Published Sept/Oct 2005

Hop on these Midwestern trollies
for historic and entertaining city tours.
By Patsy Bell Hobson

One of the best ways to get oriented in a new town or vacation spot is to take a trolley tour. These tours make the most of precious vacation time and give a relaxing and often entertaining overview of the town’s history and layout.

In Hannibal, Mo., Atchison and Fort Scott in Kansas, and Eureka Springs, Ark., the trolley depot is the best first stop in town.

Hannibal on wheels

Public transportation has always been part of Hannibal’s charm. First came horse-drawn streetcars, followed by the electric models. Today, Hannibal offers two great orientation choices: the trolley and a sightseeing train.

The Hannibal Trolley Company tours relate Hannibal’s history while offering a majestic view of the mighty Mississippi and glimpses of several historic attractions. Trolley drivers narrate the tour and spin a Mark Twain or Huck Finn yarn or two. Riders meet at the depot at 220 N. Main St. Trolley tickets are: $7.50 for adults, $7 for senior citizens and $4 for children 5–12. For additional information, call (573) 221-1161.

Twainland Express highlights the best of historic Hannibal. The trolley and the “train” (a tram made to look like a little train) have similar routes, though the train tour has a richer historical presentation. Expert guides combine colorful anecdotes, humorous stories, and well-researched historical facts to provide a fun and educational tour. Pick up the tour next to the Mark Twain Dinette (400 N. Third St.). Train tickets are $7.60 for adults, $7.35 for seniors and $5.40 for children 5–16. Family rates are available. Call 1-800-786-5193.

After one of these tours, see Mark Twain’s Boyhood Home (208 Hill St.); the home of his sweetheart Becky Thatcher (211 Hill St.); explore the Mark Twain Cave on state Highway 79; and count all the steps up to an inland lighthouse. Or enjoy coffee or ice cream treats in the park while the mighty Mississippi rolls by. Try Java Jive (211 N. Main St.) for coffee, cappuccino or an espresso. Becky’s Old Fashioned Ice Cream Parlor & Emporium (318 N. Main St.) serves old-fashioned sodas, malts and banana splits.

More substantial meals are served at Lula Belle’s restaurant (111 Bird St.), the old location of the town brothel during the early 1900s.
Atchison’s creepy crawly trolley

There’s no better way to experience the charms of Atchison than from the trolley. Hop aboard at the visitors’ center in the Santa Fe Depot (200 S. 10th St.) and enjoy a 45-minute tour narrated by a friendly, knowledgeable driver.

As the trolley travels along the city’s brick streets, passengers discover the city’s Victorian homes and dramatic views of the Missouri River. The trolley tours depart every hour. Tickets are $4 for adults and $2 for children 4–12 years. For hours or more details, call 1-800-234-1854.

After the trolley tour, stop by Nell Hill’s (501 Commercial) for home decor shopping. Have lunch at Marigold Bakery & Café (715 Commercial) and dine on gourmet soups, fresh sandwiches and just-baked pies. Ball Brothers’ Gift Shop (504 Commercial) offers unique gifts, plus an old-time soda fountain. Make early reservations and stay overnight in Atchison at St. Martin’s Bed & Breakfast (324 Santa Fe St.), then allow yourself to be treated like royalty.

Ride the “Creepy Crawly Trolley” ($8) in September and October to experience what has been called “the most haunted town in Kansas.” The week before Christmas, climb aboard the Trolley Tour of Lights ($5 for adults, $2 for children) and get into the spirit of the holiday season with a tour past the city’s festive Christmas lights and displays. Early reservations are required for the seasonal tours.

Hello, Dolly

Sit back and relax as Dolly the Trolley rolls through Fort Scott’s Historic District. Trolley tours ($5 for adults, $3.50 for children 3–16) begin at the visitor center (231 E. Wall) where there are walking tour maps and brochures.

See the Fort Scott National Historic Site, which dates to the 1840s; the Fort Scott National Cemetery, one of the original designated by President Abraham Lincoln in 1862; many Victorian mansions; and the restored Victorian downtown that’s full of architecturally significant commercial buildings.

Join the costumed “ghost host” for the “Fort Scott: Believe it or Not” tours and ride through the community for a brief encounter with spooky legends and eerie folk tales. Reservations for the popular tour fill up fast. Tours will run Oct. 17–31, Monday–Saturday and are $5.

From Dec. 5–22, join an evening trolley tour of homes and neighborhoods lighted for the holiday season on the “Dolly HollyDay Tours.” Tickets are $5. Call 1-800-245-3678.

After you step off the trolley, stay for the evening in Fort Scott at the Lyons’ Victorian Mansion Bed & Breakfast and Spa (742 S. National). Be sure to make advance reservations at this romantic and popular hideaway.

Several tasty restaurants with good food and good service are right on Main Street, including El Charro’s Mexican Restaurant (22 S. Main) and Main Street Chop House (12 S. Main).

Eureka Springs: “carless” vacation

In the 1890s, Eureka Springs had an electric trolley system. Today, the latest version of mass transit in Eureka Springs is a new fleet of gasoline-powered, open-air trolleys.

There are 101 trolley stops located throughout town, so you are never very far from your destination. Trolleys stop about every 15 or 20 minutes at the front door or near every hotel, motel and bed-and-breakfast in Eureka Springs. All the restaurants and major attractions are near trolley stops. Trolleys and routes are matched up by using colored signs on the trolleys that correspond to color-coded routes.

There are two major ticket centers: the visitor information center (137-A West Van Buren) and the downtown depot (66 S. Main St.). Fares are $4 for adults and $1 for children 7–11 years.

Narrated tours of the downtown historic district are offered through Oct. 30 from the visitor center off state Highway 62 west on trams. Fares are $8.50 for adults, $4 for children 4–12.

Charming and convenient, trolley tours are an asset to a city and a welcome sign to any visitor.

Patsy Bell Hobson is a contributor from Liberty, Mo.

Above: On the Creepy Crawly Trolley tour in Atchison, Kan., is the McInteer Villa, which many believe is haunted. People have reported seeing figures in the windows when no one is home. Jeff Hobson photo

Below: A trolley tour of Hannibal, Mo., stops at such sights as a statue of Mark Twain. Jeff Hobson photo

Before You Go
For more information, contact:

• Hannibal Convention & Visitors Bureau, 1-TOM-AND-HUCK (866-263-4825), www.VisitHannibal.com;

• Atchison Area Chamber of Commerce, 1-800-234-1854, www.atchisonkansas.net;

• Fort Scott Chamber of Commerce, 1-800-245-3678, www.fortscott.com;

• Eureka Springs Advertising and Promotion Commission, 1-866-566-9387, www.eurekasprings.org.

To visit one of these trolley towns, first stop by your nearest AAA service office for maps, reservations, TripTiks and TourBook guides.

Order free information about Arkansas, Kansas and Missouri through the Reader Service Card, found by clicking on reader resources.

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