Think Small: 10 Big Reasons To Visit The Tiny Village Of Arrow Rock, Missouri

Author: , July 28th, 2011
by Sandy Selby, Switzler House, Arrow Rock, Missouri
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Arrow Rock Gun Shop

Arrow Rock barely rates a dot on the map of Missouri. There are only four streets running east to west, eight running north to south, and the entire population of the village would barely fill a school bus. Yet Arrow Rock, Mo. bursts to life from spring through fall as tourists flock to town to take in its rich history, its unspoiled architecture and its award-winning professional theater.

What’s so special about this itty-bitty mid-Missouri town? Here are 10 reasons to make it your next destination.

Arrow Rock, Missouri1. The entire village of Arrow Rock is a National Historic Landmark. That’s thanks to its location near the starting point of the Santa Fe Trail. After crossing the Missouri River, early pioneers would stock up on supplies in this once-raucous river town before embarking on the arduous journey west. Many buildings from that period have been preserved by the Friends of Arrow Rock, an organization dedicated to keeping the town’s story alive for future generations. The Friends of Arrow Rock offers formal guided tours of the town’s most significant buildings and it doesn’t take much persuasion to get the staff to share an impromptu history lesson about the town that claims three Missouri governors, an acclaimed 19th-century painter, and a groundbreaking treatment for malaria.

Lyceum Theater, Arrow Rock2. You’ll enjoy big-city caliber shows at the Arrow Rock Lyceum Theatre. What started as the most improbable of notions in 1961 — a professional theater in an old church in an out-of-the-way town — has become a premier destination for theater-lovers. A state-of-the-art, 400-seat theater now adjoins the historic church building where the Lyceum Theatre was founded. Professional actors from across the country, many with Broadway credentials, vie for roles during a season that lasts from July through November. The productions never fail to enchant audiences who marvel at finding such metropolitan theater in a town without a stoplight.

3. You can dine with ghosts at the J. Huston Tavern. The J. Huston Tavern building has been the center of hospitality in Arrow Rock since 1834, and boasts of being the oldest continuously operating restaurant west of the Mississippi River. Its walls have witnessed their share of political debates, barroom brawls and wartime tragedies. These days, the atmosphere is much more tranquil and diners enjoy heaping helpings of comfort foods including the house specialties of country fried chicken and raspberry-chipotle glazed ham. And about those ghosts … there are plenty of folks around Arrow Rock who believe there are lingering spirits in the Tavern, but that doesn’t stop any of them from dropping by for a satisfying supper.

4. Every day is like a walk in the park. Arrow Rock has the kind of green space that

Main Street, Arrow Rock, MO

city planners dream of. As you stroll through the village, you’ll discover open fields, towering trees and well-tended gardens. In a town that offers up postcard-worthy scenes everywhere you look, there’s no bad route for your morning stroll. If you’re up for a longer hike, take the mile-long Lewis and Clark Trail of Discovery down to the Missouri River.

5. You can paint the town like George. George Caleb Bingham, one of the most celebrated American painters of the 19th century, called Arrow Rock home and often included local buildings and townsfolk in his paintings. This year, Arrow Rock is celebrating Bingham’s 200th birthday with special programs and exhibitions, but his carefully preserved home and several original paintings are on permanent display. Arrow Rock still inspires artists; it’s not unusual to see a budding Bingham setting up an easel somewhere in town.

Arrow Rock, MO6. Or you can buy one of his prints. You’ll find a wide variety of antiques and rarities in the charming shops along Arrow Rock’s boardwalk. A couple of those shops are willing to part with an original Bingham engraving … if the price is right. If your budget is more modest, you’ll find other originals from lesser known artists along with beautiful antique furniture, old tools and fascinating conversation pieces that are wonderful in their obsolescence.

7. You’ll get smarter. Spend a few hours in the Arrow Rock State Historic Site museum and you’ll find out about the Native Americans who valued flint from the “rock of arrows,” Lewis and Clark’s favorable impressions of the region, and life among the pioneers, visionaries and rabble rousers who built this town into a busy river port before shifting fortunes and a shifting river changed everything. Be sure to check out the story of Dr. John Sappington, whose revolutionary use of quinine as a treatment for malaria saved countless lives in the 1800s.

Arrow Rock Easter Parade8. And you’ll meet smart people. Forget everything you think you know about small town dwellers. The people of Arrow Rock are educated, articulate and artsy. They’re also open minded … up to a point. If you’d like to take a romantic stroll with your same-sex partner, that’s just fine with the folks around here, but suggest replacing original walnut clapboards with vinyl siding and those are fightin’ words.

9. Your stomach will thank you. Whether you’re craving comfort food, a light lunch or an elegant, chef-prepared meal, you and your appetite will have a fulfilling experience at the restaurants of Arrow Rock. Make friends with some locals and you might even find yourself invited over for a home-cooked meal, a village potluck supper or some Saturday night margaritas on the front porch.

Arrow Rock, Missouri10. You’ll feel at home. Arrow Rock’s bed and breakfasts offer comfortable accommodations and warm hospitality all year long. There’s a B&B in Arrow Rock to suit any taste or budget.

Arrow Rock welcomes you to explore all it has to offer. Visit these websites to learn more: ArrowRock.org (the Village of Arrow Rock), FriendsAR.org (Friends of Arrow Rock), and LyceumTheatre.org (Arrow Rock Lyceum Theatre).

Switzler House, Arrow Rock, MOThe newest B&B in town, the Switzler House Guest Cottage, offers complete privacy in a historic, 1,000-square-foot home that served as the post-Civil War servants’ quarters for one of Arrow Rock’s wealthiest families. Proprietors Marty and Sandy Selby have retained the cottage’s primitive charm while stocking it with the kind of high-end amenities you’d expect to find in a luxury hotel. It’s an engaging mix of unpretentious decor and unexpected luxury that the Selbys describe as “simply elegant.” Find out more about the Switzler House Guest Cottage at SwitzlerHouse.com.

Sandy Selby, like many of Arrow Rock’s 54 residents, serves multiple roles in the community. She is president of the Historic Arrow Rock Council, a trustee of the Friends of Arrow Rock, a member of the town board, and proprietor of the Switzler House Guest Cottage. She is also the editor-in-chief of Inside Columbia magazine, the city magazine of nearby Columbia, Mo.