back from the brink of history

Posted by on Aug 13, 2011 in blog, history, travels | No Comments

…in which we discover the Missouri.

One reward for having friends and relatives in the arts is the opportunity to sample the serendipity that comes with making a living thereby, without being shackled to any particular variety yourself. Last weekend found us in Arrow Rock, Missouri, visiting our daughter, who’s on hiatus from Denver to design and paint sets at the Lyceum Theatre. And there we waded into a different world: less frantic than our current California, if proportionately more humid; patinaed by an extra hundred years’ passage of itinerant European trade; a vestigial settlement for folks who have largely moved on.

Arrow Rock was a river town convenient for crossing the Missouri River along the Santa Fe Trail, a place where everything came together for a few decades before the rail line shot by five miles to the south, that technology dominating transportation until I-70 punched through the state a bit farther still. The town’s a little less than half way from Kansas City to St. Louis, but the path there hasn’t been beaten very heavily for a long time now. It turned out to be a great place to stay and relax for a while.

Permanent residents are dwindling in number, proud of and understandably a trifle obsessed with their history. Arrow Rock is a designated State Historic Site, with a preservation society—the Friends of Arrow Rock—an interesting antique look and a quiet air. Quite a bit has been written about the town–the State Historical Society of Missouri responsible for much of it until recently–and some is now finding its way online: Web coverage may not be very deep yet, but residents are connected, posting on Facebook, and blogging away, so visibility to out-of-staters is on the upswing, possibly for the first time in decades.

It was in our online hunt for accommodation anywhere near Arrow Rock that we stumbled upon the Switzler House. This is a former slave cabin now equipped with Internet access and WiFi. Missouri straddled sides in the Civil War as it still does the Missouri–the state had two governorships from 1861-65–and emancipation was a convoluted process. The Switzler place was a one-room log house, moved to town to house domestic help and added onto, now a snug one-bedroom, two-bath suite with A/C and a kitchen you can actually cook in. Check it out online, and if you ever find yourself hunting up a place to stay near Columbia, MO, or on the way to somewhere else down the freeway, contact the Selbys and consider staying there. [Update 2020-04-19: domain is for sale. Who knows its fate?]

So just as my current media search through the history of the US space program was becoming unbearably depressing, a 150-year flashback came as a welcome tonic. State subsidy is helping keep Arrow Rock alive (as summer stock is keeping our daughter clothed and fed), but the town and people and their history make it something worth keeping. Like art, the best museums are lived in, and performance is best experienced in person: deserving of passion, and perhaps a little of your patronage.

Go. Visit. Stay a while. You won’t be sorry.