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Show Me the River City

Posted by Ann Herman on

Although I am grateful to have such a loyal and local customer base, I often have the pleasure of doing business with customers and retail shops from other regions of the country.  It is such an exciting and rewarding feeling to know that my handcrafted soaps - my little labors of love - are sitting on sinks, soap dishes, and retail shelves in big cities and sleepy little towns from coast to coast.  Strange as it may sound, I almost envision that pretty little bar of soap as something akin to Flat Stanley, traveling around the country on new and exciting adventures.  I enjoy talking with people about their cities, towns, and neighborhoods, and I can almost hear the smiles on their faces as they share nostalgic stories about their hometowns, each tale uniquely woven with its own history and time-honored traditions.

Inevitably, I am often asked about the origin of my name, River City Soapworks, and the geographical location of St. Charles.  I soon find myself wearing that familiar, nostalgic smile too...because I love sharing the rich history and heritage of the place where I was born and raised.  And since Missouri is known as the Show-Me State, I thought I would indulge myself in the guilty pleasure of showing you what makes this River City so amazing...I hope you enjoy the journey :)

If you are geographically challenged like me, I will begin with a brief geography lesson so we all have our bearings.  When people ask me where St. Charles is located, I tell them that St. Charles is nestled on the banks of the Missouri River, just 30 minutes northwest of downtown St. Louis.

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Known as the River City, the region is situated at the confluence of the North America's two greatest Rivers, the Missouri River and the Mighty Mississippi River.  The Missouri River geographically separates St. Louis County from St. Charles County, while the Mississippi River separates Missouri from Illinois.  Speaking of Illinois, the Illinois River joins the Mighty Mississippi near Grafton, about 20 miles upstream from the Missouri-Mississippi confluence.  And I would be remiss if I didn't mention some of our smaller rivers and tributaries, such as the Meramec River, the River Des Peres and Cuivre River. Although our rivers serve as geographical and municipal boundaries, the entire region is collectively referred to as the Greater St. Louis Metropolitan area.  When I am travelling out of town and someone asks where I am from, I will usually tell them I am from St. Louis since it is geographically more well-known and inclusive of the entire region. 

If you have never visited the River City, it might just be a hidden gem you should add to your bucket list.  In 2014, St. Louis turned 250 years old.  Throughout the 2014 celebration year, tens of thousands of locals and visitors alike combed the region in search of 250 ornamental birthday cake sculptures in a fun exercise that was part scavenger hunt, part history lesson.  The cakes had been strategically located at what one could argue are the 250 best reasons to visit the River City.  Cakes could be found scattered all around the River City...at our museums, monuments, historical buildings, parks, landmarks and spirited roadside attractions.  It seems like everyone caught cake fever that year.  Were you a "caker" too?

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The confluence of our great rivers enjoys a rich history and is home to many historic journeys including the adventures of Lewis & Clark, Jesse James' Hideout, the Underground Railroad, and Old Route 66 (just to name a few!).  These historic landmarks, beautiful landscapes, and classic (yes, sometimes campy!) roadside attractions make this area the perfect "staycation" destination.

These fun snapshots are from our travels along historic Route 66, where we stopped at the Jesse James Wax Museum and Meramec Caverns, home of Jesse James' hideout!  The boys got a kick out of the treasured tales of masked bandits, dangerous adventures and mystery...and they managed to inadvertently learn a little history along the way ;-)

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My family tree is deeply rooted in the River City.  I was born and raised in St. Louis and later moved across the Missouri River to St. Charles, where my husband, Dave, and I settled to begin our lives together and raise our family.  When choosing a name for my handmade soap company, I drew inspiration from my family's deep roots and soon founded River City Soapworks.  This side of the Missouri River also enjoys a rich and treasured heritage torn from the pages of this country's history books.

St. Charles was originally named Les Petites Cotes (The Little Hills) and was founded in 1769 by French fur trader Louis Blanchette.  In 1804, Meriwether Lewis and William Clark met on these very banks of the Missouri River to lead the expedition to explore land west of the Mississippi.  Around the same time, Daniel Boone and his family built their homestead in nearby Defiance.  Thousands of pioneers traveled on his family's Boones Lick Road in their quest for new settlement areas.  Interestingly, the first house Dave and I owned was a modest little starter home situated just off Boones Lick Road in the very heart of St. Charles.

Though our family has grown and we have since moved to a new home a few miles away, we still enjoy driving by the old house to give the boys a glimpse into our younger years.  We also frequently visit historic Main Street St. Charles to enjoy its cobblestone lined roads, historic buildings, and quaint shops and boutiques.  Frontier Park is the beautiful landscape that buffers Main Street from the majestic Missouri River.  In our new home, we have the good fortune of still being connected to Main Street and Frontier Park via the Katy Trail.  The Katy Trail is a 240-mile trail that essentially runs along the northern bank of the Missouri River and spans most of the state from Machens to Clinton.  The boys never pass up an opportunity to jump on our bikes and enjoy a cool, shady, tree-lined bike ride that leads us straight to Main Street.

As you can see in this photo, Frontier park is beautifully landscaped and sits alongside the banks of the Missouri River.  In the far distance you can see the Blanchette Bridge connecting St. Charles to St. Louis.  Just to the right of the range of this photo, you would find Main Street running parallel to the river.

In the heart of Frontier Park, visitors enjoy this 15-foot tall bronze monument of Meriwether Lewis and William Clark, accompanied by Clark's Newfoundland dog, Seaman.  My nephew, Michael (who also happens to be my biggest soap fan!), loves exploring Frontier Park and is always mesmerized by this larger-than-life statue that towers before him. 

Nearly every visit we make to historic Main Street St. Charles includes a stop at Little O's Soda Shop, where the boys indulge in a Gooey Butter Cake Milkshake.  Never heard of gooey butter cake?  Oh yeah, that's a "St. Louis thing" too...just like toasted ravioli and pork steaks (my River City peeps know what I'm talking about!).

The magnificent history of this great region runs as deep as its rivers.  I could probably write for days about what makes our River City so special...our neighborhoods, our museums, our breweries, our baseball, our historical landmarks and kitsch roadside attractions.  The boys and I have a few new destinations on our summer staycation agenda, including a subterranean lake adventure at the Bonne Terre Mines (named one of America's Top 10 Greatest Adventures by National Geographic).  I'm curious...what are some of your favorite things to see and do in the River City?

          

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the original st. charles soaperyTM