DescriptionFounded by French Canadians in 1769, St. Charles was first known as Les Petites Cotes—“the little hills”—a reference to the low bluffs that form a picturesque backdrop along the Missouri River. Present-day Missouri was then part of a vast territory under Spanish rule, although many of those who came to the region to start a new life were French nationals. But also among the arrivals was an American pioneer and soon-to-be folk hero named Daniel Boone; he and much of his extended family settled in nearby Defiance.
In 1804 Upper Louisiana was formally transferred from France to the United States, and the district of San Carlos was renamed St. Charles. That same year Meriwether Lewis arrived from St. Louis to meet up with William Clark, and the two men, along with several boats and an expedition party, left the relative comforts of civilization to embark on a great journey of discovery that would lead them all the way to the Pacific Ocean.
Take a walk around the grounds of the Lewis & Clark Boat House and Nature Center and you’ll spot a couple of pawpaw trees. This small tree, which flourishes in the lower Missouri River Valley, produces a large, yellowish-brown, edible fruit that bears a resemblance to another edible yellow fruit, hence the pawpaw’s local name—Missouri banana. On the return trip the Lewis and Clark expedition party had depleted most of their rations and ended up subsisting largely on pawpaw fruit.
Missouri was admitted to the Union on Aug. 10, 1821, and St. Charles became the state’s first capital. It also was an early center for education west of the Mississippi; the Academy of the Sacred Heart was established in 1818 by Rose Philippine Duchesne, who was canonized in 1988.
In mid-August the entire city celebrates Fête des Petites Côtes, or the Festival of the Little Hills. The 19th century is revisited at this major summertime event, which offers craft demonstrations, food and musical entertainment courtesy of the St. Charles Municipal Band and other acts like Catfish Willie and Borderline.
Pay tribute to yesteryear at the Lewis & Clark Statue in Frontier Park (off Riverside Drive at the foot of Perry Street). Dedicated in 2003, it depicts the intrepid explorers and their dog, Seaman. Also in the park is the Katy Depot; St. Charles is the starting point of the Katy Trail, the former railroad line turned scenic bike trail that stretches west to Clinton.
Switch gears from the past to the present and stop by the Foundry Art Centre, 520 N. Main St. This gallery has studios where you can chat with local artists about their work. The center also contains several rooms with rotating exhibits of high-quality art; phone (636) 255-0270.
St. Charles is home to the River City Raiders professional indoor football team and the St. Louis Ambush men's soccer team. Both play at the Family Arena, 2002 Arena Pkwy.; phone (636) 896-4200 for the box office.
Visitor InfoGreater St. Charles Convention and Visitors Bureau 230 S. Main St. ST. CHARLES, MO 63301. Phone:(636)946-7776 or (800)366-2427
ShoppingIf you’re a fan of gift and specialty shops—all quaint with a capital “Q” and conveniently located along one street for easy browsing—you’re in luck: Main Street in St. Charles has perfected this particular shopping experience.
The street, part of the St. Charles Historic District, parallels the Missouri River. Shady, brick-paved sidewalks are lined with barrel planters and hanging flower baskets. Just when you’re thinking about cooling your heels for a minute an inviting bench seems to appear; the gazebo near the convention and visitors bureau (where there also are public restrooms) is a particularly pretty spot.
Many of the shops are in handsomely restored old brick and wood-frame buildings. Even if you're on a mission to find that certain something, take time to check out The Enchanted Attic (304 S. Main St.) for funky jewelry, wind chimes, crystals and such, and Cobblestone Cottage (803 S. Main St.) for Colonial-style furniture, period lighting fixtures, historical prints and other Americana.
The boutique Ooh La La (703 S. Main St.) has women’s clothing. Look for children’s books and tomes about local history at Main Street Books (307 S. Main St.).
Have lunch in the cozy dining room at the Mother-in-Law House Restaurant (500 S. Main St.), or sit on the leafy patio if the weather’s nice. Picasso’s (101 N. Main St.) is a coffee house with a relaxed air and a good selection of coffee and espresso drinks.
Of course Main Street isn’t the only shopping game in town. Outdoor enthusiasts not on the hunt for tea cozies and collectible dolls head to Bass Pro Shops Sportsman's Warehouse, 1365 S. 5th St. It’s a sprawling place with every conceivable type of recreational gear, plus wildlife exhibits, an indoor waterfall and a game fish aquarium.
Things to SeeFirst Missouri State Capitol State Historic Site
GAMBLING ESTABLISHMENTSAmeristar St. Charles Casino, Resort & Spa