|Christian Co, MO||N. America||1756||English||37.00032/-93.083407||5,096 miles|
|Greece||Europe||16,000 ca. 480 BCE)||Doric Greek||37.07446/22.43026|
Once situated on the banks of the Eurotas River in Laconia, in south-eastern Peloponnese,Sparta or Lacedaemon, was a prominent city-state in ancient Greece. It became a political entity around the 10th century BC, when the invading Dorians subjugated the local, non-Dorian population. Around 650 BC, it rose to become the dominant military land-power in ancient Greece.
Sparta was known as the overall leader of the combined Greek forces during the Greco-Persian Wars. Though Sparta was victorious during the Peloponnesian War, from 431 and 404 BC, it was defeated by Thebes in the Battle of Leuctra in 371 BC. It underwent a long period of decline especially in the Middle Ages and many Spartans moved to Mystras. Modern Sparta is the capital of the Greek regional unit of Laconia and a center for the processing of goods such as citrus and olives.
Sparta was also known for its unique social system and constitution which completely focused on military training and excellence. Spartiates received rigorous training and education in battle techniques. The Spartan women enjoyed considerably more rights and equality to Spartan men than women who lived elsewhere at the time.
I would assume Missouri Spartan women have a similar sense of equality as the men in their tiny town. But as far as the Missouri men being as battle-ready as their ancient city counterparts, I’m a bit skeptical. In fact, Trojan country (as indicated by the Sparta Missouri road sign) is more of a sleepy off-the-beaten-track community, with little reason to wage war, on anyone.
Sparta, like many small Midwestern municipalities, has humble beginnings. Robert Duncan, one of the first settlers of Sparta, MO, provided the land for the first courthouse built 1841.
Early on , the city’s economy centered on agriculture, shipping and mining, although many residents worked at the local flour mill. Today, agriculture and the service industry (which makes up about 16 percent of the jobs) continue to account for a significant share of Sparta’s economy.
We head off for this town with the famous name in May 2010, after staying the night at the Baymont Inn and Suites in Springfield, which I might add was quite nice. Clean, great pool and spa. We were looking forward to the 80 degree temps that were predicted, which is actually might warm for Missouri this time of year.
Sparta, which is located in Christian County, is only a little over 20 miles from Springfield, but getting there was a bit of a long slog. Kearney Road heading out of Springfield was one long line of cars – all merging to avoid a work zone. I had nothing better to do than look around as we inched our way through this bottleneck. Saw a sign for PFI Missourians, the largest Western Store and Missouri Sports Hall of Fame. Made note of that. Saw a rather weird sign – “Titanic – a tribute to the pets aboard the ship”. I’m thinking, Missouri is really far from where the Titanic went down. But aside from that – what would be on display?
You wouldn’t be in Southern Missouri without seeing a sign that said, “Entering Bald Knobbers Country”. For those scratching their heads right about now, Bald Knobbers were a vigilante group in the late 1800’s who wore really bad-looking ski-masks. But today, the name is mostly associated with country music, hillbillies and lower IQ’s – the latter used as the foundation for the basis for the humor in most Bald Knobber shows in the area – which oddly enough bring in the crowds and make butt-loads of money.
We turn off highway 65 onto East 14 (Business 65) through Ozark Missouri. From here it’s seven miles to Sparta. This part of the trip is really nice with rolling hills and open fields and takes us through the towns of McCracken and Shady Grove.
Although we aren’t expecting anything close to scenes depicted in the “movie 300” we thought perhaps the town would profit on it’s famous name.
The welcome sign didn’t let us down…
…although, perhaps a little upkeep would be in order.
The first thing we notice is that they have a very nice Subway; then there’s a Family Pharmacy and Cafe and Ha’s Chinese Buffet. Other than that – Sparta is sparse. But we take the grand tour beginning with a right on North Avenue; right on Division, right on Oak and right again on Scott, before making a left on North again.
Paul decides to park and go into a warehouse/flea market building to talk to one of the locals about what there is to do in Sparta. He thinks if we can find the library we’ll be in good shape. There’s a woman, up in years, sitting in an overstuffed chair that was also up in years. She was very thin, with grey hair – and she talked very slow.
The conversation went something like this:
“Hi, I was wondering if Sparta has a library,” Paul says.
She says, “I don’t know. You’ll just have to look around.”
Thinking he had been misheard, he tries again. “Do you have a library?”
“A what?” Which pretty much ended the conversation.
Having little success here, we left in search of anyone who could tell us anything about Sparta…anything at all.
We decide to drive down a few side streets, see the lay of the land, so to speak and sitting on porches seems to be the national past-time. We drive by a neighborhood cemetery with an impressive sign. It says, “this is a non-endowed cemetery”. I don’t know what this means, but I assume like everything else in Sparta, even the cemetery is so uninteresting that nobody wants to put their name on it.
South of Sparta, we go west across highway 65. Presently, we see a sign for “The Smallest Cathedral in the World” – now this sounds promising. We follow the direction indicated and take highway 14 toward Nixa (where fictional character Jason Bourne is from), then turn off on 13 south toward Highlandville. I unfold our map and discover the tiny Cathedral is actually marked by a teeny red dot – but there don’t seem to be any more signs along the road. I was kind of expecting the typical “200 yards to the “World’s Smallest Cathedral” or Straight ahead, Tiny Cathedral Worth Seeing TWICE!” or at least, “Don’t Miss it – This Exit!” But there was nothing…not even an arrow, anywhere.
“Maybe it’s a miniature,” Paul says, tapping the steering wheel aggressively and sighing, trying to sound positive.
We stop off at a bank but the people working there are from other cities and have never heard of the itsy bitsy cathedral. Finally someone steps up and says it’s in Kentling. Huh?
“Go right on East Bradley,” she says pointing back the way we had come from. “It’s in someone’s backyard.” Okay.
She was right.
And it was enchanting. We parked – which seemed kind of weird since it was in someone’s driveway and got out.
After oohing and aahing a bit, we went inside. And it was indeed tiny.
At the time we visited, the house and the cathedral were for sale – and at a steal at $129,000!
It took us most of the day just to find something in Sparta worth writing about, but the Cathedral was pretty sweet. But now, it’s time to head back to Columbia while there’s still daylight.
Once we got home, I tried in vain to find any famous people from Sparta, but that was also a wash. I did find a nice ad in the Yellow Pages for Mamma’s Burgers – she got a 5 1/2 star rating – which is totally worth mentioning.
Next destination: Lebanon…