Our great state of Missouri is rich in history. This was the 1804 starting point for the famous Lewis and Clark Expedition, and it is also the location where three of the greatest rivers in the United States meet.
More than 1,000 Civil War battles took place in Missouri, making it the third-most fought-over state of the war, after Virginia and Tennessee.
It was the Gateway to the West with the Pony Express, and the California, Oregon and Santé Fe trails all originating in Missouri.
At one time St. Louis was the fourth largest city in the United States.
The history of agriculture, mining and timber all had an effect on Missouri and the people who lived here.
Some of the better-known Missourians include Yogi Berra, Omar Bradley, George Washington Carver, Walter Cronkite, T.S. Eliot, Jean Harlow, Jesse James, James Cash Penny (founder of the JC Penney Company), Harry S. Truman, and Mark Twain, just to name a few.
The Sappington Center is tucked away in the southwest part of St. Louis County, near the intersection of Interstates 44 and 270.
This 2.5-acre park features the Thomas Sappington House Museum, the Library of the Americana and Decorative Arts, the Barn Restaurant and Loft Gift Shop.
For added interest and enjoyment, the Sappington House is adjacent to Grant’s Trail.
The Thomas Sappington House Museum is a National Historical Landmark. This restored historic site is an outstanding example of Federal architecture, which was popular during the post-revolutionary period (1780-1830) but it is rare in Missouri.
Meticulously restored and renovated, the site allows visitors to look back in time to see how the Sappington family lived in the early 1800s.
Volunteer guides will take you back in time as you tour the historic house and the adjacent Americana Library. Listen to the history of the Sappington family as they traveled from Kentucky to Missouri at the urging of Daniel Boone.
Thomas Sappington was the second of 17 children of John and Jemima Sappington. Thomas was a successful farmer, a justice of the peace and was a first lieutenant in the War of 1812.
Thomas built this Federalist brick house for his bride, Mary Ann Kinkead, in 1808. Their marriage is credited as being the first documented marriage license issued in St. Louis County.
This historic house is also acknowledged as the oldest surviving brick house in St. Louis County.
A well-informed guide will take you on a tour of the kitchen, dining room, parlor, master bedroom, and the children’s room and point out the many historical items that were carefully collected, and describe how they were used in the early 1800s.
Learn the Native American method of making a broom. They will explain the uses of mirrors for security, courtship and expanding a light source.
Furnishings include the liquor and sugar chests, whose contents were so valuable that each had its own lock and key. There is a custom-made corner china cabinet with 13 panes of glass that represent the 13 original colonies.
The tin oven next to the kitchen fireplace is the forerunner of today’s rotisserie oven. Some of the silverware on display have bone or stag horn handles.
There are several long stem clay pipes on display. Do you know why the pipes have long stems? Your personal tour guide will explain why, and also why having doors on built-in closets and cabinets was considered a luxury.
Examine the craftsmanship of the furniture such as the writing desk, chairs made to look like bamboo, fireplace mantels and tables all built circa 1835 or earlier.
Your guide will also inform you of the Sappington family genealogy, which includes John Sappington (the patriarch) who was a bodyguard to General George Washington at Valley Forge, Thomas Sappington (his son), and his 16 other siblings, the relationship between the Sappington and the Hawken family (the inventor of the famous Hawken rifle) to the more recent genealogy which includes actress Ginger Rogers.
The Historic Sappington House also includes the nationally-recognized Library of Americana and Decorative Arts, where you can either perform extensive research or casually browse through the collection of resources on American history and decorative arts.
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The library is also used as a resource for genealogy. Decorative art books cover subjects like quilts, silverware, pottery and furniture, etc., from the 1790 to 1835.
One of my favorite places in this historic place is the Barn Restaurant. I enjoy sitting on the outside deck that overlooks the mature trees, gardens, and pond with a fountain while eating the best Eggs Benedict that I have ever tasted.
The Sappington Barn Center was built in 1969 in honor of Carolyn C. McDonnell, who directed the Sappington House renovation. The building was modeled after an early barn building on the property and is typical of an early 19th century Missouri barn.
Beyond its charming surroundings, the Barn has quickly become a favorite spot for cyclists and walkers looking to refuel after a brisk walk or ride on Grant’s Trail. The restaurant has developed a mouthwatering menu of made from scratch, farm-fresh breakfasts and lunches.
There is a changing selection of hand-crafted pastries and rich baked goods, especially a variety of scones that keep guests coming back for more. The is open Tuesday through Friday, from 6 a.m.-2 p.m., and Saturday and Sunday, from 6 a.m.-3 p.m. They are closed on Monday, and they can be found online at www.crestwoodbarn.com.
After you have completed touring the Sappington House and enjoyed a relaxing lunch at the Barn Restaurant, be sure to visit the Loft Gift Shop located over the Barn Restaurant.
The boutique is full of unique gifts specializing in “rustic chic.” The Loft was chosen by the Riverfront Times readers as the Best St. Louis Gift Shop.
Another attraction that the Sappington House Center has to offer is the easy access and ample parking to enjoy the Ulysses S. Grant Trail.
Grant’s Trail is an eight mile long “rails to trails” bike trail stretching through south and southwest St. Louis County. As a former railroad right of way, Grant’s Trail is flat and is good for all skill levels for biking, running, inline skating and walking.
Dogs are also able to use this trail but must be kept on a leash. Besides the scenic views there are many other points of interest along the trail that would be both fun and educational to explore, such as:
• The Lodge at Grant’s Trail – A rustic bed & breakfast lodge.
• St. Louis BMX Bike Park – BMX bike trails and Clydesdale park trails.
• Grant National Historic Site – An early home belonging to President Grant.
• Grant’s Farm – Animal park open seasonally with no admission charge.
• Clydesdale stables and pastures – Famous Anheuser-Busch Clydesdales.
• Whitecliff Park – Park with wooded trails, quarry pond and recreational facilities.
• Father Dickson Cemetery – An old historic cemetery.
The 50-plus dedicated volunteers who operate the museum, library and gift shop also organize several events throughout the year.
Some of the upcoming events include:
• County Craft Festival – See vendors selling hand-crafted wares and old-time artisans demonstrating their historic skills. Enjoy live music and delicious food. (April 28-29)
• Student Archaeological Dig – Watch students and supervising professional archaeologists dig in the Sappington House grounds looking for artifacts related to the homestead or even Native American inhabitants. (May 31 & June 16)
• Ice Cream Social and Outdoor Concert – Enjoy tasty treats and the cool sound of music. (Sept. 22)
• Spirits of Sappington House Tour – Hear costumed ghosts tell tales from beyond. See the macabre 18th century surgeon Dr. John Murphy demonstrate authentic colonial medical practices. (Oct. 19-20)
There are many more events planned. You can find a description of these and other events on the Sappington House website (sappingtonhouse.org) or visit the calendar drop down on the River Hills Traveler website.
Tours of the house are available from 11 a.m.-2 p.m., Wednesday through Friday, and the third Saturday of the month. The last tour starts at 1:30 p.m.
Admission to the Sappington House is $5 for adults and $1 for children. Special group tours of the house may be arranged. A videotaped tour of the house with its history is available for individuals who are unable to physically tour the Sappington Museum.
After I had taken a tour with my personal guide, Sally Cakouros, I can say that they have accomplished their mission with me. If you are looking for an entertaining, educational and cultural experience I encourage everyone to visit Historic Sappington House to learn about the people and their customs that helped shaped Missouri and America.
(Bill Wakefield runs the Traveler’s St. Louis office and can be reached at email@example.com.)