A city of stories … Find yourself in one
You can’t talk about St. Joseph without talking about our truly uncommon history. Founded along the Missouri River bluffs by French fur trader Joseph Robidoux, we’re also the launch point of the Pony Express and thousands of westward pioneers.
A little about our city’s founder (thanks Robidoux Row Museum), Robidoux arrived in the Blacksnake Hills region in 1799 at the age of 16. Seeing it as a great fur trading location, he was present when Louis and Clark returned to the region in 1806 and is referred to in Clark’s journals. He owned the land where the city was founded after the Platte Purchase of 1837. The city was platted in 1843.
After its founding, the city really blossomed in the number of residents and the amount of Wild West character. The house where notorious outlaw Jesse James met his demise is open for tours, and it’s next door to the multi-level 1858 Patee House Museum — one of the nation’s top western museums. A prestigious Native American collection awaits at the St. Joseph Museum, reflecting the deep cultural impact of tribes on the region’s early history. The Black Archives Museum showcases the lasting impact of African Americans on the city, including the birthplace of Coleman Hawkins and hometown of Etta Cox, among other music greats. Visitors and locals comment often on our amazing collection of 19th century mansions and buildings, spurred by an 1870s manufacturing and shipping boom (see the homes of the founder of Aunt Jemima pancake mix and the saltine cracker, to name a few). News lovers won’t want to miss the Walter Cronkite Memorial, honoring one of St. Joseph’s native sons. And we could go on and on. Come see where you fit into the intriguing, quirky and unique history of St. Joseph.
Intriguing. Inspiring. Unusual. Unforgettable. That’s our St. Joseph museum collection in brief. You can easily spend a couple of days exploring all that our museums have to offer. For local history, start with one of the best western museums in the nation — The 1858 Patee House Museum — then hit nearby Pony Express National Museum and the Jesse James home. If you’ve got eclectic interests, spend a few hours at the nationally-recognized Glore Psychiatric Museum (popular among TV crews and ghost hunters year-round). Acclaimed and extensive, the Native American collection at the St. Joseph Museum is one of the biggest in the country. Find out where so many jazz greats began — such as Coleman Hawkins — at the Black Archives Museum and be astounded by intricate woodwork at the 35-room Wyeth-Tootle Mansion. New is the Walter Cronkite Memorial at Missouri Western State University, the famous broadcast journalist who grew up in St. Joseph. For a truly unique historical experience, walk through Mausoleum Row at the 19th century Mount Mora Cemetery. The cemetery, listed on the National Register, is a history museum and architectural goldmine all in one.
Why did St. Joseph become a “city of millionaires” the late 1800s? Booming business and entrepreneurship. Early merchants built impressive and intricate structures across downtown St. Joseph, with quick access to river and rail transit. Meanwhile, architects, theater geniuses and artists were bringing their talents to the city with impacts that have inspired generations. See exhibits about our entrepreneurial spirit at the St. Joseph Museum’s Wyeth-Tootle Mansion and the Patee House Museum — and learn how so many products that are still enjoyed today got their start or held major operations in St. Joseph (i.e., Aunt Jemima, saltine crackers, Hillyard gym floor shine, Quaker Oats, C.D. Smith and Company and major meat packing companies, to name a few).
When Joseph Robidoux arrived in the hills that are now St. Joseph in 1843, he began trading with Native American tribes who had been here for generations. Drawn by the safety and beauty of tall river bluffs, as well as abundant water and rich soil, the tribes left behind extensive Native American archaeological treasures. Today, the nationally-recognized collection maintained by the St. Joseph Museum represents 10 cultural regions of North America, including clothing, accessories, weapons and jewelry. African American impact and inspiration abounds at the Black Archives Museum, with personal items and exhibits related to St. Joseph’s Civil Rights era; African American soldiers in the Civil War; business and citizenship; and jazz and music legends who lived in St. Joseph, such as Coleman Hawkins and Etta Cox.