A fall trip to the Katy Trail gave us a taste of bicycling in rural Missouri, so we wanted to end our trip with an urban ride in St. Louis, a culture-rich city I had previously only passed through on the interstate.
I’ve always been fascinated by the bits of Americana that debuted at the 1904 St. Louis World’s Fair so it was on those fairgrounds in Forest Park where we focused our afternoon ride. Actually, St. Louis has a bicycle bridge over the Mississippi River called the Chain of Rocks, but on our weekday visit, we found it more deserted than we were comfortable with.
Forest Park is the 7th largest urban park in the United States – 450 acres larger than Central Park – and has a six-mile bicycle trail that takes you by the lovely part of St. Louis – Forest Park Zoo, Lindell Boulevard mansions built around the time of the fair, gothic spires of Washington University and a plethora of museums, including the St. Louis Art Museum, the only building remaining from the fair.
The other grand neo-Classical buildings built for the fair were made of a plaster of Paris and hemp fiber mix only designed to keep them going for the exposition’s seven-month run. So you have to stand in a pavilion later built to commemorate the fair and imagine – witnessing the string of electric lights connecting 1,500 buildings at that fair, seeing Teddy Roosevelt or Helen Keller or Scott Joplin and tasting for the first time hamburgers & hot dogs, iced tea, peanut butter and cotton candy.
Taking a roundabout way to Forest Park was half the fun. From downtown, we got quick glimpses of the arch and Cardinals baseball stadium before heading south and stumbling upon the Soulard Farmers Market, established in 1779 making it one of the oldest markets west of the Mississippi. After buying some gourds for fall decoration and apples, we continued south until we smelled beer wafting through the air at the Anheuser-Busch Brewery, stood in line at Gus’ Pretzels and found Ted Drewes on Chippewa St. (old Route 66) for a custard called a “concrete” – so thick you can hold it upside down.
We’ll go back for a longer visit and a Cardinals game, but if you only have a few hours as we did, skip the Arch, drive through the St. Louis neighborhoods and meet someone at the fairgrounds for a lovely bike ride.
Bicycling along the Katy Trail – the nation’s longest rails to trails project at 238 miles, has long been on my bucket list. In fall 2012, my husband and I got the opportunity to bike on a couple of stretches, although we didn’t have the time and weren’t in shape enough to do the whole trail.
We choose an area around Jefferson City (as we had a friend to visit there) and Hermann (45 minutes to the east because we had researched this German town in the heart of the Missouri wine country. We didn’t really know Missouri had a thriving wine industry and although we aren’t really connoisseurs, a trip to Stone Hill Winery atop a hill overlooking Hermann was a treat. It was once the 2nd largest winery in the country and to this day boasts the largest wine cellar in the United States. We ate dinner at The Vintage restaurant – hubby got the German platter and I got a vegetarian flatbread with French onion soup and Black Forest Cake for dessert.
Missouri is better known for black walnuts and black apples. It is the largest producer of black walnuts in the United States. The black walnut ice cream at Central Dairy in Jefferson City was perhaps the best I have ever had. The black apples, found in local supermarkets and roadside stands, are actually Arkansas Black Apples as they originated in that state. Though sinister sounding, the name refers to the burgundy-colored flesh. The apples are known for their lengthy shelf life. (They were still good in our refrigerator for two months.)
The Katy is a crushed limestone trail, and our hybrid bikes couldn’t go much past eight miles an hour, but there was a subtle beauty of creeks and cliffs and the barns and country churches that have cropped up since the area was explored by Lewis & Cark. The Katy Trail was jumpstarted with an investment by Edward Jones financial firm heir Ted Jones.
Our riding was flat. Next time we’ll try the hillier western side of the trail and the far easternmost area with the historic small towns of St. Charles, Augusta and Marthasville.
The trail was deserted in mid-week. We passed four riders on 3.5 hours on a Wednesday. And we should have paid more attention to online comments about lack of water fountains along the trail. We found ourselves rationing our little water – when we get to milepost 197, we get another sip, etc.
We followed our rural bicycling with a bicycle ride in the city – St. Louis’s Forest Park, home of the city’s greatest museums & the 1904 World’s Fair. Biking along the perimeter offers spectacular natural scenery as well as gorgeous mansions along Lindell Boulevard near Washington University. We had hoped to bike along Chain of Rocks bridge, a bicycling and pedestrian bridge over the Mississippi, but it was more deserted on our weekday visit there than we felt comfortable with. Likewise, the Riverview Trail that goes for 11 miles from Chain of Rocks to just north of The Arch looked too secluded for us on our visit.
Downtown Marshall, TX, just 40 miles west of Shreveport, comes alive every holiday season when thousands of white lights brighten the historic Harrison Country Courthouse and the entire city. But about the only lights we saw on this lazy October Saturday morning were the car brake lights in line for weekend spending money at Capital One Bank’s downtown drive-through.
That made it a perfect morning for cruising around town on bicycles, poking into a few stores and riding by some of the historic homes and churches.
The downtown business district suffers the retail carnage common to most small towns. The exception is the Washington Square District, where the flagship store is the Joe Weisman Co., an old department store that has been turned into a tasteful retail cooperative of antiques, art & gifts.
Born in Syracuse, New York, Joe Weisman was a Jewish merchant who followed his uncle to Marshall in 1866 and went into the mercantile business.
Weisman’s reminds me of a time when Jewish merchants made a name for themselves in small towns all over the South. In my hometown of Aberdeen, MS, it was Lasky’s & Bergman’s. Or if we went to the city—Goldsmith’s in Memphis. When, I moved to Shreveport, Selbers & Rubensteins were still going strong.
It’s worth spending an afternoon at Weisman Center with its beautifully restored woodwork and hardwood floors. There are three floors of gifts and antiques, arranged without much of the clutter you normally see in antique shops. Plus, there’s currently a traveling Smithsonian exhibition called “Journeys,” an informative look at the way people have traveled throughout America’s history.
The restaurant inside, Central Perks, has nice lunches, traditional coffeehouse food & drink specialties as well as many vegan-friendly options. Marshall’s mayor, and really the entire town, has been on a mission to defy the area’s beef-loving image that put it slap dap in the middle of what is known as “the Stroke Belt.” Get Healthy Marshall is an initiative that has gained traction during the past few years and has its own weekend with noted physicians and nutrition experts as well as monthly healthy potlucks.
Bicycle Trips, Road Trips, Farmers Markets and Lagniappe Along the Way