Town on the mark with tourists

Arrow Rock offers theater, camping and a return to a simpler time
Sunday, June 20, 2004 | 12:00 a.m. CDT; updated 7:06 p.m. CDT, Monday, June 30, 2008

Arrow Rock bustled in the 1800s as a political and economic hot spot in Missouri. It boasted wealthy plantation owners, prominent doctors and Missouri governors.

Today the town, which was once populated by 1,000 people, is inhabited by only 70. A day trip to this place offers visitors a glimpse of what mid-Missouri was like a century ago.

“It’s a great place to get away from traffic and crowds,” said Bill Tucker, owner of Arrow Rock Country Store. “The camping is fantastic and there are lots of activities on the weekends.”

He is originally from the Kansas City area and said that when his daughters were younger, he and his wife would take them to Arrow Rock. He said they would bring picnic lunches, and if the plays were age-appropriate, take them to the Lyceum Theatre.

When walking around Arrow Rock, it’s easy to visualize what it looked like bustling with people years ago. Mike Dickey of the Missouri Department of Natural Resources said the skyline isn’t quite the same as it would have been 130 years ago. Contrary to the evolution of most towns, many of the buildings that are single stories today were once two-stories and most of what is open area today was once packed with houses and buildings.

“A big fire in 1872 leveled much of the business district, but it was mostly rebuilt,” Dickey said. A second fire in 1901 caused the same damage as the first, he said, but the district was not rebuilt to the same degree.

A visit to the Dr. Sappington Museum is a must; it offers perspective to the site itself and an idea of social and political culture in the heyday of Arrow Rock.

“Dr. Sappington was a big deal around here,” Dickey said. “Although he wasn’t a politician, his influence in politics was such that he could make or break you.”

John Sappington was a wealthy plantation owner and prominent doctor who garnered a fortune marketing quinine to treat malaria, a disease, Dickey said, that was extremely common in communities along the mosquito-breeding Missouri and Mississippi rivers.

Dickey said during the 1800s the area around New Franklin, Arrow Rock and Fayette was nicknamed “Boone’s Lick Country.” This area was politically influential and had such control over the Democratic Party in Missouri, it was called the “Central Clique,” and its backing was vital to making progress in state politics.

Claiborne Fox Jackson, who was governor of Missouri during the Civil War, married one of Andrew Sappington’s daughters. When she died, he married another and when she died, he married a third. Dickey said Jackson knew the importance of having Sappington’s support if he wanted to succeed in politics. However, Jackson was forced out of politics and out of Missouri during the Civil Wardue to his pro-Confederate leanings.

Dickey said the Civil War can account for much of the destruction of the old way of life in mid-Missouri. He said not many people in the area supported the Union, and those who did left the area for fear of violence.

“Most people supported the South,” Dickey said. “They paid mightily. (There were) not many battles, just large amounts of guerilla fights. It got very difficult to live here.”

He said the war destroyed the plantation system, which was a big part of the local economy, and soon after the war ended, many people moved to St. Louis or Kansas City.

The museum also has prehistoric trade artifacts from the Missouri Indian tribe and artifacts from Boone’s Lick State Historical Site. A 20-minute video is available free of charge.

The most important part is just getting out and enjoying the area, Tucker said.

“If you’re here in the morning — the birds,” he said. “It’s a cacophony of noise.”

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