It’s 7:00 a.m. on a brilliantly sunny September day in the riverside village of Rocheport, Mo. Everything is quiet, except for the occasional vehicle pulling out of a driveway. The air is still and cool, the gardens brim 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 spotlighted on a stage. Take away the blacktop on the narrow village roads and one could be strolling the Rocheport of a century ago.
Lewis and Clark wandered through the area in 1804 on their seminal expedition. In 1825, merchants established a trading post at this site along the Missouri River. Yet even before the Civil War, a railroad line running along the Missouri River had reduced Rocheport’s importance as a port or even a stop. Rocheport subsided into gentile obscurity until the late 20th century.
In 1976 Rocheport, 15 miles west of Columbia, was designated a historic district by the National Register of Historic Places. That always encourages tourism. Generous philanthropy contributed an added boost with the opening of the Katy Trail on the now abandoned rail line.
At 225 miles, the Katy Trail has the distinction of being the narrowest and longest state park in the nation. Starting at the old Rocheport train station, where there’s a cafe and bike rentals, a visitor can meander along the serene Missouri River through a tree shaded path and travel nearly across the state.
Abigail’s Restaurant is hard to miss since there’s only one commercial street. Their menu changes daily, and it’s best to make a reservation even if you think it won't be necessary. Without reservations, a long wait is not unusual, yet dining at Abigail’s is worth the time spent.
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. Don’t pass up the homemade ice cream.
Mike and Lisa Freedom’s 1914 red brick School House B & B was the former four room Rocheport public school until 1972. Restored into an eleven room inn, this National Register of Historic Places property retains many reminders of its useful past. Original illustrated posters advertising the Dick and Jane reading series decorate the entrance hall. One of the series creators, A. Sterl Artley, was a professor at the University of Missouri in Columbia. Rooms are large and airy with lots of blond wood to reflect bright sunshine, and their chocolate chip peanut butter cookies were really good.
Conrad and Dixie Yates enthusiasm in promoting their town was palpable. The two buildings of their elegant inn, Yates House B & B – the beautiful 1840 Garden House, on the National Register of Historic Places, and the 1991 Yates House, a reproduction of an 1850 brick mansion – contain just six large, luxurious guest rooms, ample common 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.
Dixie Yates is an excellent chef, and the breakfast at the Yates House defies the old standard omelets, bacon and muffins of ordinary inns. Many inns publish their own cookbooks, but Dixie’s recipes in Dixie’s Kitchen at Yates House are worth owning.
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 along the river, and a village unsullied by the development of homogenized modern commerce, Rocheport is a destination that will calm your soul.