Jefferson City, MO
A small bluff overlooks the Missouri River, almost inviting tourists to pause and catch a glimpse of history at Jefferson Landing in Jefferson City, Missouri. Lewis and Clark pressed westward past this bluff 200 years ago. Today, the Jefferson Landing State Historic Site is one of a handful of 19th-century Missouri River landings still remaining. Central to the site is the Lohman Building, a stone structure built in 1839. Functioning as a general store, hotel, warehouse, tavern and telegraph office at various times, this building was the heart and soul of the embryonic community. Exploring it is one of the best things to do in Jefferson City.
Next door stands the Missouri State Capitol. A 45-minute tour focuses on both the history and décor of the dramatic domed building. Highlighting these elements is Thomas Hart Benton’s mural, “A Social History of Missouri,” which includes slaves, outlaw Jesse James and politicians among its depictions of hundreds of by-gone Missouri icons. A distinct attraction on the capitol’s first floor is the Missouri State Museum. This repository of 93,000 artifacts is a must-see opportunity for any history buffs visiting Jefferson City. Of particular interest is the museum’s collection of Civil War battle flags for the state of Missouri.
Touring the decommissioned Missouri State Penitentiary, now a museum not far from the capitol, is one of the more unusual things to do in Jefferson City. The prison, which opened in 1836, later housed such infamous felons as Depression-era gangster “Pretty Boy” Floyd and James Earl Ray, the man who assassinated Martin Luther King Jr. During the Walking History Tour, guests explore the gas chamber and dungeon cells, as well as other sobering points of interest.
Summer tourists visiting Jefferson City may wonder why so many kayaks and canoes pepper the Missouri River. The answer might be one of two annual river races. The MR340, which covers the 340 miles of the Missouri River from Kansas City to Saint Charles, is the larger of the two. Boaters have 88 hours to complete the course. The other race, billing itself as “the unofficial ‘Prelim’ to the MR340,” is the Missouri River Freedom Race. Entrants in this 63-mile race glide from Lamine to Jefferson City. Among the elements that challenge competitors are waves generated by commercial river traffic, temperatures that often top 100 degrees and the ever-present threat of thunderstorms.
Cultural opportunities such as live theater and visual arts round out the tourist experience in Jefferson City. Organized in 1991, the Capital City Players serve up a bit of Broadway with your meal. Past dinner theater offerings include contemporary productions, such as “Forever Plaid” and “Baby,” as well as mainstream and traditional hits, like “Footloose” and “West Side Story.” The theatrical company also organizes Shakespeare in the Park every year. The Capital Arts Gallery, which opened in 2009, features the work of local artists and sponsors a chalk art contest on the concrete sidewalks of downtown Jefferson City.