Photography / Travel

Day 3-4: Louisville, St. Louis, Missouri wine country, and Jefferson City

from Photographs of the American Southeast, May 2001 by Tim Darling ((click for email))

Friday, May 11 - Louisville
Louisville has one main attraction: the Churchill Downs, which is best known for hosting the Kentucky Derby. I arrived exactly a week after the 127th Derby, but there were races there all day. (Provia 100).

Louisville also has a couple steamboats which are docked on the Ohio River and an 8-story high baseball bat outside the Louisville Slugger factory/ museum which I have to admit looked a lot more impressive before I saw the St. Louis arch..

After four hours of driving through the flat and barren southern Indiana and Illinois, the St. Louis Arch appeared over the horizon to an honest welcome. There's only one thing to say about the arch: go see it. It's certainly worth the drive from DC. At 650 feet, it's 100 feet taller than the Washington Monument and 200 feet taller than the Statue of Liberty. Its simple shape is a tribute to the arch bridges that first crossed the Mississippi in the mid-1800s that opened up the American west for the expansion movement. The arch was built in the mid 1960s by very brave construction workers (ground-based cranes could only help them for the first 300 feet) after a design by Eero Saarinen. I was interested to learn that he also designed the distinctive swoop of Washington DC's Dulles Airport which I've been impressed by for many years. (Apparently they were more liberal in the 1960s about letting architects add artistic flairs to their work).

Saturday, May 12 - Missouri

30 people at a time go up the arch every 10 minutes: 5 people crowded into 6 little egg-shaped capsules. The view from the top is incredible, especially since the arch has a triangular cross-section so the windows at the top have a downward slant to them and you can see the legs of it coming up underneath you. To the west, St. Louis stretches for miles and to the east, the Mississippi curls right next the the arch and then the barren flats of Illinois stretch to the horizon. I suppose that alone is evidence that the westward expansion movement was successful.. There was a wedding in the church you can see in the view from the top (below) when I first arrived in St. Louis.

The view from the top: to the west (St. Louis) and to the east (the Mississippi and Illinois)

Right across from the arch in downtown St Louis is the Old Courthouse where Dred Scott tried to sue for his freedom in 1857 before the Supreme Court ultimately ruled that since he was not a citizen, he had no right to sue.

Since there's only so much time you can wander around underneath the arch with your mouth open, I headed west to take a tour of Stone Hill Wineries. My tour guide claimed they were the fourth most decorated winery in the United States (the top 3 were in California). Before arriving, I had read that Missouri was the largest wine producer in the United States until Prohibition forced them to burn all their wine-making equipment. On the tour, I saw the sole remaining barrel of the originals in their cellar (although it's of course no longer used). (That's it in the back in the photo on the right). It was given to a local church in the 1920s when Prohibition struck since wine could still be made for religious purposes, and the church just returned it to the winery recently.

So how's their wine? I found most of their wines to be far too sweet, but the dry reds (the Norton) and whites (the barrel-fermented Seyval) were excellent. I would buy some wines from their website but all but a dozen states prohibit the mailing of alcoholic beverages. Incidentally, the winery was started by a German immigrant who found the area near the Missouri River reminded him of his home on the Rhine River. My guess is that many of the vineyards for this winery are in the neighboring town, Rhineland.

After leaving the winery, I headed west for 40 miles on a small road along which runs close to the Missouri River to Jefferson city, the capital. For 40 miles, all I saw were farms, fields, a few trees, and almost no other cars. The capitol building appears out of nowhere between the fields, and there are no signs for it on the road that I was on. Look closely if you're heading there so you don't mistake it for a silo.

Jefferson City has a few buildings, but the capitol is by far the tallest and most prominent. Strangely, everything there appeared to be locally owned: there's no Starbucks, McDonalds, or Exxons in sight. I stopped into a small store for a Mother's Day present and the woman there asked me where I was from (does the camera give me away as a tourist?).
    "Washington, DC."
    "Oh... a very good friend of mine just moved there- Jean Carnahan- " then she studied me for a second and added, "are you familiar with - ?"
    I was thinking to myself, 'just because everyone knows each other in Jefferson City..' when she continued with: "well, a few months ago, right before the Senate election, her husband, the governor of Missouri, was killed in a plane crash.." And then I remembered her name, and finished the story - "and since it was too late to take his name off the ballot, his wife was elected in his place.." She went on to say how her husband worked for the Governor for many years as a lawyer and how most of their friends had to move to DC since they worked for the Carnahans too. She talked a bit about how she was taking her mother to a winery many miles away the next morning for Mother's Day, so that she wouldn't feel like she was still in 'Jeff City'. I suggested she take a trip to the east coast sometime, at least to visit her friends, which she agreed she'd very much like to do. After I left, I walked back to my car thinking.. isn't it funny how you can be walking around a city you think no one you know is ever going to visit or have even heard of it, when a few months before, it was attracting world headlines?

It was prom night as I was walking back and there were many nicely dressed high schoolers walking around the Governor's Gardens.

Ten miles south east of Jeff City I saw twenty equally-as-nicely-dressed teenagers being pulled to their high school prom in a tractor. They were waving enthusiastically at me and pulling their arms in a signal to get the passing cars to honk at them, which I did. It's in the funniest places that you find people who know how to laugh at themselves.

Day 5-6: Memphis and Mississippi

Your Comments

Please give me a call or email me - I would like to use one of your photos on our New Car Buyers Guide. Thanks!

-- mark fournier, Oct 18, 2004
Add a comment

All text and pictures copyright © 2001 Tim Darling.