You may never have been there. In fact, you may never have even heard of it. But according to map publisher Rand McNally, Jefferson, Missouri is their 2013 choice for "America's Most Beautiful Small Town". This hidden gem in Missouri's crown is approximately midway between St. Louis and The Lake of the Ozarks.
DOWNTOWN JEFFERSON CITY
-credit Jefferson City CVB
A tranquil small river town, on the southern side of the Missouri River, Jefferson City also happens to be the capital of the State of Missouri. The Missouri State Capitol complex, in itself, warrants a visit to Jefferson City. It is literally an art museum, a history museum, and a sculpture park. Resting on a limestone bluff on the south bank of the Missouri River, the current Capitol is the third to stand in Jefferson City.
The first, built in 1826, served as a home for Missouri's governors. Flames engulfed that building in 1837. The second, and much larger, Capitol building also burned in 1911. It was deemed one of the most spectacular fires in Missouri's history. The present Capitol was officially dedicated on October 6, 1924. It was ruled that a $1-million surplus had to be used on the building. The result is a splendid collection of stained-glass, murals, carvings, and statuary portraying Missouri's history, legends, and cultural achievements
STATE CAPITOL BUILDING
Perched atop the majestic dome of the Capitol building, 262-feet above ground level, is a statue of Ceres, the Roman goddess of grain and agriculture. Ceres, holding a sheaf of grain in her left hand, was selected as the patron goddess of Missouri because Missouri is a strong agricultural state.
In 1935, the Missouri House of Representatives commissioned Missouri native Thomas Hart Benton to paint a mural on the four walls of the House Lounge, a large meeting room on the third floor in the Capitol's west wing.
With its bold and vivid scenes of every day Missouri life, the mural originally sparked controversy among the legislators. Surviving attempts to whitewash it, Benton's "Social History of the State of Missouri" is now a source of pride and a popular stop for visitors touring the capital.
The 13 panels of the mural function as a narrative, beginning on the north wall and finishing on the south wall. Six of the panels deal with Missouri's history, two panels are social scenes, and three panels deal with legends associated with the state. Thomas Hart Benton, a man with a deep sense of the history of the American people, and one of the 20th century's pre-eminent artists, left behind a legacy that will inform and inspire far beyond our times.
The Missouri State Museum, on the ground floor of the capitol building, houses an impressive collection of exhibits and dioramas that portray Missouri's history, legends, and cultural achievements.
MISSOURI STATE MUSEUM
One could spend hours strolling the Capitol grounds and admiring the sculptures surrounding the building.
A 13-foot statue of Thomas Jefferson, for whom the capital city was named, rightfully stands upon the front steps of the Capitol. Jefferson was an accomplished writer, architect, scholar, and as the third President of the United States he was primarily responsible for the Louisiana Purchase.
THOMAS JEFFERSON ON FRONT STEPS OF CAPITOL BUILDING
-Credit Jefferson City CVB
The "Mississippi River Statue", a male figure representing the Mississippi River, is often called the "Father of the Waters". He holds in his left hand the rudder of commerce and the anchor of a steamboat representing the significance of river trade. The caduceus in his right hand was the magic wand of Hermes, the God Travelers and Commerce. He rests upon a cornucopia, which symbolizes agriculture. The alligator by his knee is a reminder of what life is like on the southern portion of the river. The dolphin behind him is a symbol of good luck to travelers of the river, and the three smaller fish represent the river as a source of fishing and recreation.
THE MISSISSIPPI RIVER STATUE
The Fountains of the Arts and Sciences, designed by Robert Aitken, are characterized by their dignity and simplicity. The fountain on the southeast side of the Capitol is the Fountain of the Sciences; to the southwest is the Fountain of the Arts. Aitken believed that the Arts and Sciences were the guardians of the welfare of the state, so these two fountains stand as sentinels on either side of the entrance to the Capitol.
ONE OF TWO FOUNTAINS OF THE ARTS AND SCIENCES
The Ten Commandments monument is located on the Capitol grounds to the north of the Capitol building near the Fountain of the Centaurs This stone marker was presented to the State of Missouri by The Missouri State Aerie Fraternal Order of the Eagles June 28, 1958.
A block away from the Missouri State Capitol building is the Jefferson Landing State Historic Site, a significant rare surviving Missouri River Landing. The Lohman Building, built in 1839, is a sturdy stone structure that served as a tavern and a hotel. In its heyday, it also housed one of the city's largest warehouse and mercantile businesses. Today, the main floor contains a visitor center with exhibits on transportation.
1839 LOHMAN BUILDING
-Credit Jefferson City CVB
Across the street from the Lohman Building is the Union Hotel, built in 1855. The hotel now houses the Elizaabeth Rozier Gallery with rotating exhibits that emphasize Missouri art and culture.
-Credit Jefferson City CVB
Former first lady Mrs. John Dalton once called the 134-year-old Governor's Mansion a "handclasp with history". From its windows in 1911, Mrs. Hadley and her children watched the State Capitol go up in flames. Within its walls have been such notables as the Grand Duke Alexis of Russia, General George Custer, British Prime Minister Edward Heath, Secretary of State Henry Kissinger, Harry Truman, William Jennings Bryan, Jefferson Davis, Vice-President Al Gore and President Bill Clinton. For more information: http://www.visitjeffersoncity.com
From St. Louis, to The Lake of the Ozarks, to Jefferson City, the "Show Me" state has certainly shown me! All I had hoped for…and more!