History awaits in Carthage. Just pick the era. The city was first established in 1842 but burned to the ground during the Civil War.

After the war, a turn-of-the-century mining boom spurred an economic revival whose effects linger on today. Modern-day Carthage boasts several historic districts with over six hundred buildings on the National Registry of Historic Places. Picturesque mansions line the leafy streets, and the city’s crown jewel, the Jasper County Courthouse, towers over the downtown square. Its 1916 wrought-iron cage elevator still works, too.

The Jasper County Courthouse, built in 1895, features medieval-looking turrets, towers, and arches.

Later, Carthage found itself on one of Missouri’s first concrete-paved portions of the state highway system, and eventually, along Route 66.

Now the destination offers a fun mash-up of Civil War history, Victorian architecture, and Mother Road nostalgia. Today’s visitors will find plenty of historic sites, from museums to antiques stores, retro diners to Victorian house tours, or even a cozy night at the 66 Drive-In Theatre.

Every fall, this city draws more than eighty thousand people for the Maple Leaf Festival, which runs the entire month of October and includes food vendors, a classic car show, the largest parade in southwest Missouri, and competitive events like the chicken pageant and a lip-sync contest. But even on an ordinary weekend, there’s always something to see in Carthage.

LODGE at the historic Boots Court Motel, a Route 66 icon. Choose from single rooms with one double bed ($66 per night) or two double beds ($71 per night). For extra authenticity, every room is TV-free, but the motel offers free Wi-Fi, air-conditioning, and as advertised in its heyday, “a radio in every room.” Motorcycles and bicycles may be stored in the carport or in a locked room.

The motel was nearly demolished in 2003, but local protestors saved the site. In 2011, two sisters purchased the business and began restoring it to its original 1940s charm, including the use of period-era linens, furniture, fixtures, and reinstalling neon lights around the building’s exterior. Too rustic? Try the charming Grand Avenue Bed & Breakfast in the local historic district. Guests rave about the breakfast, and coffee is available all day.

DINE at The Woodshed, located in the back of Cherry’s Art Emporium on the historic Carthage square. Steaks and sandwiches dominate the menu, but the burgers are even better. Order the Maple Leaf Burger, an eight-ounce patty stacked with sharp cheddar, maple-bacon-onion jam, lettuce, tomato, and red onion. Save time before leaving to browse the paintings, pottery, and sculptures by local artists.

For breakfast, grab a latte and pastry to go at Mother Road Coffee, or get chummy with locals at everyone’s favorite retro joint, Iggy’s Diner. The
decor leans hard on Route 66 nostalgia with trinkets and T-shirts, but the menu features modern fare like avocado toast with fruit and scrambled eggs.

VISIT Red Oak II, an old-timey set town by local artist Lowell Davis. He combined salvaged buildings from his hometown of Red Oak plus historic landmarks, like the childhood house of local outlaw Belle Starr, to build this homage to days gone by. Today, the quirky site features a Phillips 66 station, town hall, church, jail, feed store, and more—all vividly restored and infused with a touch of the surreal, thanks to Davis’s whimsical sculptures and installations. Free to the public, visitors are encouraged to walk around and peek through the windows.

Red Oak II is a recreated town—an eclectic collection of art, saved and restored buildings, and landmarks—and the vision of artist Lowell Davis.

For more Americana, visit the Precious Moments Park, which offers a garden, figurine-packed gift shop, and chapel with over eighty hand-painted murals.

Back in town, hit the Battle of Carthage Civil War Museum to learn more about this 1861 event, which was the earliest full-scale battle of the Civil War. Military history buffs will also appreciate the nearby Battle of Carthage State Historic Site.