By Tom Uhlenbrock
Photos by Tom Uhlenbrock
ST. LOUIS POST-DISPATCH
The Riverview Cemetery at Louisiana offers
a spectacular view of the Mississippi River Valley. (Tom Uhlenbrock/P-D)
CLARKSVILLE, MO. - Bring your checkbook on this road trip, and
not because of the price of gasoline.
Artists appreciate beauty, and that may be why so many have set
up shop on the stretch of Highway 79 from Clarksville north through
Louisiana to Hannibal.
The two-lane highway rolls between corn and soybean fields and
over the forested bluffs, with glimpses of the Mississippi River
around every other curve. A 28-mile section through Pike County
was the first to be honored when Missouri set up its scenic byway
When choosing a route for this season's fall drive, I scouted
out Highway 79 to Hannibal, then took U.S. 61 over the river into
Illinois, where I came back down on Route 96. Highway 79 and Route
96 are Great River Roads that follow the flood plain between the
by the Mississippi.
The reddish tint of poison ivy and sumac hinted of autumn, with
the view promising a patchwork of color by October and November.
These blue highways soon will be orange, russet and gold. Late
fall and winter also bring the bald eagles, which hang out below
the locks and dams on the river to fish the churned-up water.
Vehicles don’t account for all the horsepower on Highway
Clarksville, Louisiana and Hannibal have used their shared heritage,
history and scenic river settings to form a "50 Miles of Art" corridor
along Route 79. Galleries and shops filled the historic district
of Clarksville, where the Mississippi first came into view on my
The Clarksville Visitor Center has maps that list 24 art, antique
and specialty shops, five restaurants and two bed-and-breakfasts.
On the hill overlooking the town is the rejuvenated Sky Lift, which
offers a panoramic view of the river valley.
At Rothbard Gallery on First Street, Robert Rothbard and his wife,
Michelle, sell their creations in art glass and wire sculpture
- a three-dimensional wire tiger glowered from the wall. Robert,
a transplanted Texan, also is an inventor, his claim to fame
is a better outdoor basketball net made from nylon strapping.
"We have the most working artists per capita in America -
6 percent," he said of Clarksville.
With the town's roadside sign recording 490 residents, you do
Ralph and Caron Quick — and their dog, Windsor — show
off a child's settee made at the Windsor Chair Shop in Clarksville.
I headed to the Windsor Chair Shop to check out the antique reproductions
of Ralph and Caron Quick. The couple makes chairs the way they
did in 1775, and recently earned the coveted "museum quality" classification
from Early American Life magazine, which added the Quicks to its
celebrated list of heritage craftsmen.
With hand tools, Ralph splits red-oak logs and cuts, bends and
shapes the wood into chair parts, piecing them together without
nails or screws. Caron carves the details and paints the chair
with old-time, milk-based paints. Ralph then uses his 338 pounds
to test the delicate-looking finished product for strength.
"He stands on the seats," Caron said. "We hope
the chairs are here long after we're gone. We don't make disposable
Ralph Quick is from Fort Bragg, N.C., but has fit right into the
Clarksville community, where his ample girth, cheery cheeks and
flowing gray beard made him a natural as the town's designated
Santa each year.
"You're just far enough away from the rat race to make it
comfortable," he said of Clarksville. "And it's out of
the way just enough to make it a nice, scenic ride."
The Quicks aren't too quick at their craft, a single chair may
take seven to 10 days to make and cost from $400 to $1,200. Although
they have some chairs for sale in their home, the waiting list
for new orders is now up to March of 2008.
I hurried from their shop with my bankroll intact, but double-backed
to Clarksville after driving nearly 10 miles north. Buyer's lust
had won out, and I put a payment down on a beautiful child's settee
bench from the Quick's showroom.
About five miles north of Clarksville, I detoured into the Village
of the Blue Rose, which includes a restaurant and conference center
with three bed-and-breakfast rooms, a flea market and the Red Barn
Thrift and Gift Shop. The buildings are on 60 acres with a prime
view of the Mississippi. The village recently got its liquor license,
and the deck is now the perfect place to sip a glass of wine.
"We have people who just stop, have a cup of coffee and read
a book," said Donna Ringling, the village's executive director. "We
love to share the view with people. It's gorgeous in the fall,
all the reds and golds."
The village is a unique operation; it's the dream of Rose Gronemeyer,
a special ed teacher at Sacred Heart Elementary School in Old Town
Florissant. She wanted to create a place for families that had
young adults with developmental difficulties. Some of those young
adults now work, or live, in the village.
"It's a grass-roots effort, we get no state or federal funds," Ringling
said. "We started out with garage sales, and in 1991 opened
a re-sell it shop in Florissant. By 1997, we had $100,000 in the
bank and were able to buy this property."
The restaurant is open for lunch Wednesday through Sunday, dinner
Friday and Saturday. This was Monday, so I headed north to Louisiana
and the Eagle's Nest Winery, Inn and Bistro, where the pastrami
on grilled rye sandwich was fabulous. Karen and John Stoeckley
bought four buildings at Louisiana's main intersection five years
ago and now offer fine food, a seven-room B-and-B and their own
John Stoeckly runs Reflections of Missouri, a gallery where he
sells his pen, ink and water colors of historical subjects. The
couple's son, Clark, also is an artist with a shop in town. Louisiana
has other interesting galleries and shops, including ASL Pewter
Foundry, where I found Tom Hooper and interrupted his lunch.
ASL Pewter makes everything from $2 Christmas ornaments to
$1,500 soup tureens.
"Watch this - you'll think it's magic," said Hooper,
who, with his wife, Patricia, opened ASL Pewter in Louisiana's
old Grand Central Hotel, which was built in 1881. They are self-taught
pewtersmiths, making and selling everything from Christmas ornaments
for $2 to one-of-a-kind soup tureens for $1,500.
"If you came in and wanted a table service for eight - goblets,
tankards, service pieces, candlesticks - you can actually hang
out and watch us make the whole thing for you," Tom said. "We
had a couple come up before their wedding and help us make their
goblet. We do a lot of things for churches - chalices and communion
Tom led the way to the back room, where he poured molten pewter
into an antique mold of a wine glass stem. "I have about 40
spoon molds that are pre-1850," he said. He took out the still-warm
stem, and trimmed and polished it before heading into the next
room for the magic act.
While another unformed piece of lead-free pewter spun on a lathe,
Tom applied pressure with two wooden rods, and the cup rounded
into shape around a wood mold. Solder it to the stem and - voila!
- a gleaming wine cup.
The Hoopers have invited other craftsmen to sell their wares in
the shop, and Jaine Faries is the newest addition. Faries already
is in Early American Life's prestigious registry of artisans, and
her work has appeared on the magazine's cover. She's listed twice
for pieced cotton quilts and a specialty called "float work," in
which cotton and wool are hand woven into table mats and bed coverlets.
"It's a historical textile popular between 1750 and 1850," she
said. "The quilts I sell mostly to collectors because they're
hand-pieced and they're teensy, up to 2,000 pieces. "
Faries relocated from Virginia after visiting Louisiana last spring. "It
has so many beautiful houses per square block, it's got four actual
seasons," she said of her new home. "It's absolutely
Garth Woodside Mansion in Hannibal has been voted the state’s
My next stop was in Hannibal to spend the night at a work of art
on its own. Garth Woodside Mansion was built in 1871 for John and
Helen Garth. The Garths were friends of Samuel Clemens, aka Mark
Twain, who left Hannibal at age 17, but stayed at the mansion whenever
The mansion has been restored into a B-and-B that was rated tops
in the state when I visited a couple of years ago and slept in
an elegantly furnished Victorian bedroom. Now, innkeepers John
and Julie Rolsen have added three detached cottages and a restaurant
where chef Erik Spence is providing a gourmet experience not available
before in the Hannibal area.
Julie led the way to the Dowager House, the most lavish of the
new cottages, with a vaulted master bedroom with a gas fireplace
and a wall of windows looking out on a deck and hot tub. There
also was a sitting room loft reached by a circular stairway, a
full kitchen and a bathroom that had every possible amenity, including
a jetted tub and walk-in shower, both big enough for two or more.
"It also has the only bidet in northeast Missouri," Julie
The remodeled Mark Twain Boyhood Home in Hannibal includes
life-sized sculptures of author Samuel Clemens.
After a sumptuous breakfast served in the cottage the next morning,
I headed out to inspect Samuel Clemens' old stomping grounds. The
Mark Twain Boyhood Home & Museum near the Hannibal riverfront
is in the midst of a two-phase development project to get the eight
shipshape for the museum's 100th anniversary in 2012.
The first phase has been completed, and includes new displays
in an interpretive center and in the Mark Twain Boyhood Home, where
chalk-white sculptures of Clemens grace each artifact-filled room.
A campaign is underway to raise funds to complete Phase Two, which
will renovate Becky Thatcher House, Grant's Drugstore and the John
M. Clemens Justice of the Peace Office.
"One of the criticisms of the museum in the past is it told
the stories of the fictional characters - a quaint little story
about Tom and Becky and Huck having fun," said Regina Farber,
the museum's new executive director. "Now, we're trying to
tell the creative process, how the experiences Clemens had in Hannibal
inspired his novels."
Capt. Ray Richmond pilots the Mark Twain Mississippi Riverboat
on daily excursions from Hannibal.
After taking the self-guided tour of the museum, I ventured down
to the Mississippi, the inspiration for many of Clemens' writings,
and boarded the Mark Twain Riverboat. The river was glassy, the
day was warm and breezy, and the modest skyline reminded me of
a Clemens' quote on the wall of the interpretive center:
"Hannibal has had a hard time of it ever since I can recollect," he
wrote. "First, it had me for a citizen, but I was too young
then to really hurt the place."
Gentlemen, protect your pocketbooks. Several of the female shopkeepers
along the drive up Route 79 suggested that I stop at AVA Goldworks
in downtown Hannibal, where Randy Hurt, his wife, Debbie, and daughter,
Brandy, are doing wondrous work in jewelry.
In the last two years, the family has owned the awards in the
Missouri Jewelers and Watchmakers Association competition, taking
three first places in 2005 and two this year, including a necklace
that won best of show and will go to New York to compete in the
National Jewelry Design Contest.
Randy Hurt is one of only two jewelers in Missouri with a "master
bench jeweler" certificate awarded by the Jewelers of America.
Brandy, who is 20, has been named the top apprentice jeweler in
"We have a source for the finest colored gemstones available," said
Randy. "Our designs vary from antique reproductions to cutting-edge
He opened the cases to display some of their work and came out
with a cocktail ring with 2.44 carats of diamonds and a price tag
of $11,000. The "best of show" cultured pearl necklace
was reversible with an oval opal on one side and pink coral on
the other. It can be yours for $25,000.
The Hurts set up shop in Hannibal two years ago after visiting
it on vacation. Why Hannibal, and not a more glamorous city befitting
"That's one of the most common questions we're asked," replied
Randy. "I'm 53, Debbie and I have lived in big cities. I was
looking for a place to comfortably spend the rest of my life. We're
impressed with the power of the river, the history of the town,
all the artists that are coming to the area.
"Hannibal is that place."
The Windsor Chair Shop: At 307 South Second Street
in Clarksville. 1-573-242-3700 and www.thewindsorchairshop.com.
Rothbard Gallery: 113 North First Street in Clarksville.
1-573-242-3769 and www.artglasswire.com.
Village of the Blue Rose: Five miles north of
Clarksville on Highway 79, 1-573-242-3539, and www.villagebluerose.org.
Rooms ranges from $79 to 99 a night. Open for lunch 11:30 a.m.
to 2:30 p.m. Wednesday through Sunday, dinner 5-8 p.m. Friday and
Eagle's Nest Winery, Inn and Bistro: At the intersection
of Route 79 and Georgia Street in Louisiana. The seven B&B
rooms range from $95 a night to $125 for the suite, with breakfast
included. 1-573-754-9888, and www.theeaglesnest-louisiana.com.
ASL Pewter Foundry: 123 South Third Street in
Louisiana. 1-573-754-3435, and www.aslpewter.com.
Open daily from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Occasionally closed on Monday.
Specializes in lead-free pewter products based on historic pieces
or original creations.
Garth Woodside Mansion: 11069 New London road
in Hannibal, 1-573-221-2789 and www.garthmansion.com.
Nightly room rates range from $139 to $395.
Mark Twain Boyhood Home & Museum: 120 North
Main Street in Hannibal. 1-573-221-9010, and www.marktwainmuseum.org.
AVA Goldworks: 211 Center Street in Hannibal.
1-573-221-1928 and www.avagoldworks.com.
A family business offering hand-crafted jewelry.
Clarksville: The visitor center is at 302 North
Second Street, 1-573-242-3132 and www.clarksvillemo.us.
Louisiana: The Visitor's & Convention Bureau
is at 1-888-642-3800 and www.louisiana-mo.com.
Hannibal: For a listing of artists, visit the
Gallery of Missouri fine artists at 201 North Main Street, call
1-573-221-2275, or visit www.hannibalfineart.com.
The visitors bureau is 1-573-221-2477 and www.visithannibal.com.
- Tom Uhlenbrock
Article © 2006,
the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. All rights reserved.
Originally published on STLToday.com