Whether you call it the Heartland, Middle America, or flyover country, there are large sections of the United States that many travelers bypass as they fly to popular destinations on either coast. I’ve spent the better part of the last 7 years exploring the back roads and rural highways as I continue my ongoing quest to mail a postcard home from every county seat in America. Having visited close to 70% of them, I still find unusual sights or interesting places in the big cities and small towns across the USA.
My most recent journey was a short trip to Missouri. Short is the only way to describe it as almost exactly 48 hours after I landed in St. Louis, I was back on a plane heading home, but over the course of the weekend, I drove almost 1,200 miles and stopped in 23 county seats (actually if you include a few of the places I “collected” on prior trips like St. Louis and Jefferson City, the number was a little higher). Arriving fairly late Friday evening, I opted for the St. Louis Airport Marriott for my first night. At $68, the price was impossible to beat and being upgraded to a wonderful suite, which normally goes for at least 4 or 5 times that price, made the overnight stay even better.
Of late, I like to find something “photo-worthy” to post on this blog, and on this trip, perhaps the most curious structure was the water tower in Tipton (not a county seat). The water tower sits next to what is now a candle factory, but in years past the factory produced billiard balls, hence the unique design. Thankfully, the town decided to keep it despite the demise of the old factory.
A little farther down the highway, I reached the city of Sedalia. Wandering around the historic downtown near the county courthouse, I was impressed with how well maintained all the old buildings were. It almost felt like stepping back into the 1940s, complete with corner drugstore and recently restored Fox Theater (now an events center). I learned that during the summer, downtown is host to numerous classic car shows, which I imagine is quite a sight. One thing that caught my eye was the small (8ft tall) Statue of Liberty on the courthouse grounds. This statue dates from 1950 and is the same as many others I’ve seen on my travels. I commented on them in the post Iowa is 90% farmland – and that's no bull.
From Sedalia it was on to Kansas City. Missouri? Kansas? Actually both since they are the county seats for Jackson and Wyandotte Counties respectively. Speaking of Jackson County Missouri, it is an interesting case. The old courthouse in Independence, now called the Truman Courthouse, still functions as part of the county government, making Jackson County the only country in Missouri with two county seats. As some may know, Independence was the home of President Harry S. Truman, so naturally the Harry S. Truman Presidential Library and Harry S. Truman National Historic Site are in town. The latter is the home of the former President which would be worth making a return trip to the area to see. Here’s a photo of the impressive Truman Courthouse in Independence.
Overnight was in Kansas City, Overland Park to be precise. Since I arrived in town with a couple hours of daylight, I was able to reach Olathe, Platte City, and Liberty, all county seats in the Kansas City suburbs (two of these postcards have not arrived more than a week ). That took a bit of driving, but collecting those three additional counties was worth it. Being in Kansas City, I decided it was imperative to sample the local style of barbeque for which the city is famous. There are numerous good choices, but one of the nearest to my hotel was Gates Bar-B-Q. It has been a Kansas City tradition since 1946 and for good reason. Try it, you’ll see. Another great place is Stroud’s which has some of the best fried chicken you’ll ever eat. I remember making a special stop for dinner there in 2006. Maybe next time I’m in the area, I’ll go back and see if it’s is a good as I remember. I’m pretty sure it will be.
The return trip to St. Louis took me a little farther south through Missouri along the northern part of the Ozarks. In the central part of the state, from Versailles to Camdenton and on to Tuscumbia, my route almost circled the Lake of the Ozarks, heading south along the western edge of the lake and then back north along the eastern shore. While scenic, the weather was cold and dreary, so I preferred to enjoy the view from the comfort of my car. As the day progressed the weather got worse, and by the time I reached Rolla, it was snowing. Fortunately it wasn’t enough to slow me down, and with a late evening flight out of St. Louis, I had enough time to make are return visit to a northern Missouri county I attempted to collect last April. During that trip, two postcards failed to arrive (see the two green counties surrounded by blue in the map below). When that happens, I make a second visit to the city to try again. So far, every time I’ve gone back to mail another postcard, it has arrived. Check out the before and after maps which includes two counties in Kansas along with the twenty in Missouri.
Despite having been home for over a week, I'm still missing 3 postcards, 2 from far western Missouri, the other from Olathe, Kansas. While I'm still hopeful they'll arrive, it's possible I'll need to update my map again and revisit those towns next time I'm near Kansas City. At this point, I'm still hopeful as some postcards have taken as long as two weeks to arrive.
My next planned country collecting trip is in mid-May when I’m off to northeastern Iowa.