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Why spend winter weekends holed up at home? St. Joseph's indoor attractions won't freeze your finances or your fingertips. From cowboys and bandits to fine art and antiques, this former trading post turned boomtown on the banks of the Missouri offers low-key fun for families. The city is small and manageable, perfect for a day trip or a weekend getaway.
Start in Patee Town, a 19th-century historic district downtown. Park on the street and walk a few short blocks to a handful of museums that bring the Old West back to life.
If your e-mailing mob has never licked a stamp in their lives, take them to the Pony Express Museum. In 1860, the first rider strapped a mailbag to his saddle here and headed west. Now, the old stable/depot is a state-of-the-art museum, with hands-on exhibits for kids and a 70-foot diorama mapping out the famous mail-trail.
Then, walk a block east, to the wrong side of the law at the Jesse James Home Museum. The famous outlaw was straightening a picture on the wall, when he was shot and killed here in 1882; and, yes, you can still see the bullet hole. Heard the old legend that it wasn't really James who was killed? You'll find an exhibit about the 1995 grave opening and DNA testing, which should settle the question once and for all.
By now, your little pioneers should be ready for a sarsparilla. Go next door, to the Patee House Museum National Historic Landmark. Built as a luxury hotel in 1858, it has been Pony Express headquarters, a ladies' college, a sanitarium, and a clothing factory. Now it's a hodge-podge museum of commnunications and transportations.
Spend an hour checking out the antique toy shop, the blacksmith shop, the 1860 Hannibal and St. Joseph locomotive, a Model T, antique racecars, and fire trucks. You'll find sarsaparilla in the 1854 Buffalo Saloon, where there's also a working nickelodeon. For something sweet, the Japanese Teahouse Ice-Cream Parlor across the street has floats and fortune cookies.
Before you leave Patee town, hunt for treasures at Penn Street Square, across the street from the Jesse James Museum. This 1899 factory and carriage-works is now an antiques mall, with more than 60 booths on three floors. You can tie on the feedbag here, too. The Oldtown Smokehouse and Pub serves up great sandwiches, ribs, and fried green tomatoes.
Drive north on 10th St. to Charles St., where you'll find the St. Joseph Museum. Old house buffs will ooh and aah over this 1879, Tiffany-decorated Gothic mansion, inspired by a castle on the Rhine. While you eyeball the huge collection of Native American artifacts and natural history exhibits, your kids can whoop and holler in a Children's Room complete with teepee, fort, and covered wagon.
If shopping is your passion, head toward the river. Pioneers bound for California and the Oregon Trail stopped here to stock their wagon trains. Now it's boutiques instead of beef jerky, but you'll find a great concentration of specialty shops and antiques stores a few blocks west, on Felix and Francis Sts., between 5th and 8th.
Farther north in town, pick up Frederick Ave., which runs northeast out of St. Jo, for more one-of-a-kind attractions.
Your first stop on Frederick is the Albrecht-Kemper Museum of Art. This Georgian-style mansion houses Missouri's finest collection of American art, including works by Thomas Hart Benton, Mary Cassatt, Rembrandt Peale, and N.C. Wyeth.
Kids driving you crazy? You're in good company at the Glore Psychiatric Museum. For 125 years, this was State Lunatic Asylum #2. Now, artifacts and displays illustrate advancements in the treatment of mental illness over the past 500 years. Maybe the "Bath of Surprise," O'Halloran's Swing, or the Tranquilizer Chair will calm your nerves, but take note: Kids under 9 are probably too young (and sane) to appreciate this stop.
Now comes the payoff for kids who've behaved during the museum portion of this tour: the Russell Stover Candy Outlet. Let them fill up bags of their favorite candy, chocolate, and holiday items, as well as treats in bulk (at cut-rate prices!) You can also get ice cream and sodas. Have a coffee here before heading home. But beware; after a bag of sweets, the ride may be a little "bumpy."
Type of trip: Historic, educational Best ages: 5 and up Ideal trip length: Day trip or weekend Distance: Kansas City (56 miles), Topeka, KS (103 miles), Omaha, NE (134 miles), St. Louis (303 miles) Best time to go: Winter, when there are fewer crowds -- and better bargains on antiques. Weather: 35/15 degrees in January, 89/67 in July Lodging: Budget hotels and B&Bs in the Hall St. historic district are among your options. For a complete list of hotels and B&Bs, visit the St. Joseph Convention and Visitors Bureau website.
Pony Express Museum 914 Penn St. Phone: 816-279-5059.
Jesse James Home Museum 12th and Penn Sts. Phone: 816-232-8206
Patee House Museum 12th and Penn Sts. Phone: 816-232-8206
Penn St. Square 12th and Penn Phone: 816-232-4626
Oldtown Smokehouse and Pub Penn St. Sq. Phone: 816-232-1899 Note: Closed Sunday and Monday
St. Joseph Museum 1100 Charles Phone: 816 232-8471
Albrecht-Kemper Museum of Art 2818 Frederick St. Phone: 816-233-7003
Glore Psychiatric Museum 3406 Frederick Ave. Phone: 877-387-2310
Russell Stover Candy Outlet 3715 Frederick Ave Phone: 816-232-3391
St. Joseph Convention and Visitors Bureau 109 S. 4th St. Phone: 800-785-0360
If you're a pet lover, this is the place for you. About 10 miles north of St. Jo in Savannah, Mshoogy's is America's largest "no-kill" animal rescue center. Hundreds of unwanted animals are housed at the 20-acre haven at any given time, and the yearly adoption rate is over 2,000. (The flower gardens and lily ponds are an added treat). Be careful, though. The odds are good your kids will be begging for a new addition to the family! Highway C, Savannah, 816-324-5824.
Favorite local spot: Jerre Anne's Cafeteria and Bakery. 2640 Mitchell Ave., 816-232-6585. Closed Sunday and Monday. Locals have been chowing down on country cooking and fresh-baked pies at Jerre Anne's since 1930. It's only 10 blocks east of the Patee Historic District, and you'll love the old-fashioned prices.
Best souvenir: Whether you're a real cowboy or a tenderfoot, bring home the authentic headgear from the Stetson Hat Factory Outlet, 3601 S. Leonard Rd., 816-233-3286.Annual events:
Traffic alert: Street parking is a challenge in summer.