travel

Book Review: Historic Missouri Roadsides by Bill Hart

This book review is a celebration of sorts of both the Missouri Bicentennial (2021) and National Preservation Month, also known as Historic Preservation Month (May). In Historic Missouri Roadsides, author, historian, and preservationist Bill Hart takes us on a two-lane highway trip through several of Missouri’s small-town destinations, introducing us to, or reacquainting us with, what they have to offer.

Before taking us on the road, Hart breaks down the “how to” of using his book, pointing out that how long each trip takes to complete is, in fact, up to the traveler. Each stop along two-lane Missouri includes basic historical information about the place, suggestions for where to eat and stay, as well as for where to visit and what to do. Hart reminds us that these trips are meant to be leisurely rather than a race from point A to point B: “Chill. You’re not traveling on two lanes to win any races […].”

These adventures are arranged neatly into six road trips: Missouri Highway 79 / The River Road; El Camino Real; Route 100 / Gottfried Duden & the Lewis and Clark Trail; Osage Hills and Prairies; Mostly Route 24; and The Platte Purchase. Each tour begins with a summary about the trip and information about where, exactly, to start, and each town visited within a given tour clearly directs us to the next town. Although it is possible to reach some of these points using freeways, I recommend following Hart’s directions, as exploring what’s along our byways (rather than the sameness of our freeways) is the beauty of venturing out in the first place.

I feel a special kinship with this book as I start to travel about again. It’s a fantastic resource for those of us who wish to start by seeing what the places close to home have to show us. One of my favorite things about this title is that the largest city we’re guided through is St. Joseph, with a current population of about 73,400, give or take, whereas the smallest cities are only in the double digits.

Don’t get me wrong – I love visiting Kansas City, St. Louis, and other larger Missouri cities – but Missouri has much outside of those cities to show us. For example, a 1910 Beaux Arts-style post office in Nevada; the historic Hall of Waters in Excelsior Springs; a theatre in Blackwater, where productions written and directed by a local playwright are featured and locals serve free punch and cake during intermission; and landmark bluffs and other natural sites in tiny towns like Arrow Rock. We may even opt for additional “side trips” that take us into more remote areas of the State, such as Lithium, which, once upon a time, was a Victorian resort town.

Hart touches on the prehistory of Missouri, mentioning which Indian tribes traversed which areas before European American settlement, as well as tells the story of town names and sites that take their name from Native American and early European American history. He also makes mention of conservation areas, national register listings and districts, state parks and historic sites, persons of note, and more.

Not to mention the wonderful photographs, which enhance the stories of these lesser-known Missouri places. Check out the magnificent 1884 Second Empire Federal Courthouse on page 20, the picturesque view from the Fourche à Duclos Roadside Park on page 43, or the Old Dutch Hotel and Tavern’s neon sign in Washington on page 86.

It’s worth mentioning that two editions of this book are published and that the second edition is expanded to include “Destinations,” which are meant as stand-alone places to visit rather than a guided road trip. These destinations include St. Joseph, Glasgow, The Boonslick area, Fulton, Sedalia, and the Arcadia Valley.

As noted in his foreword, this book is “a travel book, a history book, a photography book, and more.” Indeed, it is all that and more. It is an opposition to what Hart describes as “Generica,” or the commodification of place and product. The fast-food chains and big-box stores found along our freeways and in our commercial districts, for example, all of which look the same regardless of locale. Hart encourages us to turn away from Generica for the uniqueness of “what lies right beneath [our] noses here in the Show-Me State.” Not only does he encourage us in this direction, but he literally tells us how to get there.

Happy trails and, as always, happy reading.

By Post Art Library Director Jill Sullivan

Historic Missouri Roadsides by Bill Hart

In his recent title Historic Missouri Roadsides, author Bill Hart takes readers on a journey of Missouri’s two-lane roads and highways. This wonderfully illustrated book is for both the figurative and literal traveler. In addition to beautiful photography, Hart offers facts about each destination, directions, and information about where to eat, stay, visit, and what to do, as well as a few travel tips. Perhaps unique to Hart’s adventure advice is that he does not manage your time, but encourages you “to take your time at every juncture of your trip” so that you may explore and enjoy Missouri’s heritage.  What’s more, all of his listings for food & drink, accommodations, and such are venues that are truly local to the area in which they are found.

The book proper is divided into six tours: Missouri Highway 79 / The River Road; El Camino Real; Route 100 / Gottfried Duden & the Lewis and Clark Trail; Osage Hills and Prairies; Mostly Route 24; and The Platte Purchase. Throughout each tour, Hart expertly covers historic, small-town Missouri. He engages with intriguing histories of towns traveled and captivates with photographic landscapes and streetscapes, ranging from beautiful buildings and homes in current use to structures that have either fallen into serious disrepair or stand vacant.

Although Joplin is not featured in this title, the Osage Hills and Prairies tour winds through Jasper County, beginning in Avilla and passing through Carthage and Jasper before moving on to nearby towns. Carthage’s Boots Motel, a decorative parapet made of “Carthage marble” that crowns a downtown building, and “A Victorian lady of a building” on Maple Street are among the sites photographed in Jasper County. Hart touches on the rich history of Carthage, including the infamous Belle Starr, the lawful Annie Baxter, the Civil War, and more.

Not only is Hart’s Historic Missouri Roadsides an entertainingly educational read for those interested in history and preservation, but its a fantastically fun resource for those who are interested in taking the drive through Missouri’s roadside heritage. To learn more about Missouri author Bill Hart or his recent publication, then visit his website or visit him during his book signing in the Post Art Library, 300 S Main St, Joplin, MO, on Saturday, September 19, 2015, from 4pm-6pm.

Carthage 13 Boots Edited

The photograph above shows the Boots Motel in Carthage, Missouri. It’s but one of numerous buildings depicted in Historic Missouri Roadsides. (Photograph courtesy of the author, Bill Hart.)

About the Author:
Bill Hart grew up in Perry County in southeast Missouri. His interest in small town and roadside Missouri was fostered by his work for the past several years with the Missouri Alliance for Historic Preservation (Missouri Preservation), where he currently serves as executive director. He holds a degree in Historic Preservation from Southeast Missouri State University and did his graduate coursework in Architectural History at the Savannah College of Art and Design in Georgia. Bill is particularly interested in vanishing Missouri building types, including roadside and countryside. He was one of the founders of the Missouri Barn Alliance and Rural Network (Mo BARN), advocating for documentation and preservation of Missouri’s historic farmsteads.