I started this project to share the incredible tales of inns and their towns, but I think I am going to be hard pressed to find a tale to match that woven by Rivercene Plantation, owned by Donn Upp and Dr. Joe Ely.
It was an atypically warm day in February as I answered the call of the road which would be bringing me to the dual cities of New Franklin and Boonville. New Franklin is the home of Rivercene Plantation while Boonville (a mere 500 feet away) is a historical town of forgotten significance.
I actually made it into the region much earlier than planned due to basing my drive time on Mapquest’s estimates. I’ve concluded that Mapquest estimates are clearly made by someone who drives about 30 miles under the limit. In any event, I puzzled over how to spend my extra time and passed a sign suggesting I visit historic Blackwater. Why not?
So I made my unexpected side trip and passed through the microscopic town (the population is only 199) and noted that it did have the feel of a bygone era. The main drag actually seems more like an old west town. I quickly said hello and good-bye to historic Blackwater and made my way to the historic site of Arrow Rock.
Now I was expecting Arrow Rock to be, well, a rock. In actuality, it is a pioneer village covering about a mile and a half. Tours are actually available, but are very limited during the winter months. But I was able to amuse myself with a little jaunt around the village, snapping a photo here and there until it was nearly time to check in to Rivercene.
As I said earlier, Rivercene Plantation is a hop, skip, and jump from the town of Boonville and is located just beyond the Boonslick Bridge which crosses the mighty Missouri River. The mansion, itself, is on a very secluded acreage. I bounded up the stairs and turned the old fashioned doorbell key and was soon greeted by Donn Upp.
Donn is not only one of the owners of the mansion, but he is also an author of horror novels. He is also, without question, one of the most energetic people I have ever met and a raconteur par excellence. Donn led me up to Cora’s Room which would serve as my base of operations for the next couple of days. I was floored by the sheer massiveness of the room. Easily, the largest room I have ever stayed in. For an avid reader like myself, I especially appreciated the sitting area by the gas fireplace.
After being left to my own devices, I quickly settled in and discovered a history of the mansion in my room. And, trust me, this mansion is chock full of history. The house was paid for by Matilda Clarke Kinney, the second wife of Captain Joseph Kinney (founder of Kinney’s Shoes and a steamboat magnate) after her husband gave her a wedding gift of $50,000 to build her dream home. Construction of the house began in 1864 and would be completed in 1869. Rivercene Plantation served as the Kinney’s summer home until Captain Kinney’s retirement, at which point they relocated to the mansion permanently.
Aside from the history of the mansion, the folder also contained Donn’s story of how he became the owner of Rivercene and the many ideas he has for the place over the coming years. One of his most intriguing plans is what he calls Ridgecliffe Manor.
Ridgecliffe Manor (set to begin in 2016) is going to be a mystery event unlike any other. Essentially, the guests are going to get to live one of Donn’s novels and the groundwork is actually going to begin next month with YouTube videos, a Facebook page, and a website. Characters will be introduced and people can get to know the story before getting dropped into the middle of it with Ridgecliffe Manor. From listening to Donn, Ridgecliffe Manor sounds like it will be a combination of interactive theatre and a top flight Hollywood production and I will certainly do my best to attend one of those events.
Speaking of mysteries, Rivercene Plantation has an unsolved mystery of its own. In 1895, Nobel Kinney, the son of Joseph and Matilda, died under mysterious circumstances when he fell over the second floor balcony and landed on the 8th and 9th steps of the main staircase. The truth of what happened never left the house. Nobel was the favored child of Matilda who mourned herself to death over the next year.
The mystery of that night hangs over the inn to this day. When Donn and Joe were preparing Nobel’s room to be rented out, strange things happened from the start. The shower would spontaneously turn off and on. Temperatures would go from one extreme to the other. Donn said there was a sensation that nobody was allowed to use that room. The room is not available for rent.
The home has been visited by paranormal investigators who say that the place is a hotbed for EVP (Electronic Voice Phenomena). So if you are into ghost chasing, chances are you’ll want to visit this place and Donn will have some stories for you.
After Donn’s tour, I made the walk into Boonville to do a little exploring and then decided to get some dinner. I had read of a restaurant called the 87 Diner which claimed to have “The Best Darn Cooking in the County”. Well, I certainly had to put that to the test.
I arrived at the diner and it was packed!! That certainly seemed to be a testament to the cooking. I managed to find a table in the corner and was soon presented with a menu. Nothing flashy. Just good old fashioned comfort food. I went for a turkey club and got it in an amazingly short amount of time considering how busy things were.
I can officially say there is some credence to the 87 Diner’s claims. This was the best club sandwich I had ever eaten. The bread was toasted just right, the bacon was firm, but chewy, and the turkey was the freshest I think I have ever tasted. Definitely get a meal here.
I returned to the inn where I spent the rest of the evening organizing photos and enjoying the adventures of Maurice LeBlanc’s gentleman burglar, Arsene Lupin, on my Kindle.
After a good night’s sleep I made my way downstairs to breakfast and met the other owner and chef, Dr. Joe Ely. It was a fabulous meal due to both food and the company. The inn was fully booked, so there was a large group to converse with and the food couldn’t have been better. Mixed fruit, pecan cinnamon rolls, and a breakfast casserole fleshed out this excellent repast. After 2 hours and buoyed by a good meal, I headed outside to begin a historical walking tour of Boonville.
The Grand Dining Room
As I’ve said, Boonville is a city of forgotten historical significance. The Civil War plays a big role in Boonville’s history. Heck, one battle was fought in the front yard of Rivercene Plantation. The city is loaded with historical buildings such as the famed Kemper Military School which became defunct back in 2002. Part of the campus has now been transformed into State Fair Community College.
Do you enjoy being outdoors? If so, then take a walk on the Katy Trail. This is a 225 mile hiking and biking trail. Given that it was a blustery day and I had no food and water with me, I skipped the trail and settled for the 10 mile historical tour.
About halfway through the tour, my camera batteries died, so I finished the tour and then headed back to the inn, hoping to get back out later to finish my photography. Unfortunately, I was not able to make it back out as the sharp wind and massive temperature changed caused a whanging headache so I rested in my room until it was time for worship.
I attended Saints Peter and Paul Catholic Church which was very elegant, for lack of a better word. It just seemed to possess a unique quality. What made it better was that you could feel Jesus’ presence all throughout the service. The deacon, who was an excellent speaker, gave an awesome sermon about the power of touch (both God’s and actual contact) based off the story in the Gospel of Mark where Jesus heals the leper. It was the type of service that makes you feel like you’re floating 5 feet off the ground when the service is done.
Once services ended, I headed over to The Palace for some dinner. Once again I had found a restaurant that was crammed to the rafters which is a good sign. The place was so full that they actually had to makeshift a table for me behind the salad bar. I enjoyed a gyro sandwich which filled the cavity nicely.
From there, I headed back to Rivercene where I joined other guests and Donn in the parlor where we talked into the night about a variety of subjects. About 10:30pm, I dragged myself up to my room where I crawled wearily into bed.
Breakfast the next morning featured a fully loaded table of guests as well as a repeat of yesterday’s morning meal though the sausage in yesterday’s soufflé had been replaced with spiral cut ham, plus Joe had prepared some orange rolls. I chatted amiably with my new acquaintances, Tim and Christina, over the meal and about my future projects. Donn appeared and announced that snow was set to begin falling, so I polished up my meal so I could finish the article and hit the road.
Due to its history and mystery, I would rate Rivercene Plantation as the most intriguing inn I have visited for this project. If your journeys should bring you to this region, spend a night here. You will hear some amazing stories, get some history, enjoy the company of a master storyteller, and taste some excellent cuisine.