St. Joseph, my hometown, is perfectly set in the path of the solar eclipse totality on Aug. 21, bringing thousands (maybe tens of thousands) to this city just about 55 miles north of downtown Kansas City.
But for those making the journey, there’s much more to experience besides this once-in-a-lifetime event.
St. Joseph’s claim to fame has long been the Pony Express. Riders for the storied mail service sped off from St. Joseph, stopping every 10 miles for a delivery and a fresh horse until they reached Sacramento, Calif., and back again. But only from April, 3, 1860, to Oct. 26, 1861. See the original stables at the Pony Express National Museum.
Twenty-two years to the day after the Pony Express started, Jesse James was shot when he turned his back to a fellow outlaw in his tiny one-story home. It now exists as the Jesse James Home Museum.
And you can cruise along the winding Lover’s Lane, immortalized in Eugene Field’s poem “Lover’s Lane, St. Jo”: “in those leafy aisles, where Cupid smiles.”
What else to see
Many attractions will be open with extended hours from Aug. 19 to Aug. 21, but some will shut down that Monday. Among the highlights:
▪ The Patee House Museum: John Patee opened it as a luxury hotel in 1858, and it is now a National Historic Landmark for its role as Pony Express headquarters and a Civil War provost office. Jesse James was killed just a block away, but the house has been on the Patee House grounds for the last four decades.
The museum also includes a full-loaded covered wagon, model railroad, blacksmith shop, 1880s general store, working railroad signal and 1860 Hannibal and St. Joseph Railroad engine, coal car and mail car (which brought the mail from the east to drop off for the Pony Express to deliver to the west). There’s a working carousel, a transportation gallery featuring such vintage vehicles as a 1921 Sprinter race car, 1922 fire trucks and a Model T Ford, as well as a circa 1854 Buffalo Saloon where customers can sip on a sarsaparilla while listening to tunes on a 1903 Nickelodeon player piano.
▪ The Pony Express National Museum: Houses the original Pony Express stables and includes such interactive exhibits as a working well, and a horse saddle covered with a replica of the Mochila, a bag with four pockets that held the mail. It could be quickly changed out at each relay station so the rider could be on his way within two minutes.
▪ The Glore Psychiatric Museum: One of only a handful of psychiatric museums in the world, it features artifacts and exhibits from centuries of mental health treatment — from lobotomies to art therapy. One glass-enclosed case is always a draw — 1,446 objects, including nails, screws, thimbles, buttons and safety pins, swallowed by a patient of St. Joseph’s State Lunatic Asylum No. 2. She died in 1929 when surgeons tried to remove the collection.
The building also houses the Black Archives Museum, the Doll Museum and the Native American Galleries.
▪ The Albrecht-Kemper Museum of Art: A juried exhibition will showcase artworks depicting moons, planets and stars from artists throughout the U.S. The museum’s permanent collection includes works by Thomas Hart Benton and Mary Cassatt.
▪ Allied Arts Council’s downtown’s Sculpture Walk: 18 sculptures over a 15-block area with pieces changing annually.
▪ The Walter Cronkite Memorial: Exhibits and memorabilia on the St. Joseph native who became the “most trusted man in America” as CBS news anchor from 1962 to 1981. Visitors can sit behind a replica of his 1970s-era desk.
▪ The Hall Street Historic District: Once known as Millionaires Row. Many of the homes, dating from the 1850s to 1880s, have been restored.
Where to eat
▪ Barbosa’s Castillo Downtown Castle: E.C. Barbosa, a meat inspector, would sell his family’s house-made tamales to co-workers. Then he and his wife turned the front room of their home into a dining room for paying customers. In 1974, they purchased the former Moss House, on a hill overlooking downtown St. Joseph, and after an extensive remodeling they opened as Barbosa’s Castillo.
Bachelor J.B. Moss toured Europe gathering art objects for his future home. By 1891, the “fabled castle of fantastic medieval-ism” was erected in a Romanesque-Gothic style with roof garden at 906 Sylvanie St. It still features the original English oak paneled entry; imported stained glass windows in the waiting room; hand-carved, three-story, solid oak stairway; and three unique fireplaces.
Now in its third-generation, the downtown Barbosa’s will be open Aug. 18 and 19 but will be closed Aug. 20 and 21. Another location in a freestanding building at 4804 Frederick Ave. will be open Aug. 21. Menu items include chicken fajita salad and enchiladas smothered in red pork chile, using family recipes from E.C.’s parents, natives of Guadalajara, Mexico.
▪ Brioche French Bakery & Cafe: One of St. Joseph’s newest offerings, it is owned by French chef Vincent Daunay and his fiancee, Julie Gray.
Duanay, a native of Paris, via the Caribbean, moved to St. Joseph a decade ago and worked at several St. Joseph restaurants, focusing on fresh, local ingredients. He opened Brioche bakery at 114 N. Seventh St. in mid-November. It offers a variety of cakes and cupcakes (white chocolate, key lime, orange creamsicle, banana split, piña colada), cookies and more. Pastries include danishes, scones, croissants, biscotti, fudge, eclairs and tartlets.
The cafe opened earlier this year serving breakfast and lunch crepes all day, from savory buckwheat gluten-free Brittany (with artichokes, spinach, tomato, eggs and cheese) to sweet crepe white flour banana Nutella and build-your-own crepes, salads and sandwiches.
It is closed Aug. 20 but will be open Aug. 21.
Galvin’s Dinner House is St. Joseph’s version of Stroud’s with family-style, pan-fried chicken; sweet creamy corn; green beans; and mashed potatoes and gravy (as well as pork chops, grilled salmon and KC strip steak).
Jake’s Steakhouse and Sports Bar recently opened at 620 Edmond St. serving large portions — from breakfast burritos and sandwiches, omelets and steak and eggs in the morning, to grilled shrimp kabobs, steaks and pork chops. It also has vintage St. Joseph business signs and black-and-white photos of the old stockyards. Its sister restaurant is Boudreaux’s Louisiana Seafood and Steaks previously had a location in Leawood’s Mission Farms.
Along the Belt Highway — and spreading east on Frederick to Interstate 29 — visitors will find a multitude of chain operations. The North Belt McDonald’s made national news a year ago as the “McDonald’s of the future.”
And be sure to pick up a Cherry Mash for the ride home. Soft, cherry-flavored center, made from real maraschino cherries, surrounded by chopped roasted peanuts and a layer of chocolate. People have been loving them (or hating them) since 1876.