|Morgan Co, Missouri||North America||2,482||English||38.431/-92.8414||4,494 miles|
Internationally known for its Château de Versailles with its Royal Opera House and the gardens of Versailles , it was once the de facto capital of the kingdom of France, from 1682-1798. Additionally it was the location for two pretty important treaties: the Treaty of Paris (1783), which ended the American Revolutionary War, and the Treaty of Versailles following World War I.
Today, Versailles is sometimes considered a wealthy suburb of Paris, but it’s also a major tourist destination in it’s own right. Additionally, the Château de Versailles is where the Congress of France - the name given to the body created when both houses of the French Parliament, the National Assembly and the Senate - meet to vote on revisions to the French constitution.
Famous people from Versailles, France include: Louis XV, Louis XVI, Louis XVII and Philip V; the famous architect Ferdinand de Lesseps, and the philosopher Jean Francois Lyotard, and give or take about a 100 or so more.
Versailles France is a pretty awesome place. But we didn’t go there.
We approach from the east, along highway 5 South. The welcome sign is on our left, across the road from a hay bale pyramid that marks the livestock auction area. Like all Missouri city signs, the name is in white letters against a green background.
Unlike its French cousin, Versailles heartland-style is pronounced ver-sales. It is common practice in the Show-Me state to take a phonetic approach to city names. Case in point, Egypt’s Cairo becomes Kay-Row (but that’s another trip altogether). Like its counterpart, Versailles Missouri is also involved with politics, serving as the Morgan County Seat. Founded in 1835 when Andrew Jackson was President, it is almost 250 years younger than its French sister, and considerably smaller in size; only a little over two square miles.
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As we drive into town, Paul and I notice the little community is strikingly similar to most small Missouri towns. Tiny houses, wood-sided or clapboard for the most part, flank the streets. Porches are popular and the front yards run together like one long ribbon of grass, butting up to sidewalks that have seen better days. But as Missouri natives, we find the overall effect warm and welcoming, and we feel right at home.
Today, Paul is driving and spots a sign for the Morgan County Historical Museum. Immediately, he speeds up just a bit in anticipation of roaming through old stuff. As for me, as our CRV bumps across a paved-over railroad track, I recall how the railroad was once a major employer in these rural communities and I think about Paul’s dad who died a few years ago – that he spent almost 40 years as an engineer for the Atchison Topeka & Santa Fe Line.
At Monroe Street, we take a left, and soon we’re in the central business district, intent to find the Historical Museum. But we’re excited to see what else Versailles has to offer, so we park on East Newton Street directly in front of the Morgan County Courthouse.
As the centerpiece of the town square, the red brick two-story is handsome and impressive. With squared-off turrets on each corner with a belfry rising in the middle it’s also stately and judicial.
Across the street, the Royal Theater is a tad more modern.
The yellow brick front with “Royal” spelled out in neon block-letters is no Palace of Versailles, but majestic in it’s own right. And I would imagine has seen it’s own share of crowds since it opened in 1931.
Fisher Street marks the south side of the square. Here, the Bank of Versailles, also a two-story brick structure has twin sets of Roman columns that flank either side of an extra wide entrance. Built in 1882, is equally impressive, and with a name like Bank of Versailles (pronounced ver-sahy in this case) Paul and I briefly consider opening an account.
We also discover Versailles has a funny bone. I mean where else can you stay at the Hilty Inn Bed and Breakfast, dine at Donettis Doughnuts and Spaghetti shop and get your hair done at the Groovy Doos Salon?
But, alas, we could not find the museum.
Also, unable to find anyone in the square to ask for directions, we go west on Newton (Highway 52) about a mile from the Courthouse and discover a newer section of town with a Wal-Mart Supercenter. It’s important to point out Wal-Marts are a staple of pretty much every small Missouri town – but in this case, Bud Walton, co-founder of Wal-Mart is actually from Versailles. But then again, Versailles is also the birthplace of Joseph Franklin Rutherford (Founder of the Jehovah’s Witnesses and second President of the Watch Tower Bible & Tract Society). Just sayin’.
Finding a Casey’s Convenience Store, we stop and go inside to get directions to the museum. But honestly the young man behind the counter hadn’t a clue what we we”re talking about. But as we are leaving, a two-toned Silverado, with a small noisy dog riding in the cab, pulls up next to us.
“You lost?” The driver says, stretching out the “you” so it sounds like two syllables.
“We’re looking for the Morgan County Historical Museum,” Paul says.
“Well then,” the driver says, his dog snarls at us. “Go up the road, after two stop signs, take a left.”
“What’s the street name?” I ask quickly. But he’s gone in a flash, prompting Paul and me to wonder if we’d just been visited by Versailles version of the Lone Ranger.
Nevertheless, we decide to try again, and this time we spot the museum – on Monroe Street, no less.
I literally slap my palm to my head as I realize we must have passed it at least twice already. (But in our defense, the sign was pretty small). We park and walk victoriously up to the door in anticipation of all the goodies inside. But it’s locked tighter than a drum. Paul looks hopelessly for a posting of their hours as I shake my head in disbelief.
And yet, we also understand. Most small towns simply don’t have the budgets to keep their touristy places open throughout the week. And, we also realize that for now, we have to get on the road while there’s still sunlight.
I have to say though, we enjoyed our, albeit, quick tour of Versailles. But in the same respect, we both know, as the first of 47 towns we plan to visit – we didn’t do it justice. There were so many things we didn’t get a chance to see, like the Hite Prairie Conservation Area with its native grassland prairie, and Jacob’s Cave famous for its reflective pools, prehistoric bones, and, to top it off, the world’s largest geode.
But we’re hoping our travels bring us this way again.
Until then, we would love to hear about other Versaillian highlights. So feel free to drop us a line.
Our next destination: Oh, Canada?