Hugging the banks of the Missouri River, Jefferson City embraces history and nature as Missouri’s capital city. The home of the “Bloodiest 47 acres in America” is also home to a beautiful botanical garden. Jefferson City’s dark side focuses on the old Missouri State Prison. The prison – nicknamed “The Walls” because of the concrete walls surrounding it – operated 1836 until 2004. The prison received its first inmate the day the Alamo fell in Texas.
The prison earned its “Bloodiest” nickname because of inmate deaths. The state executed 40 inmates in the gas chamber. Other inmates were killed under mysterious circumstances. It’s unknown how many died because many of the deaths went unreported. Among the prison’s “celebrity” inmates were “Pretty Boy” Floyd and James Earl Ray. Floyd was a mobster during the 1920-30s. Following his release from prison in 1929, he was later killed by police during a shootout in 1933. Ray was convicted of assassinating the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. in Memphis in 1968. A year earlier, with eight years left on a robbery conviction, Ray escaped the Missouri State Prison by hiding in a bread truck. After his arrest for the King assassination, Missouri refused to have him returned to serve the rest of his sentence because of his ability to escape custody. Among its “better” inmates was Sonny Liston. Liston, serving time for robbery during the late 1950s, learned how to box while at the prison. He was discovered during a boxing tournament among inmates. He defeated Floyd Patterson for the heavyweight championship in 1962. Two years later, Cassius Clay (who changed his name to Muhammad Ali) beat him for the title. Liston, who finished his career with a 50-4 record, hosted boxing exhibitions at the Missouri State Prison.
The Missouri State Prison closed in 2004. It’s one of a few prisons around the United States offering public tours. Visitors can take three types of tours – a 2-hour history tour, a 3-hour history tour and a paranormal one. Jefferson City developed around the prison, so people may see beautiful architecture within a few blocks. The city has a downtown overflowing with architectural delights. Many buildings date back to the late 1800s. A self-guided tour of downtown highlights more than a dozen older buildings still in use.
We checked out a pottery decorating store during one of our downtown strolls. Unique Creations is a pottery shop where people can create their own works of art. The store is a popular group outing.
The governor’s mansion is home to the Mel Carnahan Memorial Garden. It was renamed from the Governors Garden following the death of the former governor in a plane crash during a campaign trip for the United States Senate. He won the election; his widow, Jean Carnahan, was appointed to serve his term.
The garden is open to the public. It’s a beautiful area. The small garden is well-manicured. A stone overlook provides a perfect spot to view the garden and its reflection pool with the state capitol building in the background.
The botanical garden is located between the capitol and the governor’s mansion. The mansion was built in 1871, mostly by prisoners from the state prison. It was designed in the Brick Renaissance Revival style.
The state capitol is the third one built in Jefferson City. The first two were destroyed by fire. The current capitol was completed in 1917 at a cost of $3.5 million. The capitol is home to the governor’s office, as well as the state House of Representatives and Senate.
The founding of Jefferson City is located a short walk from the capitol. Jefferson Landing State Historic Site is home to the first buildings that officially called the area home. Dating back to 1839, the Lohman Building was used as a grocery store, among other businesses.
Jefferson City takes advantage of nature by offering people a pedestrian bridge that crosses the Missouri River. The Jefferson City Bridge is a combination of the pedestrian/bicycle bridge and two truss vehicle bridges. You can feel the vibration of vehicles passing by you while standing on the pedestrian bridge.
The bridge allows an impressive view of the capitol and the river. People place padlocks along the fence line, referred to as “locks of love.” The bridge connects Jefferson City to the Katy Trail, a statewide hiking trail. Our weekend trip included some excellent dining options. Lunch at Ecco Lounge included some outstanding onion rings and burgers. Dinner at Prison Brews continued our streak of excellent restaurants. The restaurant/bar has a “prison” theme, including unique names for its beer brewed onsite. You can always order a Go to Jail Ale or maybe a Jailhouse Java Stout.
The Capitol Plaza hotel was the perfect location as our base of operations. Located a few blocks from the Capitol and downtown, the hotel offers a comfortable stay. The rooms are outstanding. We enjoyed a suite during our visit. It was great relaxing in the living room watching college baseball following a busy day of sightseeing. The bed was comfortable and provided a great night’s rest.
The Capitol Plaza has about 22,000 square feet of meeting space. There were a couple of conventions going on during our stay.
We enjoyed our visit to Jefferson City. We plan to return for a haunted prison tour, as well as checking out some of the nature parks and trails. We recommend visiting the area.