This article was originally published in our July/August 2021 issue.

Life in Rocheport moves a bit slower than in big cities. It’s a place people go to slow down and enjoy simple pleasures, and with less than three hundred people living in the tiny river town, everyone knows everyone. Neighbors wave as people walk by, and the sidewalks are especially busy on sunny mornings when the breeze is blowing just enough to hear the trees rustling as squirrels dance below. These are some of the reasons why the Missouri Life team feels lucky to call Rocheport home for our office and shop.

When the weather is nice, lunch breaks can afford a walk on the Katy Trail, which is the United States’ longest recreational rail trail. It runs 240 miles, much of which is on the banks of the Missouri River, and creates a perfect spot for a break from the office. The Rocheport Tunnel is one of the most recognizable spots on the trail, which was once a part of the Missouri–Kansas–Texas Railway.

The Rocheport Tunnel on the Katy Trail is an iconic landmark and Instagram-worthy location.

Lois Connor is one of the avid walkers you may see on a trip to Rocheport. At sixty-six, Lois was raised in Rocheport and still lives in her childhood home. She has walked around the neighborhood for years and sees it as somewhat of a family tradition.

“The whole family, except for my dad, was avid walkers,” Lois says. “If we had a big Thanksgiving or Christmas dinner, everybody would eat and get full, and then they’d say, ‘Okay let’s walk.’ Some of us would be faster; some of us would be slower. We would walk until everyone said, ‘Okay that’s enough.’ Then we’d come back in and eat again.”

Although the Katy Trail is a popular spot for walking, Lois prefers walking in town since it isn’t as flat as the trail, and she enjoys stopping to chat with neighbors along the way.

“It’s very seldom that you will see me on the trail,” she says. “You will see me more on the streets and cutting in and out and going up a hill and down a hill and so forth.”

Raised in Rocheport, Lois Connor lived in three homes in this small town as a child and settled in the home behind her, which she previously shared with her parents. Lois speaks fondly of her parents’ garden in the backyard and the tight bond she shared with her mother.

Officially founded in 1825, Rocheport was a trading post for settlers and indigenous people, but two and a half decades before that, in 1804, Lewis and Clark traveled through what would become Rocheport during their expedition to explore western areas. Today, when you take a break from the Katy Trail in Rocheport, you can read about their travels at the Katy Trailhead Depot where bikers and runners take a break at a covered bench.

Rocheport is the French word for rocky port. Although Rocheport is small in population, you’ll always find something fun to do whether you’re planning to spend the day in the town or an entire weekend.

Today, Rocheport’s population is a fraction of what it was in 1870.

There are more than nine places to stay, including the Amber House Bed and Breakfast that features an in-house massage studio, a wrap-around porch, and multiple suites from which to choose. Rocheport is also home to Girl’s Nite Inn that has space for eight guests to use the entire home; Katy Trail Bed & Breakfast that has five rooms plus the Katy Trail box car, which is located near the bed and breakfast; Mount Nebo Inn that has two large suites and direct access to the Katy Trail; the Rocheport Honey House with two bedrooms; The Cottage at Katy Trailside with four master suites; and the three-story School House Bed & Breakfast, which was built circa 1914 and was formerly a school in Rocheport until 1972 and has eleven rooms.

One of eight siblings, Lois attended Rocheport School until sixth grade.

“I do recall that the bell that is now visible at the Schoolhouse Bed and Breakfast is a bell that used to be upstairs when I along with other siblings were attending there,” Lois says. “If we were outside and it was time to come back in, the teacher would ask for two people to go up and ring the bell, and it was a real thick rope. Two of us would go up there, and someone might be hopping on it and clinging to it and the other one is pulling. Once we got the bell to ring, it was loud, and children outside knew play time was over.”

After sixth grade, Lois’s class had a graduation ceremony across the street at Rocheport Community Hall. Then in seventh grade, the students were bussed about eleven and a half miles to New Franklin to attend school from seventh to twelfth grade. Lois graduated in 1973.

Traffic on the Missouri River bridge on Interstate 70 rushes by much like the river.

“Children that live in Rocheport now are still bussed to New Franklin, Missouri, and the bus comes through here,” she says. “Actually it comes down my street. When I hear it, it brings back a lot of memories because we used to be on that bus.”

On the edge of Rocheport, Les Bourgeois Vineyards offers stunning views of the Missouri River. It opened in 1985 and has since become one of the Show-Me State’s finest wineries and dining options. The A-Frame is the destination for those who want to enjoy the wine and take in the view of the Missouri River at the patio area. Snack food is offered, but if you’re more in the mood for a full meal, the Blufftop Bistro is open Thursdays through Sundays and offers dishes like Vegetable Risotto made with fresh cut vegetables, arborio rice, and Parmesan cheese and the twelve-ounce Patchwork pork chop with blue cheese cream sauce and creamy polenta and green beans. Les Bourgeois’s tasting room and gift shop is located just off of Interstate 70, about a mile from the A-Frame and Bistro.

On July 17, Les Bourgeois Vineyards is releasing its Collectors Series with a 2020 aromella, a 2019 American red, and a 2019 Syrah.

“One thing I really love about Rocheport is that you really get the sense of being in this comfortable small little town as soon as you get off the highway,” says Christa Holtzclaw, director of marketing and retail at Les Bourgeois Vineyards. “Everyone is usually very welcoming and kind, and it’s just a little bit of a slow down from the minute you exit I-70 and that can be a really lovely thing.”

Les Bourgeois offers many different spots from which to enjoy the view of the Missouri River and can be rented for gatherings and events.

If you’re on the Katy Trail and need a break, there is a place to leave your bikes and a hiking trail that leads to Les Bourgeois’s property. Both the vineyards and Rocheport are popular stops for bikers because of the food options and welcoming community. Meriwether Cafe and Bike Shop is located right off of the Katy Trail and uses locally sourced ingredients in the meals. Some of the breakfast highlights are The Louisiana Purchase, which consists of two buttermilk pancakes, two pieces of sausage or smoked bacon, two eggs, and home fries. If you’re in the mood for something lighter, the Smoothie Bowl is made with strawberries, blueberries, bananas, orange juice, Greek yogurt, then topped with housemade granola. There are also plenty of lunch options from which to choose.

The house-made granola sets the Smoothie Bowl at Meriwether Cafe apart from others.

The restaurant receives produce from Redbuds Farm and Botanicals, which is located in Rocheport, and uses various other ingredients from Missouri. “We’re very proud of our relationship with various different local producers,” says Brad Landolt, general manager at Meriwether Cafe and Bike Shop. “We feel like it’s important for us as a business to support other local businesses, and the relationship we have with them tends to be a two-way street and very symbiotic.”

The Meriburger at Meriwether features locally sourced ingredients and comes with a side of battered fries.

Meriwether Cafe also sells Logboat Beer, Waves Cider, and Fretboard Coffee, which are all made by companies located in nearby Columbia.

“We believe in supporting each other,” Brad says. “Obviously there are significant environmental benefits, reducing the carbon costs of the things we sell and our guests really value local flavor. The more, the better.”

Guests also love that it is mainly a scratch kitchen with everything cooked fresh daily.

“That’s why it’s as good as it is,” Brad says. “That’s why the pancakes are as good as they are. They don’t come out of a box.”

Brad Landolt

The other half of the cafe is dedicated to bike rentals. You can pick from a fleet of about thirty bikes and rent for one, two, or four hours, or all day. All bike rentals also come with a helmet.

Central Street, which is about a seven minute walk from Meriwether Cafe, is home to several staples, including Abigail’s, an eclectic American bistro with unique decor hanging from the walls and ceilings, like a blowfish with goggles and various pieces of art. The quaint restaurant features exposed brick, an open dining room, and quick service. The menu changes daily but includes dishes such as chicken potstickers served with sweet chile sauce, portobello raviolis, and lobster cakes on greens with housemade aioli. There is also beer and wine available.

The Rocheport General Store is located a few doors down from Abigail’s and offers an array of meals with a rotating menu and items to purchase throughout the store, such as local honey, seasonings, pickled vegetables, and candy bars. And, the store stocks ice cream.

Stockton Mercantile sits in between the two restaurants and is one of the long-time shops in Rocheport. Diane Dunn is the third-generation owner. Her grandmother, Wanda Stockton, opened the shop—formerly named Granny’s Antiques—in 1975, then her father, Skip Meadows, took it over in 1993. In 2003, Diane and her husband, John Zondca, who is also the mayor of Rocheport, took over the business. The couple also owns the Rocheport General Store and Girls Nite Inn. Diane changed the name in 2006 since the business was becoming more of a gift shop and less of an antique store. She used her grandmother’s last name and “mercantile” since the building was once an old mercantile. Today, the store combines new and old merchandise, with two floors of treasures. You can find soap, candles, tea towels, cards, pillows, and art from local artists, plus a few antique pieces like typewriters and cameras.

From left, Rocheport Bank Building/Post Office, Rocheport General Store, Stockton Mercantile, and Abigail’s line Central Street.

“There’s a little bit of everything,” Diane says. “I think people are surprised at how much is here, and if you think about the market, there really aren’t that many gift shops. Gift shops that aren’t chain stores are just really not as commonplace as they used to be.”

Diane lives above Stockton Mercantile with John and loves the simple life in Rocheport. “There are a lot of small towns around, but there is a feeling when you come here,” she says.

Diane Dunn and John Zondca hold a photo of “Granny” the original owner of the Stockton Mercantile.

“Something about coming down the hill, you just relax. You can’t build a modern home in the middle of the historic homes that are here; they have to stay true to their nature, so even the new homes that are built in town have a historical feel to them, keeping the town quaint.”

If you visit on Monday or Tuesday, you might notice things are a bit quieter than usual. A part of Rocheport’s peacefulness is that most restaurants are closed at the beginning of the week. Meriwether Cafe is an exception and is open everyday except Wednesday. The locals share a common interest in keeping the town as it is and work to preserve the historical components of Rocheport.

Something about coming down the hill, you just Relax. —Diane Dunn

Visitors to Rocheport drop into the riverside community on Route BB off of Interstate 70.

“I understand that change happens and will happen,” Lois says. “But I often say too, people need to think about what brought them here in the first place.”

The simplicity of Rocheport is what draws so many people to it. People don’t just have neighbors. They know their neighbors, and they form friendships with them. You don’t typically hear sirens or racing cars. Instead, the town boasts local food, shopping, beautiful views, and one of the best trails in the country. It’s roughly a two-hour drive from either St. Louis or Kansas City and is what some might call a hidden gem.

“My favorite part of Rocheport, and I’m thinking about growing up, was the people and the community and knowing that everybody would help anybody at the drop of a hat if something was going on and they needed help,” Lois says.

A home built in the 1830s houses the Missouri Life Magazine office and shop.

One of Lois’s neighbors who lives across the street knew her family growing up and he, along with his wife, still helps Lois to this day. He remembers a lemon pie Lois’s mother made him, and during the winter, he frequently cleans snow off of Lois’s driveway even though she has never asked him to do so.

“It’s the thought behind it, and he does it out of the kindness of his heart,” she says. “He does not need to do that, but like I said, the statement he’s made to me is, ‘That’s what neighbors are for.’ ”

Photos // Holly Kite