Why It's Time to Explore Missouri's Rustic Capital City

When planning a trip to a U.S. state like Missouri, many individuals first think of eating barbecue in Kansas City or seeing the Gateway Arch in Saint Louis. But the state's capital, named after President Thomas Jefferson, is full of reasons for tourists and road trippers to stop through.

What is the Capital of Missouri?

Jefferson City is the state capital of Missouri—not to be confused with the domed Missouri State Capitol building, which is also located within the city. When the Missouri territory became the state of Missouri, St. Charles became the state's first (temporary) state capital until Jefferson City construction finished in 1826.

Jefferson City is the seat of Cole County and sits almost smack dab in the middle of the United States. For this reason, Missouri earned the nickname "The Gateway to the West" after being part of the 1803 Louisiana Purchase. "Jeff City" lies on the Missouri River, which runs through the city limits. Visitors will also notice the proximity to the Osage River, which runs just outside the metro area.

This town resides on the outer edge of the Ozark Plateau. Jefferson City, MO, has its own unique small-town culture and history that residents recognize and tourists visit. Jefferson City was chosen as the state's capital because it resides in the middle of the state—something that was important when uniting the state's population during the Civil War.

During the 1860s, Missouri was divided. The east side supported the Union, and the west and mid-Missouri mainly sided with the Confederate cause. During and after the Civil War, scars healed as both sides met at the City of Jefferson's capitol building.

In 2019, the population of Jefferson City was nearly 43,000 people, which does not even crack the state's top 10 most populous places to live in Missouri. The area is famous for large metropolitan areas like St. Louis and Kansas City. Jefferson City sits in the middle of the two as a stop between the largest cities in Missouri.

This capital city receives guests from nearby states like Kentucky and Nebraska. The capital city is home to Lincoln University, an excellent college for many Missourians. Individuals, couples, groups of friends, and families can all visit Jefferson City metropolitan area and find something they'll love. Before traveling, visitors should consider the list below.

5 Reasons to Visit Jefferson City, Missouri

1.   The Missouri State Penitentiary

During the 19th century, the Missouri State Penitentiary opened in Jefferson City. It saw "special guests" like former heavyweight champion Sonny Liston, convicted MLK assassin James Earl Ray, and bank robber Pretty Boy Floyd. In 2004, one of the oldest operating penal facilities closed. Today, the decommissioned correctional facility is a standing relic with a museum where guests take different historical tours.

2.   Missouri State Capitol Building

In 1826, the Missouri State government first came to Jefferson City. The current capital structure is the third seat of government to stand on the famous limestone bluff along the south bank of the Missouri River.

This location is of note because Lewis and Clark passed the ridge along their historic expedition upriver before any Europeans established settlement at the site.

After two fires decimated two capitol buildings, the current day structure was opened in 1924 to the Missouri legislature. Today, the Missouri Capitol Building is 437 feet long, 300 feet wide at its center. The top of the dome rises 262 feet above the basement floor.

In addition to being a meetinghouse for state politicians, the building also stands as a museum of public art. Legislators walk past murals by celebrated artist Thomas Hart Benton decorate the walls of the Capitol Building to this day.

Missouri State Museum is located within the capitol building. The museum is open to the public and offers guided tours for guests looking to sharpen their American history knowledge.

3.   Missouri Governor's Mansion

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Not far from the state capitol building is the Governor's Mansion—another historic site where visitors can take a guided tour. In 1872, Governor B. Gratz Brown and his family moved into the 13-bedroom mansion after penitentiary prisoners spent eight months building the house.

Guests can take in the historic architecture, learn about those who've lived in the house and enjoy the beautiful gardens surrounding the residence.

4.   Runge Conservation Nature Center

The Runge Conservation Nature Center is a great way to shake up a trip to historic Jefferson City sites. After learning about the people and events that characterize the capital of Missouri, the nature center offers guests the option to immerse themselves in the area's natural ecosystem.

Five hiking trails lead tourists through woodlands, prairies, meadows, and ponds. Runge Nature Center also offers public programs and nature exhibits with live animals, a large fish aquarium, and a wildlife viewing area.

5.   Beer and Barbecue

With so much on offer in Jefferson City as far as educational information, American history, and nature observation—tourists are bound to need a relaxing meal served with cold refreshments. Despite not being in Kansas City or St. Louis, visitors can rest assured they're in good, hospitable hands. Restaurants in the area like Sweet Smoke Barbecue will satisfy that Midwest BBQ craving. What's more, brewpubs like Prison Brews (blocks from the penitentiary site) are great options for beer lovers looking for some local, handcrafted ales.

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