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Osage CountyPhoto By Seth Garcia
Explore 11 Towns, 4 Rivers, 3 B&Bs, and 3 Restaurants
People tell stories. Stories require names. Names are useful. Useful sits in eastern Osage County, just south of Freedom, which is also useful.
Two Useful antique stores define this town of five or so people, with even more antiques in the Useful Cemetery.
Enamored with this name and other curious monikers within honking distance, I turned my car loose on Osage County. Among towns with 1,354 people, Linn may be America's longest, skinniest.
The town towers on a ridge, parted neatly along its crown by Highway 50. For years I've marveled at the linear layout of the community, although in recent years, development seems to be spilling down the mountainside.
I stopped in town to pick up a copy of the world's best-named newspaper, the Unterrified Democrat. For a lark, I spit-pasted the newspaper's banner to my bumper and drove through this land bordered by two great American rivers, skewered by a third.
Heading east, we turned north onto Route A into Lenk, Germany's, little sister, a town called Loose Creek. I wondered if the creek is still loose, all these years after European settlers hung that wayward name on it. The road traced a series of ridges with spectacular views cascading down deep valleys to port and starboard.
As Route A descends toward the Osage River near its confluence with the muddy Missouri, the road bends sharply right. My car went straight and descended the steep entrance into Bonnots Mill. We crept slowly down to avoid losing a grip on the road and smacking into a church at the bottom of the hill. It's that steep.
Bonnots Mill unfolded before us, a town unspoiled by change. The name of the town suggests there's a gristmill. Well, yes, though the town was named for a sawmill that fashioned wooden ties for a voracious new railroad plowing along the riverbank. That was back in the 1850s.
I stopped for a meal at Johnny Mac's, a delightful wooden bar and grill and museum with a bazillion relics hanging on the walls and rafters. Fish traps. Surfboards. Kayaks. I had lunch sitting next to a full suit of armor, which, thankfully, didn't try to steal any of my fries. The ground shook as a train rumbled past, a dart throw's distance from the restaurant's picture window.
The unavoidable truth about Bonnot's Mill is that if you walk anywhere, it's uphill. Felix Bonnot had that in mind when in 1852 he established the first plat in this protected hollow that opens into the Osage River valley.
The plats are French in nature, which is to say they're long, narrow lots to allow for outbuildings behind the main house.
Uphill from Johnny Mac's, toward St. Louis of France Catholic Church, original outbuildings peek from behind the Dauphine Hotel. Three of the outbuildings are functional outhouses for the adventurous.
The Dauphine, built in 1840 before the sawmill came to town, is a unique bed-and-breakfast, established in 1875, where guests can choose from a handful of rooms, all with indoor plumbing. And so far as I know, one of the only bed-and breakfasts in Missouri that cooks breakfast to order.
Atop the hill, get on your tiptoes to see the confluence of the Osage and Missouri rivers. In the other direction, you can see the Missouri State Capitol ten miles away.
I rejoined Route A and continued along ridges and beautiful vistas to Frankenstein and a lovely stucco church with an equally unique name, Our Lady Help of Christians. I passed the Kremer farm, a small operation that sells direct to Chipotle Mexican Grill.