BOONVILLE, Mo. — The small town of Boonville, Missouri, sits an hour-and-a-half drive east of Kansas City, right along the Missouri River.
It was founded back in 1810 by Hannah Cole, who settled there with her nine children after Native Americans killed her husband.
“We are one of the only towns in the area established by a female pioneer,” President of the Boonville Chamber of Commerce Laura Wax said.
The town was named after Daniel Boone, the famous frontiersman. Two of his sons moved to the area to start up a salt lick business, where they boiled saltwater from a local spring and sold the salt to companies, which used it to preserve food transported it across the U.S. The town is rich with history, and residents love it when people come to visit.
“Our new slogan is ‘small town, big adventures’,” Boonville Tourism director Katie Gibson said, “because for a town of our size, we have some really incredible, unique attractions that a lot of towns don’t have.”
Stop 1: Boonville’s walking history tour
Our first must-see is Boonville’s Walking History Tour. You can get a map highlighting 23 historic places to see in town.
One of the most interesting stops is the old Cooper County Jail and Hanging Barn. It was the longest continually running jail in the state of Missouri until the state shut it down in 1978. It was in such disrepair, state officials considered it cruel and unusual punishment to keep prisoners there.
“The jail was used during the Civil War,” said Kelly Smith with Friends of Historic Boonville. “We feel it’s really important to keep an eye on the past to think about how far we’ve come and preserve these things so future generations can have this glimpse back.“
It’s most famous inhabitant? Frank James, the brother of Jesse James. He stayed there one night after being arrested on a warrant for train robbery. Boonville residents raised enough money to bond him out of the jail, and he was later found not guilty of that crime.
This is also the sight of the last public hanging in Missouri. When the state outlawed public hangings, the city moved the gallows from the backyard of the jail to the nearby horse barn. They put in thirteen steps to the top of the barn and put 13 loops in the rope to give bad luck to the person sentenced to death. They only hanged one prisoner in the barn, and now you can tour the entire facility for just $5 a person.
Stop 2: Katy Trail
Our second must-see is the Katy Trail. Named after the Missouri-Kansas-Texas railroad, the 240-plus mile path across Missouri follows the train tracks through town. This is the only place in the state where the trail crosses the Missouri River, making it a very scenic and peaceful place to play.
“We’ve got a great antique, unique bridge that – when it was built in the 1930’s – was the longest of its type anywhere in the world,” said Wax. “We call it the crown jewel of the Katy. It’s something that brings people from all over the country to see. It is under renovation, so eventually you’ll be able to cycle all the way across it.”
If you don’t come to town with a bike, you can rent one at the old M-K-T train depot, which also houses the Chamber of Commerce.
Stop 3: Maggie’s Bar and Grill
Our third must-see arguably serves the best food in town. Maggie’s Bar and Grill sits on Main Street downtown and is named after the owner’s dog, Maggie, which has since passed away. She renovated an old building and brought in some good recipes to attract locals and visitors alike to stop by for a burger and a beer.
Stop 4: Warm Springs Ranch
And finally, right outside of town sits Warm Springs Ranch. This is where beer maker Anheuser-Busch breeds and trains the Clydesdale horses used in the Budweiser commercials. When the foals reach six months of age, they are sent to a training facility near St. Louis before coming back to Boonville.
“The are the ambassadors of Budweiser,” said Chris Wiegert, a trainer at Warm Springs Ranch. “They’ve been around since 1933 so there’s a lot of tradition with Budweiser.”
The public is invited to visit Warm Springs Ranch and meet the 60 horses living on 300 acres of land. You can sign up for tours online at warmspringsranch.com. The cost is $15, and if you’re over the age of 21, you will end your tour with a glass of Budweiser beer.