Saint Joseph Missouri
Saint Joseph Livestock Exchange Building. Built in 1898. Efforts to stabilize or preserve the building seemed to have been abandoned when was there in summer 2013.
Saint Joseph Missouri has an incredible wealth of historic buildings from the mid and late 19th century and early 20th century. The pictures here don't begin to do the city justice. I only had a day to spend in St. Joseph last summer. I could easily have spent a week or more exploring the town. St. Joseph is only an hour north of Kansas city and two hours away from Omaha but it seems very isolated. It very much gives the impression of being in a bubble lost in time. There is very little new construction in the city and it is remarkably rich in late 19th century buildings many of which are unoccupied and seemingly at risk. St. Joseph has an especially incredible collection of 19th century mansions and other opulent residences built in the style of river towns and cities of the western Midwest.
St. Joseph originally grew from the 1840s to 60s as a supply and transit hub for settlers heading to California and Oregon. Steamboats brought people up the Missouri River to the city where they organized wagon trains and purchased provisions for the rest of the journey. Many local merchants grew wealthy and built grand houses during this period. Rail connections were built in the 1850s and with it's river port St. Joseph became an ideal location for agricultural manufacturing and commerce serving the prosperous farms in the area. The (probably inaccurate) census of 1900 counted 102,979 people. It's likely that St. Joseph's population peaked in 1930 at 80,935. The population has essentially plateaued since then and is currently 76,780. Driving around the inner and older parts of the city gives the impression that many people have left. I guess that's because of a population shift to outer more suburban parts of town. There are many empty lots and buildings scattered throughout the older neighborhoods.
The King Hill overlook is a great place to view the stockyards, river and city from above. When I was there the overlook was empty. The roads leading to it were among the worst maintained city streets I've seen but they are passable. The stockyards area stretches along the river South of downtown. A small commercial district separate from downtown developed near the stockyards. This district doesn't have many operating business left and consists mostly of early 20th century buildings. Some of the most impressive houses and buildings in the city are just Southeast of Downtown in the general vicinity of the Patee House Museum and North and Northeast of downtown. The largest concentration of 19th century mansions is North of downtown near Hall St. but grand 19th century homes can be found scattered throughout the inner neighborhoods all over the city.
The Glore Psychiatric Museum is amazing. It is surrounded by an operating institution housing the criminally insane on the eastside of the city. The museum is housed in a former mental hospital and offers a survey of the history of psychiatric medicine making liberal use of barbie dolls and store mannequins. Maps and signs leading to the Glore confusingly call it "St. Joseph Museums". It's on Fredrick just West of highway 169/29. There are several other interesting sounding museums in St. Joseph that I didn't get to visit. The Patee House and Robidoux Row Museum are two that I'd like to go to some day.
When I passed through last summer I camped at Lewis and Clark State Park 20 miles South of Saint Joseph. Missouri State parks are some of the best in the country. They often have hot showers, decent camp sites and low rates. Lewis and Clark park has great facilities and is a pleasant place to stay but there didn't seem to be much else to do and its surroundings aren't very attractive. If you're going to be in the area, St. Joseph is absolutely worth taking a little effort to visit. Nearby Atchison Kansas is much smaller but also very interesting.
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