Highway 19 was Missouri’s first designated scenic road, and it’s as pretty as this State gets from Hermann south to Thayer, a distance of 197 miles that takes most of a day to drive. Rand McNally’s 2013 Road Atlas correctly dots it as scenic for this entire distance. Ruth & I drove it in March, 2013. I enjoyed it but Ruth not so much even though she was traveling through her childhood on it. Far prettier in spring and fall, Highway 19’s landscape was fairly drab during our late winter journey that ended in West Plains as snow began. By sunset, 6 inches had already fallen.
Atop a bluff overlooking the Missouri River, historic Hermann is just about as pretty as a Missouri town gets. Among its many 19th century buildings are several built by German immigrants that are now a State Historic Site and tourist attraction known as Deutschheim. Alas, guided tours were not available on the day we were there. From November to March, they are only given Thursday through Sunday at 10 am and 12:30 & 2:30 pm. Hermann is at the very center of Missouri’s growing wine industry and a town we visited often when we lived in St. Louis.
After 19 crosses I-44, it passes through Cuba, Missouri’s Mural City. According to the book Weird Missouri, which is appropriately named, the Mural Project began in 2001 with this town’s first outdoor wall art commemorating the 100th anniversary of Peoples Bank. It was followed by 9 depicting Civil War Scenes. The world’s largest rocking chair is 4 miles west of Cuba on old Route 66. Photos of it and the murals are surly in the pcs of most dedicated Route 66ers, if you know any and are curious. We decided, for now, to skip the 42 feet high chair and the Bette Davis mural. Again according to Weird Missouri, the reportedly temperamental actress was uncooperative when paparazzi tried to take her picture while she was having dinner in Cuba with her husband. A chase followed. This info led baffled me to ask myself this question….what the hell was Bette Davis doing in Cuba, Missouri?
Just 7 miles down Highway 19 from Cuba is Steelville, the “Floating Capital of Missouri”. Three nearby rivers, one the Meremac, are navigable by small craft and well-used on hot, summer afternoons. A lot of this town’s businesses rent canoes, rafts, etc. Other area concerns have names like Glen’s Taxidermy, Backwoods Antiques, and Bird’s Nest Lodge.
Highway 19’s downside: it’s not easy to drive. When we arrived in West Plains, Ruth’s cousins were very, very surprised that we had come that way. None of them had used it in years because it takes at least twice as long to drive as better roads farther west. Indeed, Missouri’s first scenic route has become a low-traffic, old-fashioned highway with deep dips that make the heart skip a beat and countless curves that challenge the stomach. I found these conditions a thrill-ride upside. But not so much for Ruth who has low tolerance for any highways that are not super & straight. This is just 1 reason why she was not happy floating down 19.
The rest of the story tomorrow.