Backroads Journal

Driving Through Down Home Missouri

If you are looking for the heartland of America, you can find a representational sample of it in North Central Missouri. Rolling fields, small scattered farms, neat Amish communities and the feeling that life just moves a little slower are some of the qualities of this part of the country.
I had read an article about State Highway 6 across upper Missouri through Kirksville in a book a few years ago, but had never managed to follow that route until last week on our trip up through Missouri and Illinois to the Chicago area and eventually Wisconsin. We took leave of I-35 just north of Cameron, Missouri and picked up State Highway 6 in Altamont.

We were immediately struck by the beauty of the landscape and rolling farm fields. You forget how much more in touch with the land that you are while driving two-lane roads after a session of Interstate traveling. The feeling of being connected to the land as the road rolls up and over hills and winds through small valleys is refreshing. The scenery is more interesting, the signage more curious and the whole pace of travel more relaxed.

Part of the experience of backroad traveling is taking the side loops through the small towns and villages along the way. Gallatin has some interesting history, mostly revolving around the trial and eventual acquittal of Frank James, one of the brothers of Jessie James. It’s worth the side loop to see the Rotary Jail and County Courthouse where the trial took place.
As you travel east from Gallatin, you begin seeing evidence of the Amish in the simple and well-tended farms. As you approach Jamesport, you might be aware of the possibility of sharing the road with the familiar black buggies that frequent the roads around that community. Jamesport has embraced the Amish way of life.  You will find it a friendly, rural community with craft stores, antique shops and equine related businesses. If you have time, a few of the country roads between Jamesport and Chillicothe will provide a wealth of the scenic country life.

Small towns like Trenton, Galt, Humphrey and Reger follow as you head east across the state. Each has its own interest and qualities, but as we approached Novinger the more wooded hillsides began having a different appearance. Now being from Kansas helps, but it was easy to recognize the signs of tornado damage. The trees around the little town of Novinger had definitely been shredded and tossed about. There was much evidence in and around that little town that Mother Nature had come calling.
Kirksville, our stop for the night, turned out to be gem of a town. From the campus of Northeast Missouri State University, the redeveloped downtown district and historic courthouse square to the friendly, helpful residents and an excellent restaurant, Kirksville is a great place to overnight. The information we read about the brewpub, Il Spazio, mentioned their ambitious menu, so we tried it for a late dinner. For a small town restaurant, we have to say that we were duly impressed by the menu selection and the creative cooking. The brewpub label is a little misleading since they have stopped brewing their own beer, but it’s still a great place to end a day of driving and enjoy a fine meal.

Missouri Highway 6 is one of those classic roads that causes you to begin noticing the countryside again, instead of staring monotonously at four lanes of concrete. You need to add a few hours more, but it totally beats driving Interstate 70 across Missouri and a few side loops through some of the small towns can entertain and break up the long drive. It’s refreshing to see the true heartland of America up close.


The Il Spazio web site was down when I checked, but try for a map and review.
Reviews of the Holiday Inn Express we stayed at can be found at