Rocheport Road Trip
Rocheport rests on the languid banks of the Missouri River enjoying its place in the Nineteenth Century. Is that Lewis & Clark approaching town?
It’s 7:00 a.m. on a brilliantly sunny early September day in the riverside village of Rocheport, Missouri. Everything is quiet, except for the occasional vehicle pulling out of a driveway. The air is still and cool, the gardens brimming with late summer flowers. Not a shop is open. Birds flit around, squirrels scurry and shafts of sunlight illuminate 19th and early 20th century houses as if spotlights on a stage. Take away the blacktop on the narrow village roads and I could be strolling the Rocheport of a century ago.
Lewis and Clark Trail
Lewis and Clark wandered through the area in 1804 on their seminal expedition, but it was in 1825 that merchants established a trading post at this site along the Missouri River. Yet before the Civil War, a railroad line running along the river had reduced its importance as a river port. Although it did not kill the village, Rocheport subsided into gentile obscurity until the late 20th century.
National Historic District and the Katy Trail
In 1976 the village was chosen by the National Register of Historic Places as a Historic District which always encourages tourism. By 1990 an added boost was the opening of the Katy Trail, on the now-abandoned rail line, through the generous philanthropy of Ted and Pat Jones. At 225 miles, the Katy Trail has the added distinction of being the narrowest and longest State Park in the nation. Starting at the old Rocheport Train Station, where there are a cafe and bike rentals, a visitor can meander along serene Missouri through a tree-shaded path and travel nearly across the state. One-eighth of every sales tax dollar in Missouri is designated toward supporting the state park system.
Wine, Dine & Music on Main Street
Besides outdoor activities or just relaxing with a good book, Rocheport is taking advantage of Missouri’s growing reputation for fine wine and artisan food. Several times a year progressive wine dinners are offered. At less than $90 per couple, these strolling dinners encompassing several Inns create an entertaining Saturday evening. Weekend accommodation and dinner packages are available.
Abigail’s Restaurant is hard to miss since there’s only one commercial street – if someone from a big city actually recognizes Main Street as “commercial.” Their menu changes daily, and it’s best to make a reservation even if you think it won’t be necessary. One day when I wanted to have lunch a sudden influx of Katy Trail bikers meant a 45-minute wait. Yet dining at Abigail’s is worth the wait.
The Rocheport General Store & Cafe still has the display window and charm of its old fashioned store days, even if it’s now an upscale venue for good comfort food and live music. On Friday and Saturday nights it’s the place to hang for good jazz and blues – and don’t pass up the homemade ice cream.
School House Bed & Breakfast
Mike and Lisa Freedom’s 1914 two-story red brick B & B was the former four-room Rocheport public school until 1972. Restored in 2002 into an eleven room inn, this National Historic Register property retains many reminders of its useful past. Original illustrated posters advertising the Dick and Jane reading series decorate the entrance hall. One of Dick, Jane and Sally’s creators, A. Sterl Artley, was a professor at the University of Missouri a mere 15 miles away in Columbia. The School House B & B’s rooms are large and airy with lots of blond wood to reflect the bright sunshine, and their Chocolate Chip Peanut Butter cookies are really good!
Yates House Bed & Breakfast
Conrad and Dixie Yates might as well be dubbed “Mr. and Mrs. Rocheport” for the enthusiasm they exude in promoting their town and nearby Columbia. The two buildings of their elegant inn, Yates House B & B, the beautiful 1840 National Register property Garden House, and the 1991 Yates House – a reproduction of an 1850 brick mansion – contain just six luxurious large guest rooms, ample living room space, and are joined by lush gardens. Superbly decorated, staying at the Yates House completes the illusion of being a 19th-century house guest with old friends.
Chef Dixie Yates
Then there’s Dixie’s cooking. She’s a superb chef, and the breakfast at the Yates House defies the old standard omelets, bacon, and muffins of ordinary B & B’s. Many inns publish their own cookbooks, but Dixie’s recipes in Dixie’s Kitchen at Yates House are worth owning. I’ve had her rich desserts on a previous visit, but her breakfast on my recent stay would be worthy of a special visit on its own.
Crème brûlée French Toast was an egg, vanilla and cream soaked wedge of challah garnished with fresh berries. This was followed with a Baked Eggs Benedict resting on a feather-light English muffin covered with an inspired Goat Cheese Hollandaise. Lightly sauteed smashed Yukon Gold Potatoes and a skewer of sausage, peppers, and pineapple were accompaniments. Good strong coffee and fresh juices rounded out this sumptuous start to the day.
There are many small towns in America worthy of a visit, but for the sheer pleasure of relaxation, good food, wine, the simple joy of strolling through parkland and village unsullied by the development of homogenized modern commerce, Rocheport, Missouri, is a destination that will calm your soul.
Rocheport to St. Louis
via I-70 E and I-64 E