Known for the Cargill turkey plant and the family-owned Burger’s Smokehouse, celebrated each September during the Ozark Ham and Turkey Festival, the small central Missouri town of California is also home to an eclectic group of artists and a growing number of specialty shops.
In the past few years, a revival of development has been underway that’s exciting for the community’s 4,000 residents, but also makes it a go-to destination for those seeking a fun day trip that’s only a 25-minute drive from Jefferson City on U.S. 50 West.
California is the seat of Moniteau County, named after the Eastern Algonquin word for “manitou,” which means Great Spirit. It’s often called the Twin City due to its distinct uptown and downtown areas. Many of the town’s historical structures have been updated and renovated, setting the foundation for the entrepreneurial spirit behind the current growth and expansion in the California Historical District.
Several of the newer shops are clustered on Oak Street., past the only four-way stoplight in town, over the railroad tracks and across the street from Central Bank.
Winding Road Gift & Interiors, 324 S. Oak St., owned by Julie Bolinger, opened during the Ozark Ham & Turkey Festival in September, 2013. The consignment shop represents roughly 35 artists and craftspeople, many locals who create home décor and furniture with a rustic touch. The Baer Brothers, who make custom furniture and perform restoration work for clients around the country, sell their serving trays and wall racks while Ann Grotjan, whose studio is near her home outside of town, features her nature-inspired pottery. Country Creations makes everything from hand-painted rustic signs to antique glassware for garden stakes to chunky, handmade necklaces.
“Originally I was going to showcase my own special order painted furniture and crafts, but as the store got underway, I realized how much local crafting and art talent there was here and my vision changed,” Bolinger said.
“I started with close friends, and then other artists and crafters in the area and throughout the state found me through word of mouth.”
“I guess my craft has ultimately become the store itself by changing the overall look and feel each season, continuously molding and shaping the displays, and creating fun, new ways to bring all of the different pieces together to fit cohesively together in one beautiful, little store,” she said.
Daryl Libbert, based in Centertown, turns reclaimed barn wood into distinctive furniture and accent pieces. Jefferson City companies like Knots to Knobs Restoration and Monichelle Designs, which makes imagination play items, have a presence. Junk Love Boutique in Hermann and the Rusty Needle in St. Louis, are also part of the bounty.
Next door at the corner of Smith and Oak Streets is Inspired Designs, 326 S. Oak St., owned by Kimberly Scheidt, who sells home décor items, Longaberger baskets, ceramic dishes and pie plates.
“Growing up I remember that I had to go out of town to buy a gift and I really saw a need for this kind of gift boutique here,” she said.
Her new coffee and tea bar has been a hit and the tearoom has become an event space for parties, meetings and baby showers. Right now the store is open to the public Mondays and Fridays, from 6:30–10 a.m., and on Saturdays from 7:30 a.m. to 2 p.m.
A few storefronts down is Oak Street Treasure Antiques & Gifts and Capital Tattoo, which relocated to California from Jefferson City, Farther down on the left is the restored Eitzen Mansion, , a three-story, 8,000-square-foot Victorian home and carriage house built in 1891. The owners have opened the home for tours and fundraising events for Wood Place Library, the Moniteau County Historical Society (on the corner of South and High Streets} and the restoration of the Finke Theater at 315 North High St.
The old opera house/theater has gone through many phases. Originally built in 1885 by Jerome Bill Legg, a well-known St. Louis architect who also remodeled the state Capitol in 1887, it served as the Ritz Theater movie theater from 1937 to 1978. After a lengthy renovation, it reopened in 2009 as the Finke Theatre and hosts music concerts, plays and other events.
Patricia Kay Interiors, in the Gray-Wood Buildings, 401 N. High St., is usually open after the shows at the Finke let out. An interior designer and painter, she specializes in custom draperies and window treatments. Later, she added the gift shop that features paintings, candles, home accessories and the fused glass and metal jewelry by Suzanne Taggart.
“We’re often called the little Schaefer House,” said Kay, referring to the store in Jefferson City.
Next door to her shop is Harvest Moon Art Studio, owned by Patricia Mettle, who returned to her hometown when her mother became ill. Her grandmother was an artist and she learned how to paint, draw and sketch from her and also apprenticed with artists in London, Paris and Ireland. She created Art Kiddos, where she gives art classes to children from 2nd grade on up.
“I came home thinking I wouldn’t be able to continue doing anything in art, so this has been wonderful,” said Mettle, who works on commission and has done a few projects in town.
Some of the art from Art Kiddos and the classes will be on display at California Event Center, 507 N. High St. across from the Courthouse, the oldest existing courthouse west of the Mississippi River.
Mettle would like to re-establish the Moniteau Art Guild to support the local artists. Until recently, well-known watercolorist Loran Creech’s studio was located in town and Ron Humphrey makes thrown pottery through Clover Hills Pottery, which he sells and displays at the Art Bazaar in Jefferson City. Steven Feilbach’s Gnome Nation has received major attention. His 10-foot tall, 100 pound Royals Garden Gnome proved a popular photo option at the Royals Stadium and appeared in the Kansas City Star and television news stations there.
During your time in town, there’s plenty of dining options, too. Next door to the Finke Theater is Chim’s Thai Kitchen, owned by the same family that operates those in Jefferson City and Columbia, and there’s Chinese at Panda. Further uptown on Business 50, there’s Mexican food at Jalisco’s, Rainbow Grill and Burger Haus, whose owner Mike Robertson is also a bee keeper. The High Street Grill, 507 N. High St., by the courthouse features different specialties, like deep-fried green beans and tenderloin sandwiches.
Three miles south of California on Missouri 87, is Burger’s Smokehouse, which ships hams, bacon and a catalog full of product all over the U.S. Items like summer sausage and cheese can be purchased at their Factory Country Store, along with a smoked turkey sandwich from their snack shop. Eat it there or take your picnic to Proctor Park and enjoy the setting, which includes a large stocked fishing lake, a paved walking trail several shelters and playgrounds.