Just off of 1-70, 20 minutes west of Columbia, the town of Boonville is nestled beside the Missouri River. Boonville’s history runs as deep as the river, with hundreds of National Historic sites within the city limits.
The Boonville Walking Tour takes you on a journey back in time to the 1800s, where moving West was the dream of many American settlers. With more than 20 places to visit, the tour is the perfect way to discover a piece of Missouri history.
Just like the settlers exploring the new territory, follow the map given to you at the old Katy Depot, which now houses the Chamber of Commerce and Tourism offices, and start your journey.
The Hotel Frederick is a key stop on the walking tour. Built in1905, this huge historic hotel cost a whopping $40,000 at the time. It went from a hotel to a bus depot and restaurant, to a retirement home before closing its doors in 1994. It was restored 10 years later with an eclectic mix of old and new. It offers 24 unique rooms to stay in and houses “The Fred” restaurant, as well – it’s a great stop for lunch during your tour.
If you are familiar with the University of Missouri, you will recognize the name Walter Williams, known for establishing the first school of journalism at the university. Walter Williams’ boyhood home is just up the street from Hotel Fredrick. Owned by Edward Lang, the managing editor of the Boonville Daily News, the Walter Williams home is transformed into a Christmas wonderland during the holiday season – more than 90 trees and indoor and outdoor decorations adorn the property
Just blocks away are the Old Cooper County Jail and Hanging Barn. The last hanging in Boonville was in 1930. After climbing the 13 steps to the second floor, while spectators packed into the small barn, Lawrence Mabry hanged for more than 12 minutes before being pronounced dead. The noose still hangs ominously from the ceiling in the old barn
Although the last hanging was in the 1930s, the jail was open until 1978. Prisoners, who were usually caught speeding through town, were held in small, dark cells awaiting trial. Carvings cover the walls, depicting the morbid sentiments of the inmates. As a perfectly preserved piece of Boonville history, the jail and hanging barn are available for tours during normal business hours.
On a more upbeat note, another popular stop on the walking tour is Bell’s View Park. In a neighborhood filled with grand Victorian-style houses, Charles Bell created this park to provide a serene sitting area surrounded by colorful flowers and plants. He also picked this perfect spot to highlight the scenic view of the Missouri River from the park’s lookout point.
Another stop on the tour is Roslyn Heights, known as “one of the last Main Street Mansions.” It’s stood in downtown Boonville since 1895. The Daughters of the American Revolution have restored and maintained the mansion’s structure and charm and offer tours by appointment. Just like the Walter Williams home, the mansion has an annual open house during the Christmas season, inviting people to celebrate the holidays inside its intricately decorated doors.
Written by Abbey Theban, intern for the Missouri Division of Tourism.