Arrow Rock: National Landmark District Preserves Missouri Pioneer History

Arrow Rock

The village of Arrow Rock, MO, commemorates early pioneer life in its 46th annual Heritage Craft Festival, Oct. 11 and 12, 2014. This area, near the banks of the Missouri River, is preserved as it looked in the 19th century with its stores, tavern, private homes, and a boardwalk. During the festival, artisans and shopkeepers dress in pioneer clothing and offer craft demonstrations of woodcarving, rug making, basket weaving, soap making, and other trades. Arrow Rock is a National Historic Landmark district rich in preservation of Missouri pioneer history. This noteworthy history includes explorers Lewis and Clark, the Santa Fe Trial, artist George Caleb Bingham, and Dr. John Sappington who developed quinine as a preventive against malaria.

Before the village existed, the limestone bluff known as Arrow Rock was an important landmark for Native Americans, early explorers and pioneers heading west. Indigenous people used the flint found in the bluff to make weapons and tools for thousands of years. The bluff was first included in early maps by French explorers in 1732 as “pierre a fleche,” or “rock of arrows.” After the Lewis and Clark expedition along the Missouri River, pioneers crossed the Mississippi River as part of the westward movement. They also followed the Missouri River and, like Lewis and Clark, enjoyed the many salt water and fresh water springs in the area.

The largest of the salt water springs was commercialized by Daniel Boone’s sons, Nathan and Daniel Morgan Boone, and was named Boone’s Lick. They boiled the water away so the salt would crystallize; after which it would get shipped via keelboat to St. Louis. A big fresh water spring also attracted settlers making their way westward. They would cross the river via ferry at Arrow Rock and fill their water barrels before continuing the journey. When the Santa Fe Trail was established in 1821, the route went through the trading post’s main street where the old shops are today.

Arrow Rock
Boardwalk at Arrow Rock, MO

The town was established in 1829. It was originally named Philadelphia but was changed to Arrow Rock in 1833. Though a rural community, it was also home to prominent people. Bingham, the Missouri artist, built a home there in the 1840s and would paint frontier scenes. His house is one of the historic house museums. Dr. Sappington’s home is also a museum and features popular frontier medicines of the day. The Huston Tavern, across from the shops and boardwalk, is the oldest tavern in continuous operation west of the Mississippi. It has been serving pioneers and politicians, rich and poor, visitors and local residents since it first opened in 1834.

In addition to historic stores and homes, the pioneer town has other buildings from the 1800s with period furnishings. Two examples are a newspaper office with a large printing press called a jobber, and a courthouse. Civil War re-enactments are scheduled throughout the festival as well as dancers and musicians performing music from that time period. The Arrow Rock Heritage Craft Festival makes it possible for visitors to experience life during the early days of westward expansion in a national landmark district known for preserving Missouri pioneer history. For more information on the festival and the town history, the website links are listed below.

By Cynthia Collins


Arrow Rock Heritage Craft Festival

Arrow Rock History

National Historic Landmark – Arrow Rock

Arrow Rock – Missouri State Historic Site

Dr. John S. Sappington – Biography

Top photo: Huston Tavern in Arrow Rock
Photo of boardwalk by

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