Courtesy OKC CVB
Published March 06, 2017
One of the highlights of visiting state capitals is learning about each one’s unique history and the role it has played in shaping the state. But there are many other features that characterize these vibrant cities, from local breweries to haunted prisons and chocolate festivals. Make sure to check out some of these hidden gems next time you tour the America’s Crossroads states.
Little Rock, Arkansas
With sculpture gardens, theaters, streetcar tours and so much more, Little Rock, Arkansas, has a wide range of offerings for groups.
One prominent attraction is Heifer Village, headquarters of Heifer International. This organization works to end world poverty and hunger through sustainable practices, encouraging people to sponsor a goat or a cow for families in the Third World instead of donating money. Groups can learn about global issues through colorful exhibits and, later, grab a bite to eat at the Heifer Café. Next door is the Clinton Presidential Center, which contains Bill Clinton’s presidential library and museum.
For those who enjoy home and garden design, there are several home tours near town. At Moss Mountain Farm, the residence of television host and lifestyle guru P. Allen Smith, groups can reserve a lunch tour to see the house and terrace gardens, with an occasional appearance by Smith himself. Landscape designer Chris Olsen also opens his stylish home to visitors.
One hidden gem that female groups should keep an eye out for is the Esse Purse Museum, which displays purses through the decades and examines how different fashion statements reflected the larger values of the time. It is one of three purse museums in the world.
In addition to artisan ice-cream shops and bakeries throughout town, there are quite a few breweries and distilleries developing in town.
“We have a burgeoning craft-beverage and food scene,” said John Mayner, vice president of the Little Rock Convention and Visitors Bureau.
One popular brewery is Lost Forty Brewing, and Rock Town Distillery offers a wide selection of spirits such as bourbon, vodka and flavored moonshine.
Jefferson City, Missouri
Named “Most Beautiful Small Town in America” in 2013, Jefferson City, Missouri, is a hub of restaurants, museums and historic sites, all nestled along the Missouri River.
Though it is known for its capitol, one of the city’s most popular attractions is the original Missouri State Penitentiary, the oldest prison west of the Mississippi. In 1967, Time Magazine called the prison the “bloodiest 47 acres in America” for it unusual record of murders and assaults, a fact that draws numerous paranormal groups to the site, such as the hit television show “Ghost Hunters.”
The prison housed many infamous inmates over the course of its history, including James Earl Ray, the man who assassinated Martin Luther King Jr.; the Reno brothers, who committed the first train robbery in the United States; and Charles “Pretty Boy” Floyd, a famous bank robber during the Great Depression.
The inmates were transferred to a new facility in 2004, and several years later, the old building reopened for tours, quickly becoming one of the state’s top attractions.
“Many of our history guides actually worked at the prison, so you really get a sense of what life was like for the inmates,” said Katherine Reed, communications manager at the Jefferson City Convention and Visitors Bureau.
Guests can partake in the two-hour history tour or the two-hour ghost tour, with each group limited to about 30 participants. Across the street, visitors can tour the Marmaduke House, which contains the penitentiary museum in the basement. Admission to the museum is included with the prison tour.
Another must-see in town is the old-school Central Dairy ice cream parlor in the Old Munichburg Historic District. Some locals claim it as Jefferson City’s best feature.
“Even when it’s 30 degrees Fahrenheit, there are people lined out the door,” said Reed.
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