has a list of free things to do in Alexandria.

 

10111735546_74f4f01349_qThe main sites are closed but…remember places like the Lincoln and Jefferson Memorials and the Washington Monument are, after all, outdoors.  So while there are fences keeping people from going “inside” the site, you can still get a great view, albeit from a bit farther back.  It’s also a great time to take a bus tour of the city, or a boat tour on the Potomac.  The guides will help fill in the pieces you can’t currently see.

 

Remember, some of these sites do charge admission, others are free, but ALL are open and are worth a visit, even when the government eventually does reopen for business.

The St. Joe Seven: Great Experiences In One of the Midwest’s Most Historic Towns

All this week, The American Countryside is in St. Joseph, Missouri. I’ve been around St. Joe for most of my life and here are seven great things to experience there. I’m betting that even if you live in the area, there are items on this list you need to take time to experience for yourself!

The Pony Express and Jesse James are the two sites for which most people know St. Joe. It’s true, both the James Home and the Pony Express stables are not to be missed, but what many people unfortunately miss is the Patee House Museum. It was the headquarters for the Express and sits adjacent to the James Home. The Patee House is consistently ranked as one of the top museums in the Midwest for its collection of artifacts. It is a real gem.

454x326_sportsRec_3St. Joseph’s Parkway System is too often taken for granted by locals. They may not realize St. Joe was WAY ahead of its time when the 26 mile system was designed in 1918. It’s today on the National Register of Historic Places. You can enjoy a drive, bike or walk along its beautiful winding roads and trails.

Tranquilizer Chair 21000 Places to See Before You Die ranked St. Joe’s Glore Psychiatric Museum among it’s chosen stops. The Glore is very interesting and has plenty of exhibits to explore. HOWEVER, don’t miss out on other museums under the same roof! Part of the St. Joseph Musuem complex, you will find an extensive Native American Artifact collection (all for the same admission price with the Glore) and a current temporary exhibit on Civil War Medicine.

slide08Mt. Mora Cemetery is a fascinating stop. I used to never give any thought to “touring” a cemetery. This one is worth the time. The burial architecture here is not to be missed. The site dates to 1851 and there is an annual cemetery tour held every fall in which “residents” of the cemetery come to life to tell their story (in a respectful and “non-spooky way).

exterior_signBilled as St. Joe’s oldest restaurant, The Old Hoof and Horn has been around since 1896. It sits adjacent to the St. Joe stockyards. While most of the old stockyards are gone (but still operating) the mighty Stock Yards Exchange Building still stands as an icon overlooking the yards and the Hoof and Horn.

chiefs-12The Kansas City Chiefs now call St. Joe home for a few weeks every July and August for their training camp. If you have even a mild interest in sports, it’s worth the time to stop by and see some of the NFL greats and some NFL hopefuls put in their workouts at Missouri Western State University.

index1Along the river you’ll find some great stops as well. Ft. Smith Park is new to visitors, but long on history. The recently uncovered earthworks date to the Civil War. It offers great views of the river and city. Meanwhile, along the banks of the Missouri you’ll find the state-of-the-art Remington Nature Center which is great for young and old alike.

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