Arrow Rock is a charming little village in Saline County near the Missouri River. Although it only has a population of 56, it has such important historic significance that the entire village has been named the National Historic Landmark Arrow Rock Historic District since 1963. Many of the structures are also individually listed on the National Register of Historic Places. With so many historic buildings being preserved, a visit to Arrow Rock is like stepping back in time.
The village is recognized as the birthplace of historic preservation in the state of Missouri. Architectural ordinances have been in place since 2004 to maintain the 19th century legacy. New construction and restorations are both closely monitored.
100,000 visitors per year come to this delightful village for all it has to offer. A multitude of historic buildings and museums are accompanied by antique and gift shops, amazing restaurants, and performances at the renowned Lyceum Theatre.
Lodging options include several delightful bed and breakfast establishments as well as a modern campground nearby, maintained by the Missouri Division of State Parks.
Arrow Rock was founded in 1829 and originally called “Philadelphia.” However, in 1833 the state legislature changed the name because the area was better known as ‘Arrow Rock’, its original Native American designation. It was named for the flint bearing rock the Indians used to make points on their arrows.
Joseph Huston was one of Arrow Rock’s early commissioners. He built a two-story brick building in 1834, which quickly grew in popularity due to its location on the Missouri River and along the Santa Fe Trail. Additions were made to the building, and by 1840 The J. Huston Tavern was a widely known tavern and inn.
The J. Huston Tavern served several purposes. It also housed a store, a ballroom, and a meeting hall. Over the years, As the building passed to other owners, it was known as the Neill House, Scripture House, City Hotel and Old Tavern. Today, the J. Huston Tavern is operated by the Missouri Division of State Parks, and it is the oldest continuously operating restaurant west of the Mississippi.
In addition, several of the rooms have been restored to their original appearance.
Many of the early settlers in the Arrow Rock area were migrants from southern states. They often brought slaves, as well as southern culture. The town was a booming river port, with exports like tobacco and hemp that came from plantations in the area. Hemp was also used to make ropes and cotton baling bags. Other exports included wheat, corn, beef, pork and mules.
Because the agricultural production of the area depended on slave labor, most Arrow Rock residents supported the South during the Civil War. In fact, Saline County and other Missouri counties with a high population of slaves were nicknamed “Little Dixie.”
Arrow Rock’s population reached its peak of 1,000 by 1860. After the Civil War, the population began to decline. Although there were no major battles in the area, they had still been victims of guerrilla raids that had disrupted agricultural production and river commerce. As a result, Union militia enforced martial law on the town for most the war.
After the war, railroads began replacing steamboat trade. The town was unable to gain permission to build a rail line and bridge that would cross the Missouri River. People started flocking to the availability of jobs in Kansas City and St. Louis. Those factors, as well as devastating fires in 1864, 1872 and 1901, would cause the population to decline to 300 by the beginning of the next century.
Due to the large slave population, when emancipation occurred in 1865, many of these former slaves moved into town. Many were soon able to purchase their own homes, and they settled mostly on the north side of town. By 1880, 51% of Arrow Rock’s residents were African-American. They developed their own segregated churches, schools and social institutions.
Arrow Rock was an early mission for the Old Trails Society of the Daughters of the American Revolution (DAR) around 1912. By 1923, DAR had persuaded the Missouri legislature to purchase and preserve the Old Tavern (J. Huston Tavern). The tavern would become the center point of a state park that would mark the beginning of the historic preservation movement in Missouri. The park grew to 169 acres surrounding the tavern. The area was changed from park to historic site in 1976.
Arrow Rock has almost 30 historic buildings, ten of which are listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
George Caleb Bingham House, 1837
The 1837 George Caleb Bingham House was home to noted artist George C. Bingham. Although he traveled extensively and was seldom in Arrow Rock for any long period, his family members continued to occupy the house.
He retained the deed to the house until 1857. This building has its own separate designation as a National Historic Landmark.
Lyceum Theater, 1872
Originally a Baptist church, the Lyceum Theater was built in 1872. Since 1960 it has been a professional repertory theater that produces Broadway-caliber plays and musicals. A 408-seat auditorium was added to the rear of the building in 1993.
Old Jail, 1873
This 1873 stone arch vault jail replaced a log jail that was burned by an arsonist in 1872. It is now called the Old Jail or Calaboose.
Sappington Memorial Building
The Dr. John Sappington Museum, built in 1974, is a modern Georgian style structure housing exhibits which interpret the life and medical contributions of Dr. Sappington.
Masonic Lodge, 1868
The 1868 building housing the Masonic Lodge Hall and Craft Shop held Arrow Rock Lodge No. 55 meetings on the second floor until 2009. Since 1961, Craft Club members have sold handmade items on the lower level.
Brown’s Chapel Free Will Baptist Church , 1869
African-Americans built this church north of the city limits in 1869. Brown’s Chapel Free Will Baptist Church served as the first school for African-Americans and in 1870 they had 66 students. A team of mules moved the church to its current location in 1881.
Old Saline County Courthouse, 1834
The 1834 Courthouse log structure was restored to represent the county courthouse when Arrow Rock was the Saline County seat in 1839-1840. The old courthouse has been restored and is part of the Arrow Rock State Historic Site.
The Visitor's Center
In addition to its many historic buildings, the Arrow Rock State Historic Site also features a large visitor center and museum complex, a 4-acre fishing lake, a picnic area with a playground, 1 ½ miles of hiking trails and a 48-unit modern campground.
Four poster bed at Visitor's Center Museum
Big Muddy Nation Fish and Wildlife Refuge
Directly neighboring Arrow Rock is the 1,871-acre Jameson Island Unit of the Big Muddy National Fish and Wildlife Refuge, established in 1994. This land is administered by the United States Fish & Wildlife Service. These wetlands and waterways preserve the habitat for endangered species such as pallid and lake sturgeon.
4th of July Parade
The village also hosts many events throughout the year including the Annual Arrow Rock Heritage Craft Festival each October, the Spring Garden Show in May and the Arrow Rock Ice Cream Freeze-Off in September. Each Halloween, Spirits, Shadows and Secrets of Arrow Rock is held on the weekend before Halloween. They also hold impromptu parades on Easter Sunday and the 4th of July that are fun for everyone.
Downtown Arrow Rock
One simply can’t miss a nice relaxing trip to the beautiful Arrow Rock. This tiny historic town is the perfect backdrop for a nice, relaxing getaway. Historic spots, eclectic shopping, terrific restaurants, and nearby nature…it’s got it all!