By Bill Beggs Jr.
Folks buzzing east or west along Interstate 70 at mile marker 89 may have no idea the past awaits them just three miles north on Hwy. K in Blackwater, Mo., or that fine theater may be enjoyed only nine miles farther north at the Lyceum in Arrow Rock.
The railroad connecting Kansas City and Jefferson City was cause for Blackwater’s founding in 1887 and the town, though small, thrived until modern highways made travel easier for work and shopping. Although by 1990 the town was in a shambles, residents banded together and brought Blackwater back to life. Old-fashioned street lamps were donated and volunteers lay brick sidewalks. Shops moved in, and tender loving care has made the town an intriguing visit for the day, maybe including an overnight at Iron Horse Hotel, reminiscent of the glory days of the railroad barons, pressed tin ceiling and all. (And Chef Tracy will prepare a menu especially for your event: 660.846.2011.) Now the town is listed on the National Register of Historic Places and is a great spot to (harmlessly) derail for the day, whether to stroll for sightseeing, antiques, shopping or more. There’s the vintage calaboose, a city jail cell built in 1902 by the town blacksmith. A replica of the 1887 Missouri Pacific depot serves as a community center and is available to rent for your meeting or event (660.846.4411). Chouteau Gardens is a pocket flower garden inside brick walls, featuring a fountain and mural, perfect for rest and reflection. And there’s West End Theatre, which produces plays written and directed by Jay Turley. You can find out more the new-fashioned way: Fire up your computer and visit blackwatermissouri.weebly. com, or check out Blackwater on Facebook (there’s a link on the webpage).
Next stop, via Mo. 41 north, is Arrow Rock, home to J. Huston’s, the oldest operating restaurant in Missouri. It served as a popular rest stop for immigrants traveling west in the 1800s and nowadays they serve some of the best fried chicken in the state. Once a bustling river town, Arrow Rock is now a serene village on the bluffs that’s altogether a state historic site noted for its association with westward expansion along the Santa Fe Trail and 19th-century artist George Caleb Bingham, legendary for his paintings of river life and politics. Here also is Lyceum Theatre, which for 50 years has produced Broadway-caliber dramas, musicals and comedies. Performers, directors, designers and techs take up residence for five months in the village, preparing for and putting on a summer season in a renovated, 408-seat Baptist church built in 1872. The next show is an April 21 production of Under the Streetlamp, featuring former leading cast members of Jersey Boys. (Visit lyceumtheatre.org for details on the summer season and annual winter production of Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol.) A fascinating virtual walking tour can be found at arrowrock.org/walkingtour.php. Or for more village information, call 660.837.3231. You can also visit The Village Of Arrow Rock on Facebook.
Sure, you could do both Blackwater and Arrow Rock in a single day but with historic lodgings in both hamlets—five B&B choices in and near Arrow Rock alone—you’d be cheating yourself if you didn’t make plans to hang around for just a little longer.
Bill Beggs Jr. is a freelance contributor from St. Louis