The St. Charles historic district is full of buildings that were built over 200 years ago. Founded in 1769 by French-Canadian fur trader Louis Blanchette, Saint Charles was initially known as “Les Petites Cotes,” translating to “The Little Hills,” inspired by the surrounding geography. Considered the key to the western frontier, St. Charles served as the last supply hub for explorers venturing into the great unknown of the American west. The lure was grand: Lewis & Clark began their iconic expedition here and Main Street saw over 1,000 wagons heading westward per week. Boone’s Lick Road, named after Daniel Boone’s sons’ saltlick, marked the start of both the Santa Fe Trail and the Oregon Trail. Explore this list of just a few historical attractions, dining experiences, and places to stay to inspire you as you embark on a journey through time on your next visit to St. Charles.

 

HISTORY-RELATED THINGS TO DO

 

First Missouri State Capitol State Historic Site

Visit the First Missouri State Capitol State Historic Site

Located in the heart of Main Street St. Charles, the First Missouri State Capitol served as the state’s capitol from 1821 to 1826 while the current capitol was under construction in Jefferson City. Restored rooms transport visitors back to the early 1800s when legislators once roamed the halls, offering a vivid glimpse into its historic past. Guided tours provide immersive experiences throughout the year and are available hourly (except at noon). Please note that the First State Capitol’s hours are subject to change based on the month and the season, so check their website here for the most up-to-date information.

 

Lewis and Clark Boathouse

Learn about Lewis & Clark’s time in St. Charles

St. Charles played a pivotal role as the launching pad for Meriwether Lewis and William Clark’s Western expedition. Today, this historic event is commemorated through several tributes including a museum, statues, and historical markers. Nestled along the banks of the Missouri River, the Lewis & Clark Boat House & Museum features full-scale operational replicas of the explorers’ boats, immersive exhibits chronicling their journey, Native American exhibits, and insights into Missouri River ecosystems. In nearby Frontier Park, a larger-than-life statue of Lewis & Clark along with their canine companion sits surrounded by flowers, informational plaques, and benches for people to enjoy the scenery. Take a walk down South Main Street to find the granite marker that indicates the approximate location of the launch site of the expedition (hint: it’s near the Daniel Boone Statue). Recognized by the Lewis & Clark National Historic Trail, St. Charles stands as a significant location in the duo’s monumental journey across the country.

 

Hit the Bricks Tour

Take a Hit the Bricks Walking Tour

Walk where early legislators, scoundrels, and even a literal saint once did and learn about how Main Street weathered the Civil War, the Industrial Revolution, and the ever-changing times on the Hit the Bricks tours. Tour-goers are given a viewfinder to look at old photos of Main Street to compare how different or similar it looks in real time. Two tours are offered: “The Key to the West: Pioneers, Explorers, & Traders…Oh My!” that covers the 400-900 blocks of South Main Street and “MO than Meets the Eye: Surprises of the First State Capitol” which covers the 300 block of South Main Street to the 300 block of North Main Street. Tour-goers receive five postcards that are unique to each tour. Sign up for both to collect them all!

 

 

Explore Living History

Taking a stroll in Historic Saint Charles is like taking a walk back in time. From the brick-paved streets laid in the early 1900s to the buildings that date back to the early 1800s, it really does feel as if you traveled back to the 19th century. St. Charles’ storied past comes to life at different attractions in the area where you can discover more about local pop culture and the frontiersmen, the saint, and other people who have called the area home.

 

The Soda Museum

The Soda Museum

Pop by The Soda Museum on Main Street to explore over 100 years of soda history - all under one roof! Take a walk down memory lane with their collection of branded trays, coolers, bottles, and other soda memorabilia. Visitors can find iconic brands like Moxie, Brownie Root Beer, Coca-Cola, and even Zeisler, which began in the early 1900s down the street in the JOYS building, on display. While there, play old school arcade games in the basement at Main Street Arcade and try some fun sodas at the concession stand.

 

Fast Lane Classic Cars

Fast Lane Classic Cars

Car enthusiasts and curious onlookers alike will be in awe when visiting this classic and collector car dealership. With three expansive showrooms displaying over 180 restored muscle cars, classic trucks, late model collector cars, and more, visitors can explore these vehicles up close. Beyond its impressive array of automobiles, the dealership offers a multifaceted experience that includes automobile art, antiques, and a gift shop. Additionally, Fast Lane is the biggest Backdraft dealer in the Midwest that specializes in custom-built Cobra replicas.

 

St. Charles County Heritage Museum

St. Charles County Heritage Museum

Located near the trailhead for the Great River Greenway’s Centennial Trail, this nearly 6,000 square foot museum offers free interpretive displays that focus on both local and state history. Discover artifacts and exhibits that transport you through various periods of life like the Colonial Era and the War of 1812 in the Mississippi Valley region.

 

Historic Daniel Boone Home

Uncover the Past at the Historic Daniel Boone Home

Daniel Boone and his family built a homestead in Defiance while seeking refuge in the Spanish Louisiana territory amidst legal and financial troubles in Kentucky that still stands today. Boone resided in this home for a decade towards the end of his life, passing away there in 1820. This homestead, originally his son’s, now stands as a testament to his legacy as a place for visitors to learn about the famous frontiersman. Behind the home sits a reconstructed 19th century village that includes the Old Peace Chapel that visitors can explore. Visitors are welcome to walk the grounds of the park for free and guided tours of the home are available for a small fee.

 

Nestled in Historic Missouri Wine Country, the Daniel Boone Home offers more than just history; it’s an opportunity for a charming day trip. Visit local wineries and go wine tasting in the picturesque vineyards while in the area.

 

Shrine of St. Philippine Duchesne

Visit the Shrine of St. Philippine Duchesne

Saint Rose Philippine Duchesne was instrumental in introducing the Society of the Sacred Heart to the United States. In fact, she opened the first Sacred Heart School outside of Europe right here in St. Charles. She led an inspiring life: she aided prisoners and taught underprivileged children during the French Revolution, founded a school for Potawatomi girls in Kansas, and expanded the reach of the Society in the U.S. Perhaps most notably, her body was still intact when it was exhumed three years after she passed away. As a result, she was beatified in 1940 by Pope Pius XII and canonized in 1988 by Pope John Paul II. She is one of only 11 U.S. saints. The shrine offers insight into her life, including relics and the early brick Covent building she stayed in. Situated conveniently between and Main Street, it welcomes visitors seeking to honor her legacy. The shrine is open for personal prayer time on Mondays, Wednesdays, Thursdays, and Fridays (except the first Friday of each month) and tours are available by appointment.

 

PLACES TO EAT

Most restaurants on Saint Charles’ Main Street reside in buildings that were built in the 1800s. It’s impossible to list them all, but here is a glimpse into the history of what businesses used to occupy these spaces.

 

Video Thumbnail - vimeo - Haunted History Trail Stop #1 - St Charles WitchesSchlafly

Black & White photo credit to the Saint Charles County Historical Society
 

Schlafly Bankside

Throughout its over 200-year long history, this building has served a multitude of purposes before it became Schlafly Bankside. From a gristmill to a woolen mill and a Union prison to a tomato canning factory, it has worn many hats. A fire in 1966 spurred owners to restore it to its present condition, preserving its historic charm.

 

Old Millstream Inn

Shay’s Creole Smokehouse and Old Millstream Inn

This property served as the miller’s home and the office for the gristmill that was in the Schlafly Bankside building in the mid-1800s. In 1769, this area is where Louis Blanchette founded Les Petites Cotes. Today, visitors can enjoy delicious smoked food in the very spot that St. Charles was founded on.

 

Braddens

Braddens 1818 Bistrot

Built in 1818, this historic building initially known as Eckert’s Tavern or the “Sign of the Buffalo”, holds a significant place in local history. Over the years, it witnessed several pivotal events, including the planning, reporting, and the finalizing of the Santa Fe Trail documents, a speech by one of Missouri’s first U.S. Senators, Thomas Hart Benton, and it even played a crucial role in thwarting Aaron Burr’s infamous treasonous plan in the early 1800s. Burr made plans to take the Louisiana Territory from the U.S. to create his own country - and even the Governor of the Louisiana Territory, General James Wilkinson, was on his side. General Wilkinson came to Eckert’s Tavern to try to convince local Revolutionary War hero, Colonel Timothy Kibbe, to join them in this plan. To their dismay, Kibbe denounced the plan and told the public, shocking the country. As a result, Wilkinson and Burr narrowly avoided treason charges and Burr lived in exile in Europe.

 

Sugarbot Creamery

Sugarbot Creamery

Indulge in handmade ice cream in a restored building reminiscent of an old-time soda fountain and ice cream parlor at Sugarbot Creamery. During the renovation, the owners found empty liquor bottles stuffed in the basement walls and ceiling – suggesting that the building was once a speakeasy during the Prohibition era. In the past, the building operated as a local dry goods store called the Hug Store and then became the Electric Theatre where black and white short films were shown.

 

Magpie's

Magpie’s

Constructed in 1821, this building originally served as the home of the former Spanish governor of St. Charles. It exchanged ownership many times over the years, and even earned the name “the witches’ house” at one point due to the superstitions of its owners. Today, it has transformed into a charming café with a rich history of its own. Magpie’s has been a fixture in Saint Charles since 1984 and established its home in this historic building in the 1990s.

 

The Main House

The Main House

Commonly known as the “mother-in-law house” or the “double house,” this building boasts over 150 years of history. Home to various restaurants throughout the years, it now stands as The Main House. According to local lore, a young couple built this symmetrical house so that they could live on one side while the wife’s mother lived on the other. Since The Main House began in 2023, renovations have exposed more of the original brickwork and the vintage wallpaper that has since inspired the current décor.

 

PLACES TO STAY

Experience the charm of Historic St. Charles by staying where pioneers once did. Choose from several renovated guest houses or vacation rentals, many dating back to the early 1800s and located on or near Main Street. Enjoy the convenience of staying within walking distance of local coffee shops, restaurants, and shopping. Each guest house has its own unique story, now it’s your turn to become a part of it. Explore the list below featuring some of the historic guest houses in the area.

 

Boone's Lick Trail Inn

Boone’s Lick Trail Inn

This Federal Style inn is located in the Carter Rice building that was built in 1843. During the height of Western exploration in the 1840s, this building once saw up to 1,000 wagons a week pass by on Boone’s Lick Trail as explorers headed west. Situated next to Boone’s Lick Trail was the Western Plank Road: a several-mile-long stretch paved with wood in the mid-1800s that provided a smoother ride for carriages and wagons. The plank road only lasted for 13 years before succumbing to wear-and-tear and thieves stealing the planks to use as firewood or construction material. Remarkably, the only known surviving plank of this historic road is on display at the inn, serving as a reminder of the bygone era of frontier travel. Today the inn has been restored to National Historic Trust standards and is furnished with fine antiques and comfortable period reproductions, making visitors feel as if they’ve stepped back in time.

 

Boone's Lick Trail Inn

Boone’s Colonial Inn

This 19th-century inn sits in Stone Row; a cluster of St. Charles’ oldest surviving structures built in 1815. Boone’s Colonial Inn is housed in a building constructed in the mid-1800s that was originally empty land serving as a passage to connect Main Street to the Missouri River. The land’s previous owners include Pierre Chouteau, a member of St. Louis’ founding family, and Edward Hempstead and his wife, Clarissa. Edward was once the attorney general of the Louisiana Territory and a friend of Daniel Boone. Today, the inn showcases its storied past with features like stone walls, mortise joints, hand hewed log joists, and original flooring.

 

Lewis & Clark Guest House

The Lewis & Clark Guest House

This French-style home boasts a rich past dating to its construction in 1793. Initially the residence of Don Carlos Tayon, the Second Commandant of St. Charles, Tayon likely met with Lewis & Clark here when they arrived to prepare for their Western expedition. This house was a hub of social activity, hosting lively cotillions in its basement where townspeople gathered, including a cotillion held for the Corps of Discovery. Presbyterian Minister, Timothy Flint, who welcomed esteemed author, Washington Irving, as a guest for several days, later owned the home. Irving’s stay would eventually inspire settings in some of his future books.

 

An inviting bed in a guest room at the Red Barn Guest House in St. Charles, MO.

The Red Barn Guest House 

Located next to the Lewis & Clark Guest House, this house was built in the 1790s as a stable for the Second Commandant of St. Charles, Don Carlos Tayon. Horses haven’t slept here in a while – it has been a remodeled home for several decades.

 

Camp Mill Pond Kitchen

Camp Mill Pond

Originally built by German immigrants on a St. Peters farm in 1835, Camp Mill Pond did not find its way to Frenchtown until the 1980s. Today, it shares property with a house and carriage house that date back to 1865, situated on land that can be traced back to French owners as far back as 1797. While there is neither a pond nor a mill on the property, the name Camp Mill Pond pays homage to the property’s original owner, Weeke. In the late 1800s, Weeke owned a mill on Second Street that was operated by a nearby pond, lending historical significance to the current name of the cabin.