Formed as a state in 1821, MISSOURI acted as bridge between the two halves of America for much of the nineteenth century, when cities like St Louis on the Mississippi and Kansas City and St Joseph astride the Missouri boomed as depots for cattle heading east and settlers heading west. Due to the Missouri Compromise of 1820, slavery was permitted in the state, though it remained within the Union during the Civil War (Confederate guerrilla forces attracted considerable support, however). Today the big cities of Missouri provide most of the allure, though the densely forested Ozark Mountains in the south offer a welcome contrast to the plains.
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No other place had as much influence on Mark Twain as his boyhood home of HANNIBAL, an otherwise sleepy ensemble of nineteenth-century red-brick and clapboard gently sloping towards the Mississippi. Twain, born Samuel Clemens in 1835 in Florida, Missouri, based his seminal novels The Adventures of Tom Sawyer and The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn on his early life in Hannibal, and today the short stretch of historic properties on Main Street is crammed with restaurants, gift shops and museums dedicated to his memory.
The town is 120 miles north of St Louis, squeezed between two steep bluffs; walk up to the Mark Twain Memorial Lighthouse to the north (accessible by 244 steps) or drive up Lover’s Leap to the south (both sunrise–sunset; free) for killer views of the old houses and the muddy expanse of the Mississippi.
Forget all those Midwest stereotypes – KANSAS CITY is a dynamic urban centre of more than two million people, with Art Deco skyscrapers and fountains, a fabulous art museum and a rich cultural heritage that includes jazz and an influential African American community. Then there’s Kansas City-style barbecue, one of America’s most celebrated dishes.
Founded in 1838, the city today actually comprises two fairly distinct – and governmentally separate – cities, separated by the state border and the Missouri River. Virtually all the major points of interest sit on the Missouri side (known as “KC”), while the Kansas section (“KCK”) maintains a much lower profile.