|Laclede Co, MO||N. America||14,474||English||37.678203/-92.661694||5,628 miles|
Earliest records of Lebanon, (the one in the Middle East), indicate this city was home to the Phoenicians, a maritime culture that flourished for over a thousand years (c.1550–539 BC). In 64 BC, the region came under the rule of the Roman Empire and became one of the Empire’s leading centers of Christianity.
Eventually it succumbed to the rule of the Ottoman Empire, a political situation that lasted for centuries. After World War I, the five provinces that constitute modern Lebanon were given to France. It wasn’t until 1943 that Lebanon gained independence and over time it established a unique political system called “confessionalism” or, a power-sharing mechanism based on religious communities.
Famous people from Lebanon include: five popes, three playing card tournament titleholders, eight beauty pageant winners and a plethora of singers and composers.
Of course, our journey to Lebanon bypassed the Middle Eastern part as we stayed a bit closer to home.
As a country cousin to it’s more famous namesake, Lebanon, Missouri was initially called Wyota, referring to the original Indian inhabitants of the area. Later, the town was renamed after a respected minister in the area who originated from Lebanon, Tennessee. (It seems Missouri has been stealing names from other cities for quite some time).
We knew a little bit about this community of just under 15,000 before we arrived. It’s most famous claim to fame being it happens to be located on Historic Route 66.
We enter the Lebanon from the north on highway 5. It’s actually a pretty drive, only about 1/2 hour south of Camdenton. One of the first things you’ll notice when coming into the Lebanon area is a rather impressive graveyard to your right. Well-kept, it’s also extensive, which gives us you a feeling that lots of people die in this neck of the woods. Perhaps a bit disconcerting?
The main drag, Jefferson Avenue T’s in front of us and we go left through a gauntlet of banks, which is also pretty impressive for a town of this size. A billboard catches our eyes. It’s instructional: “Please Drive Friendly”. We wonder what sort sort of driving conditions prompted the city fathers to post such a sign. Hmmmmm…
We pass by the police municipal court and city hall which share an elongated brick building, and then we start counting up the small town required restaurants: DQ, Arby’s, Taco Bell. There’s a Shoney’s which is a bit unique and my husband is thrilled to spot a Long John Silvers and Steak and Shake. By now both of us are salivating. But we’ve only got a small window of time to see the city before we have to move on.
Billboards, numerous as daisies line the road. I particularly like the Antiques dealers billboard that boasts “Gas Station Collectibles”. This makes me even more determined to decorate our lawn with an old gas pump, Standard Oil sign or perhaps the coveted giant Sinclair dinosaur, ooooh!
Lebanon is fairly familiar to me. My parents often took us to Branson, MO when I was younger and Lebanon was often the spot where we could get out and stretch our legs. Typically we would do this at the Walnut Bowl Factory Store. My mother was a big fan of the walnut bowls which she insisted must never be washed with detergent, but rinsed and dried thoroughly. We spent many happy hours parked in front of the TV eating popcorn from walnut bowls, that mother scooped up as soon as we were done so she could make sure they were cared for appropriately. Frankly, I wasn’t aware popcorn could be served in anything but a wooden bowl until after I left home.
An initial trip to Lebanon must include the Walnut Bowl Factory Store for it offers more “gifty-crap” than any store I’ve been in. Gifty crap is a term my daughter coined many years ago (or perhaps borrowed) to indicate touristy stuff, not poor quality merchandise. Actually the quality and quantity of the Walnut Bowl Store is exceptional. From homemade quilts, china pieces and games to Ozarky themed gizmos and gadgets, it’s a real treat just to walk through the aisles. (I’m pretty sure they have the classic tiny outhouse toy that when you open the door, the little man inside moons you). Overall, the experience is priceless.
But today, we are going to the library. Yes. The library, which in Lebanon is not your normal run-of-the-mill book loaner place. This one is really cool for inside is a unique museum dedicated to Historic Route 66.
It’s like stepping back into the 50’s. The ambiance is soda fountain, poodle-skirt and greased back hair – the ambiance is a real treat and so worth strolling through, providing a time-warp experience for the visitor.
Later we did some research on Lebanon as a whole and discovered some interesting tidbits about this tiny town. For instance, Harold Bell Wright, who became a best-selling American writer of fiction, essays, and non-fiction during the first half of the 20th century and who is the author of The Shepherd of the Hills, was a preacher for several years in Lebanon.
Then, there’s the “magnetic” water. As the story goes, a worker digging a new city water well in 1889 found that his tools could pick up nails. Basically, the water had magnetized them. Before long, it was trendy to bath in the magnetic waters, which were said to have healing powers. To accommodate visitors, The Gasconade Hotel was built, which could house up to 500 guests. Unfortunately, it never really took off and after only ten years, it burnt to the ground. But the high school yearbook is named The Magnet in honor of famous part of the town’s history.
Lebanon is also a favorite stopping off spot for fisherman due to the nearby Bennett Spring State Park, only 12 miles (19 km) west of the city on Highway 64. In fact, Lebanon becomes a Mecca for anglers every March when they travel to this little community in droves with the opening of the Bennett Spring trout season.
We didn’t do Lebanon justice, but then again, we know we’ll pass this way again – you can’t really help it if you want to venture south in the Show-Me state. But for now, we had to move on.
Out next destination takes us to Caledonia.