A scenic drive through the McDonald County hill country in Missouri visits an historic iron bridge, a courthouse museum, one of the most beautiful streams in the Ozarks and much more.
McDonald County Heritage Trail takes in winding rural highways, picturesque vistas and attractions across the state line in the far southwest corner of Missouri.
Interstate 49 bisects the heart of the route, but it’s possible to avoid the freeway in favor of quiet two-lane country roads.
A hand-out developed by the McDonald County Historical Society shows routes that meander on the east and west sides of the county. Travelers see rugged Ozarks landscapes, but the suggested roadways visit the Missouri towns of Powell, Jane, Noel, Anderson, Lanagan and Southwest City.
While exploring the byways, mail that batch of Christmas cards at the Noel post office, and volunteers will stamp them with the Noel postmark that says, “Greetings from Noel, Mo., Christmas City in the Ozarks.”
So let’s load up a picnic lunch and hit the road to explore a large swath of the McDonald County Heritage Trail. We’ll start our trip where Arkansas 94 crosses into Missouri and becomes Missouri route E northwest of Pea Ridge.
Missouri E twists and turns for 12 or so miles on its way to Powell, Mo., a small hamlet with a big history.
The highway crosses Big Sugar Creek where an old iron bridge awaits travelers a stone’s throw west of here. Turn left (west) on Cowan Ridge Road and go less than a mile where a new bridge is adjacent to the iron bridge.
A computer search reveals the bridge was built by the East St. Louis Bridge Co. and opened to traffic in 1915. The new bridge replaced it, but the old bridge was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 2011.
Betsy Brumley grew up in Powell. She’s the granddaughter of the late Albert E. Brumley, well-known southern gospel songwriter who established the Sundown To Sunup Gospel Sing held in Springdale for many years.
“I remember jumping off that bridge,” Betsy said at the music publishing business she and her husband, Kevin Bernier, run in Powell. “The water under that bridge was a lot deeper than it is now,” she said.
The Hill and Hollow Folk Festival, held in Powell from 1969 through 1994, drew crowds of up to 10,000 to the little town, she recalled. Country and bluegrass stars like Ernest Tubb, Chet Atkins, Kitty Wells and Lester Flat performed at the festival. “Grandpa Jones was here all the time,” she said.
The stage and festival grounds are on private property, but they can be seen from a bend in the highway that veers left on the north side of Big Sugar Creek along the McDonald County Heritage Trail.
Just past the bend, cross Mike’s Creek and drive farther along Missouri E. Turn left on Missouri 76 and drive west through the countryside to Missouri route W. Turn left and follow Missouri W south to Pineville. The Historic Courthouse Museum is a centerpiece of the Pineville downtown. It’s open to visitors from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. on Saturdays June through December.
There’s a nice park downtown and tables to enjoy that picnic lunch.
From Pineville, we’ll hop on Interstate 49 for a bit and drive north to downtown Anderson, Mo. Not many towns can boast that they have a river access, but there’s one on Indian Creek smack in the middle of downtown Anderson.
Time to start driving south for home, but not before driving again through Pineville along old U.S. 71 to Rains Road and farther south to Jane, Mo. If that picnic lunch wasn’t enough, time for a stop at the Jane Store. This town landmark is known for delicious home-cooked breakfasts and lunches. Locals and visitors all sit together like family at four or five long tables. No booths or small tables here.
There’s more to see on the west side of the McDonald County Heritage Trail in Missouri at Lanagan, Noel and Southwest City. We’ll save that for another day and another road trip.