There was a standing-only crowd Sunday at the Washington Public Library, where Neighborhood Reads and Friends of the Library hosted their second round of speakers of 2022.
Bill Hart, author of “Historic Missouri Roadsides,” which features a photo of the Old Dutch Hotel in Washington on the cover of the second edition, spoke about his love for the state and read excerpts from his book.
Before describing road trips, Hart talked about a phenomenon he’s noticed on his travels, which is that people are driving away from small towns.
“When the train left, people left. When family farms leave, people leave. When rail and river traffic leaves, more people leave,” he said. “But when people can reinvent themselves, like Washington pretty much did, there’s money to be made in historic tourism.”
Hart said small towns are special places, meant to be remembered and preserved, and encouraged those gathered to shop at local businesses rather than national retailers.
Hart said his two favorite things about Missouri are its natural beauty, from the Ozarks to the prairies, and the friendliness of its people.
Having traveled all of Missouri’s 114 counties, mostly on two-lane highways, he said his locally favorite rides were on Highway 94 on the north side of the Missouri River and Highway 100 along the south.
William Moore of Gray Summit attended the event on Sunday and stayed after to talk with Hart about his love for rural Missouri history.
“I like to travel on back roads and that’s what he does,” Moore said.
Highway 100 from Villa Ridge to Linn was one of half a dozen road trips Hart details in his book, along with several destinations like Fulton and Arcadia Valley. On Sunday, Hart covered three of those road trips, including Highway 100.
Starting in St. Paul in western St. Charles County, Hart first described his journey north on “The Great River Road” – Highway 79 – along the Mississippi River. He spoke of stops along the way like Clarksville, which he says attracts eagle watchers this time of year, and Louisiana.
Highway 79 also passes through Hannibal, where Mark Twain grew up, serving as the setting for the fictional St. Petersburg in “The Adventures of Tom Sawyer.”
The second road trip described by Hart is called El Camino Real or The Royal Road. Now Highway 61, the road follows an ancient Native American trail from St. Louis to New Madrid and was first marked in the 1780s. Its story of people crossing the hedgerow from the dry city of Crystal City to ‘Tanglefoot which is now Festus, to buy booze, had the room laughing.
Finally, Hart traveled the most familiar route through Washington, New Haven and Hermann: Highway 100.
As for which two-lane route he would take home on Sunday, Hart was unsure immediately after his presentation. Highways 44 and 55, however, were out of the question.
“I have my DeLorme Atlas just to the right of my seat, so what I’m going to do is walk to my car, open it, see where I am and see the most direct north-south route because that it’s not easy to get from central Missouri to southern Missouri.”