|A popular destination for day-trippers, New Madrid County Offers an array of natural, historic and recreational opportunities unique to Missouri's Bootheel Region.
Originally settled in 1783 by French fur traders, evidence of the County's earliest inhabitants is documented by eight major archaeological sites. The best known site, Lilbourn Fortified Village, just west of Interstate 55 at Exit #44, features a large temple mound constructed by Mississippian Indians also known as "mound builders", in approximately 1100 A.D. Continuing south from Scott County to the Mississippi River at New Madrid (following U.S. Highway 61) is the El Camino Real, or Kings Highway, which began as an Indian trade route and was used by the Spanish and French as a link to St. Louis.
Just west of U.S. Highway 61 was once the largest swamp in Missouri. At the beginning of the 20th century, the Little River Drainage District was formed to reclaim the land. An engineering feat, it is the largest drainage district in the nation. The communities of Gideon and Morehouse were founded because of the great timber industry that sprang up when the swamp was drained and now are supported by the rich agricultural land that characterizes the area used for such major crops as cotton, corn, soybeans, milo, rice and wheat.
Not all the land was cleared, though. East of New Madrid lays Donaldson Point State Forest. Dense timber and natural river sloughs afford many hunting and fishing opportunities, and also a chance to see such species as the Bald Eagle, Mississippi Kite and Swainson's Warbler.
A boat trip on the Mississippi River from the two public access ramps at New Madrid offers more fishing, and for the naturalist, a summertime look at the Interior Least Tern nesting along the sandbars. Even without a boat, there is a spectacular view of the Mississippi River from the Observation Deck at New Madrid. This 20-mile long horseshoe bend is on of the many natural features associated with the New Madrid Fault or Seismic Zone. During the winter of 1811-1812, the area was rocked by a series of the most violent earthquakes in modern North American history. Evidence of the quakes can be seen all over the County in the form of sand blows, sink holes and ridges.
While visiting the Observation Deck, take time to read about the Battle of Island No. 10. This was the site of the first extensive siege of the Civil War, and gained control of the river for the union. To learn more about the New Madrid Earthquakes, the Civil War, the Mississippian Indians and how the river shaped community life for the last 200 years, view the interpretive exhibits at the New Madrid Historical Museum (open year around).
Visitors to New Madrid can also view several examples of the region's diverse architectural heritage. One rare example is the Hunter-Dawson Home State Historic Site, 312 Dawson Road (open year around). This Italianate style home, completed in 1859, is reminiscent of the antebellum South. Built of Cypress, its 15 rooms are furnished with original pieces brought by packet boat from Philadelphia. Don't miss the Christmas Candlelight Tours held there each December. In summer, bring along a picnic and dine in the shade of the site's towering oaks or try the Riverfront Park (Levee Road) and let Old Man River leisurely pass by.
For information about places to stay, restaurants and more things to see and do in New Madrid County and all of Missouri, stop at the Missouri Division of Tourism Tourist Information Center on Interstate 55 north of Marston (southbound lane), (573) 643-2654, or contact the New Madrid Chamber of Commerce at 560 Mott Street, (573) 748-5300.