Historic buildings, modern works of art and interesting personalities are part of the fabric of St. Joseph, a city with many opportunities to explore its unique culture and gain a greater appreciation for the city “Where the Wild West Began.”
One of the best ways to learn a city’s history is to start at the beginning; St. Joseph’s Robidoux Row Museum allows you to do just that. Located at Third and Poulin streets, the museum consists of several living-units constructed in the 1840s and 1850s by city founder Joseph Robidoux (see what we mean about starting at the beginning?). These buildings were temporary housing for new residents who were waiting for their permanent homes to be built. Also, the structures served travelers awaiting ferry passage across the Missouri River; you might say Robidoux Row was the city’s original motel.
From Robidoux Row, it’s about a 10-minute drive to the Missouri Theatre, a renovated circa 1927 movie palace that is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Here’s a bit of trivia: The first film shown at Missouri Theatre was the silent film, “Rough House Rosie,” starring Clara Bow, a film icon of the day and Hollywood’s first “it girl.” It debuted in St. Joseph on June 25, 1927. The 1,200-seat theater is said to be among the nation’s last remaining Hollywood-Oriental style venues. The Missouri Theatre remains a viable performance site today, hosting live stage productions and concerts; it’s open for tours by appointment.
From works of art on stage to works of art in a gallery setting, St. Joseph’s Albrecht-Kemper Museum of Art houses one of the finest collections of American art in the Midwest; works date to the 18th century. Through special exhibitions, educational programs, performance events and publications, the museum (which originated in 1913) is a true cultural arts center. If you visit the museum around lunchtime on Wednesdays and Thursdays, grab a bite to eat at the on-site AKMA Cafe, which has a light menu and offers a casual dining atmosphere.
Another great repository for history and culture in St. Joseph is a collective that is the St. Joseph Museums, an expansive property that is home to The Glore Psychiatric Museum and the Black Archives Museum.
- At the St. Joseph Museum, you get an in-depth look at the city’s past – all the way back to prehistoric times – and an impressive collection of American Indian artifacts. Glore is one of Missouri’s most unique attractions, as it focuses on the history of psychiatric medicine and the history of what was known as “State Lunatic Asylum No. 2.”
- At The Black Archives, exhibits focus on desegregation, education and music, with a special focus on Coleman Hawkins, a prominent citizen and renowned musician for whom an annual jazz festival is named.
The life of another prominent St. Joseph citizen is commemorated on the campus of Missouri Western State University. That’s where you find the Walter Cronkite Memorial, paying tribute to the longtime CBS news anchor, known to many as “the most trusted man in America.” The atrium in Spratt Hall includes displays focusing on Cronkite’s childhood, TV news career and his fascination with NASA. Cronkite, one of the most revered names in the field of journalism, covered some of the most notable events in U.S. history, from the assassination of President John F. Kennedy to the 1969 Moon Landing.
Two outstanding tours and two down-home eateries are prime examples of the regional culture found in St. Jo.
- The stunning, 40-room Wyeth-Tootle Mansion offers a great example of how the wealthy lived in the late 1800s and early 1900s. It is open for tours.
- The Buchanan County Courthouse, which is on the National Register of Historic Places, includes the courtroom where brothers Robert and Charles Ford were tried for the murder of Jesse James.
- Walking into Galvin’s Restaurant is a bit like walking into your grandmother’s house – if your grandmother lived in a really fancy house and was a heck of a cook. Best known for their fried chicken – which is fantastic – Galvin’s serves meals home-style, which means you pass around massive portions to everyone at the table and eat until your heart is content.
- The J.C. Wyatt House offers an upscale dining experience in the cozy atmosphere – they have limited seating on the main floor of one of St. Joseph’s mansions (circa 1891), so reservation to dine are required. Whether it’s the roasted salmon at lunch or the beef filet mignon at supper, you can’t go wrong at J.C. Wyatt House – just be sure you save room for the dessert trio. You’ll thank yourself later.