New Madrid, Missouri
New Madrid — located on a bend in the Mississippi River, 164 miles south of St. Louis — was under the rule of the Spanish and then the French before the historic 1803 Louisiana Purchase added the region to the United States. The town was still a small settlement just a few years later, when a series of strong and destructive earthquakes changed the course of the river and leveled the town. The residents rebuilt, and today New Madrid is home to 3,000 people and is a regular stop on many paddlewheel riverboat cruises.
What We Love
Mississippi River Walk: New Madrid's position on a massive bend in the mighty Mississippi affords visitors views of up to eight miles of constantly passing barge and tow traffic, heavily laden with bulk goods headed downstream and lighter loads in the opposite direction. The one-fifth of a mile River Walk and its observation deck opposite the town center provide great vantage points for enjoying panoramic views.
Hart-Stepp House: The oldest house in New Madrid, built in a French Mississippi Valley House style in 1832, now houses an art gallery. Other notable historic houses in town, all privately owned however, are the circa-1910 Greek Revival-style A.B. Hunter Home and the Kochtitzky Home, built in 1880.
Best Known For
The New Madrid Historical Museum: The 1811 and 1812 earthquakes — three major temblors and about 1,000 other shocks and aftershocks — changed the course of the Mississippi as landslides created new land in places and sank some islands forever. Waves smashed ships to bits and the quakes were felt as far as the East Coast and the Gulf of Mexico. The New Madrid Historical Museum, as well as signs around town, help visitors understand what happened.
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Who It's Best For
Amateur Seismologists: Anyone looking to wrap their head around the New Madrid earthquakes — and the monumental changes to the landscape they wrought — will find a fascinating story.
Don't Say We Didn't Warn You
This Is Life in the Slow Lane: The town is a pokey place, but its citizens put on a fine welcome when the steamboats arrive.
Theodore W. Scull is a New York-based contributor to ShermansCruise who has written several books on crossings.