Missouri: Discoveries await travelers ’round every bend

The optimum place to begin the Retro Road Trip in Missouri is St. Louis, Gateway to the West. Two miles south of the Gateway Arch is the Cherokee-Lemp Historic District, which is home to Cherokee Antique Row. Along this six-block stretch of Cherokee Street, east of Jefferson Avenue, is a concentration of antique shops, art galleries, boutiques and restaurants occupying restored 19th-century storefronts.

The historic district is famous among longtime St. Louis residents and breweriana collectors as the former home of Lemp’s Western Brewery, which was the largest brewery in the city in the 1870s. The 1860s Lemp Mansion is now a popular restaurant and inn.

Barb Moore, spokesperson for the Cherokee Antique Row Antique Merchants Association, and her husband, Don, have owned Riverside Antiques at 1947 Cherokee St. for 28 years. They specialize in architectural antiques and live in the renovated apartment above the store. “It’s exciting. We love living here. We’re trying to make it a better community,” she said, adding that several fellow shopkeepers live above their stores. As buildings along Cherokee Street are rehabbed, more businesses open. Thirty businesses, mostly antique stores, are represented in the merchants association.

The historic district will sponsor its 22nd annual Christmas Cookie Spree on Dec. 2 and 3, which will feature live music, carolers, refreshments and appearances by Santa Claus. To learn more about the Cherokee-Lemp Historic District and its antique shops, check out the Web site www.cherokee-lemp.org.

On the northwest outskirts of the St. Louis metropolitan area is St. Charles, where the Lewis and Clark expedition embarked on its journey up the Missouri River in 1804. Missouri’s first state capital is now a popular destination for travelers. More than a dozen antique shops are located along Main and North Second streets.

In 1853, Missouri Pacific Railroad workers are said to have exclaimed, “Eureka!” upon discovering clear, level ground 25 miles west of St. Louis, where they would lay track. Settlers named the village that sprang up along the tracks Eureka. Today shop owners like Dawn Alley and Betsy Heck work to make Eureka a great discovery for antiquers. Their shop, Central Avenue Antiques, is located downtown in a two-story house that once was the residence of the town’s doctor.

Alley and Heck stock the shop with 18th- and 19th-century country primitives in original surface and as much early painted furniture as they can find. “The town has been known as an antiques district for a while. Several shops have closed but we’re trying to get a resurgence going,” said Heck, who joined Alley at the shop two years ago to support her collecting habit. “We’re trying to get the word out that Eureka is a great place to spend a day. There are great restaurants here, wonderful shops and a few antique stores,” she said.

“Eureka is a quaint town and it lends itself to what we try to do,” said Alley, who has been active in the trade since 1990. Alley and Heck also set up at several antique shows that specialize in early country primitives, including the semi-annual Hermann Antique Show. Hermann is a historic German community on the banks of the Missouri River, a 90-minute drive west of St. Louis.

Another historic place synonymous with antiques is Cape Girardeau, 150 miles down the Mississippi River. The community evolved from a French trading post to a frontier settlement to a boomtown in a span of about 100 years. The arrival of the first steamboat in 1835 led to Cape Girardeau becoming the busiest port between St. Louis and Memphis.

Today more than a dozen antique and specialty shops are located in the Old Town Cape riverfront district. Among them is Spanish Street Mercantile owned by Charles Bertrand. A retired Texas public school administrator who dabbled in antiques for 25 years,

Bertrand returned to his hometown four years ago to open the multi-dealer store. “It’s been slower than normal this year but we’re holding our own,” said Bertrand. “Unique things and unusual items seem to be getting prices we normally got. The $20 to $40 items, which are what we sold a lot of, have dried up on us.”

Bertrand has 22 dealers and 15,000 square feet of showroom space at Spanish Street Mercantile. The store carries a variety of antiques and collectibles