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Unexpected Treasures

Southeast Missouri shares its
stories of cotton, French colonial and Civil War history.
By Rebecca French Smith

Up through Missouri’s Bootheel, Interstate 55 shoots across a steady stream of farmland on its path toward St. Louis, but if you clip along at its 70-mile-per-hour pace, you’ll miss the charm that trickles down the southeastern edge of Missouri.

historic site

Above: The Felix Vallé House State Historic Site in Ste. Genevieve often hosts living history programs. Missouri Tourism photo

Below: Downtown Cape Girardeau with Bill Emerson Memorial Bridge. Missouri Tourism photo

Cape Girardeau

Just off of I-55, the Great River Road traces the edge of the state along the river. It’s a collection of highways that stretches from Louisiana to Minnesota, and one particular section between Sikeston and Ste. Genevieve is rich in cotton, Civil War history, antiques, and French colonial treasures.

Cotton Country

Approximately 80 miles from northeast Arkansas at the Arkansas-Missouri border, Sikeston straddles the line between Scott and New Madrid counties, perched above the Bootheel on the cusp of cotton country in Missouri. The volume at which cotton is produced in the four counties that comprise the Bootheel ranks Missouri seventh in the country for this commodity. Exploring Sikeston reveals an interesting tale if you know where to look. An agricultural and historical gem is a few miles outside the city limits. The Southeast Missouri Agriculture Museum & Granny’s Antiques is surrounded by a village that includes authentic Missouri log cabins (circa 1880), a replica church, and schoolhouse. While the shop and museum aren’t open daily, a phone call to the museum in advance will usually secure an appointment, and a guided tour is recommended.

Save your appetite for dinner at Lambert’s Café, The Only Home of Throwed Rolls. The restaurant lives up to its motto: If you come hungry, you will leave full. And they do throw the rolls to you, although they will hand them to you if you prefer. Make sure you’ve got cash or a checkbook on hand to pay your bill because they don’t take credit or debit cards.

Visit in August and you can catch the Sikeston Jaycee Bootheel Rodeo, one of the country’s largest. The rodeo, which will be Aug. 7−10, also includes national country music artists in concert.

As you leave Sikeston, take the Great River Road/Highway 61 north toward Cape Girardeau. Flat cropland gives way to gently rolling hills along the river. As the day draws to an end, AAA Three Diamond Drury Suites or Holiday Inn Express in Cape Girardeau are just off the highway and provide easy access to the next day’s leg of your trip.

Cajun Cousins

In Cape Girardeau, start the day with an early self-guided tour of Fort D. One of four forts that protected the city during the Civil War, it is the only one that remains. Earthwork embankments are still visible and display panels tell the fort’s dramatic tale and introduce you to the personalities that played a role in the life of the fort during the war. Living history demonstrations this summer include Fort D Days during Memorial Day weekend, a Fourth of July celebration, and a Labor Day event.

Additionally, the Cape Girardeau Convention and Visitors Bureau offers a driving tour of Civil War historic sites in the city. Stops on the driving tour include the Confederate War Memorial on the grounds of the Common Pleas Courthouse and the sites of the other three forts that defended the city.

Head downtown to the floodwall that’s also a work of art. It features 24 larger-than-life murals that depict the area’s history. On the east side of the wall, beautiful views of the water and the Bill Emerson Memorial Bridge can be had along the river walk.

To the west of the wall, lunch at Broussard’s Cajun Cuisine is a perfect introduction to the French heritage of the region. The restaurant has a Bourbon Street feel, and the shrimp étouffée is just the right combination of creamy and kick.

After lunch, a short detour en route to Ste. Genevieve reveals another treasure nestled off Highway 177 about 11 miles north of Cape Girardeau: Trail of Tears State Park. Named for the tragic journey of the Cherokee from North Carolina through Missouri to Oklahoma in 1838–39, the park is the epitome of the ridges, valleys, dense wooded areas, and marvelous views for which the southern Missouri hills are known.

After spending an afternoon along the river, lodging for the night is an hour away in the heart of French Colonial Ste. Genevieve. Built in the mid- to late-1700s, both the Inn St. Gemme Beauvais Bed & Breakfast and the Southern Hotel are in the National Historic Landmark District where the steeple of the Church of Ste. Genevieve towers above the rooftops and watches over the time-honored streets.

French Colonial Missouri

Ste. Genevieve, founded in the late 1740s, was originally a French community inhabited largely by French-Canadians. Today, French influence is seen in the names of businesses, streets, and on houses with a history. Examples of French colonial architecture are outstanding.

Several historical homes are open for tours, but perhaps the most well-known are the Bolduc House Museum, a National Historic Landmark, and the Felix Vallé House State Historic Site. The Bolduc House, circa 1792, was built in poteaux-sur-sole style construction. A rare form of architecture today, it utilizes vertical-log orientation, in which the exterior wall logs sit on a sill in the ground. Another similar form of architecture in the area, poteaux-en-terre, places the logs directly into the ground.

The 1818 Federal-style Felix Vallé House State Historic Site is representative of the American influence in the area. The site encompasses several buildings, including the Bauvais-Amoureux House, which is one of three poteaux-en-terre homes in Ste. Genevieve; only five exist in North America.

The residents of Ste. Genevieve take pride in their gardens as well, and if you’re fortunate enough to visit May 18 and 19, the Annual Spring Garden Walk features tours of several private gardens in the city.

In addition to the garden tours, antique stores throughout the historical district provide a rich landscape for an antique lover’s treasure hunt. In between shops, stop in for lunch at Big Field Café for some andouille sausage and chicken gumbo if it’s on special, or at the Anvil Restaurant and Saloon (AAA Two Diamonds), which is famous for its onion rings.

An interesting activity also links visitors to more French history. Take a ferry ride across the Mississippi to see historical Fort de Chartres in southern Illinois. The Ste. Genevieve Modoc River Ferry typically runs from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. Mondays–Saturdays during the summer, but because of ever-changing river levels, check at the Welcome Center on South Main Street to see if this ferry trip is a possibility.

From cotton to cuisine to French colonial heritage, the charm of these places and the people who live here make you wish you had more time to spend in southeastern Missouri.

Rebecca French Smith is a contributor from Columbia, Mo.

May/Jun 2013 Issue


For more information, contact:

Sikeston Convention and Visitors Bureau,
(888) 309-6591,

Cape Girardeau Convention and Visitors Bureau,
(800) 777-0068,

Ste. Genevieve Department of Tourism, (800) 373-7007,

To visit southeastern Missouri, first stop by your nearest AAA service office for maps, reservations, TripTiks® and TourBook® guides.

Order free information about Missouri through the Free Travel Information Card, found online.

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