Tag Archives: Missouri River

Thornhill Estate at Faust Park: This Photography Lover’s Best Kept Secret

If you like photography—whether you’re an amateur or seasoned professional—you likely have a favorite spot or two for whipping out your camera whenever you get the chance. I am no different.

Just a few months after moving to St. Louis, I stumbled across a location that I’ve come back to time and again—with friends and by myself, for my own engagement and wedding photos, and even recently to try out my first ‘real’ big girl camera. Every time I return, I know where to head for reliably beautiful backdrops. And so far, it’s never failed that a different aspect of this place has captured my attention and imagination, whether I’m in front of or behind the lens.

This place is Thornhill Estate. Tucked behind Faust Park in Chesterfield, Thornhill is where Frederick Bates, Missouri’s second governor, called home.

The estate is comprised of a stately white house and a collection of well-preserved barns and other outbuildings, all perched atop a sloping hill at the end of a long gravel drive. Dotted with features like rows of mature trees, a period vegetable garden, and an open expanse of field, the grounds are filled with photo opportunities from end to end.

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A front view of Gov. Frederick Bates’ house at Thornhill Estate.
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A side view of Gov. Frederick Bates’ home at Thornhill Estate.

According to a site history I found from St. Louis County Parks, Gov. Frederick Bates had the house constructed around 1820 in a style inspired by homes from his native state of Virginia. Shown above, one feature of the home (when viewed from the front) is a symmetrical floor plan.

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Behind the house are several small outbuildings, a garden, and not pictured, a small family burial plot.

 

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A line of old, mature trees separates the field from the grounds surrounding the house.

I first discovered Thornhill while exploring Faust Park with a good friend. After walking around the front of the park outside the Butterfly House, a popular attraction Faust Park is known for, we drove through the roundabout skirting the Butterfly House to see what else we could find. As we started down a gravel drive that appeared to be an extension of the park, we almost questioned whether we were entering private property. But as the beautiful farm came into view up the hill, I realized we had just stumbled upon a gem of a historic site. A sign at the wood fence separating the property from the parking lot confirmed that it was okay to explore.

I’m pretty sure my friend and I had the entirety of Thornhill to ourselves during that initial visit—and that’s something that has struck me every time I’ve gone back. There are typically not many people there. This scarcity of visitors adds to the appeal of this unique location as a backdrop, or the main attraction, for some serious photography, because there is no competition for the best vantage point or frustration of needing to crop or edit people out of your photos.

After I got engaged, one of my best friends agreed to come to St. Louis and do an engagement session for Nathan and me. We ended up doing two locations: the Gateway Arch (which is where we got engaged), and Thornhill Estate. I must say, Sarah Jacquel Photography did a pretty good job.

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One of my favorite photos from our engagement session took place in front of the very barn that captured my heart the moment I laid eyes on it. Photo credit @Sarah Jacquel Photography.

We got some beautiful images in front of the dark wood barn that I admired so much the first time I saw it, as well as other locations throughout the property. It was fall, so the field beside the house offered another gorgeous backdrop. On a side note, every season is an ideal time of year to visit Thornhill. In autumn, the golden color of the field makes for an awesome background, and in June, the edges of of the same field are filled with soft purple flowers.

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An engagement photo in the field beside the main house at Thornhill Estate. Photo credit @Sarah Jacquel Photography
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Purple flowers show up at Thornhill in late spring.

When Nathan and I got married in 2015, we went back to Thornhill after the reception for a special photoshoot with our wonderful photographer, Woven Bone Photography.

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One of the many beautiful images from a special wedding session at Thornhill Estate. Photo credit @Woven Bone Photography

Once again, we got some photos in front of the dark wood barn, as well as the front of the house, and other locations around the property. And like almost every time I’ve been there, we barely encountered anyone. That made it much easier to relax and be ourselves, which I think showed through in our photos.

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Sitting on the front steps of the house at Thornhill Estate. Photo credit @ Woven Bone Photography

For me, Thornhill is an oasis from a busy and fast paced life. It’s easy to get caught up in the minutiae of the everyday. This place forces me out of that. I never expected I’d end up living and working in a larger metropolitan area, so it was an unexpected treat to find this undisturbed piece of land—and slice of history. Each step into the property takes me further back in time and allows me to wonder and marvel at the beauty around me. I’ve always left feeling refreshed… and mentally planning my next Thornhill visit.

So all of this is to say, if you’re in St. Louis and looking for a good location for a photo op, you now know my personal favorite and best kept secret. Feel free to share some images if you get out that way!

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Know Before You Go

Address: 15185 Olive Blvd, Chesterfield, MO 63017

Hours: 7 a.m. to a half hour past official sunset.

Facilities: Bathrooms are available near the front of Faust park by the playground area. There are some picnic tables on a hill behind the main house (pictured above).

Trails: The Governor Bates Trail (named for the governor who resided at Thornhill) is just over a mile long and begins at the estate. It’s rated as difficult (as of this post, I haven’t yet hiked it).

General Info: If you’re a thorough explorer, you could spend over an hour poking through the nooks and crannies of the Thornhill grounds. The rest of Faust Park offers a variety of attractions, like a historic village, playground, the Butterfly House (which is managed by the Missouri Botanical Gardens), and the Carousel.

 

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Approaching the Confluence: An Afternoon Near Alton

Itching for Adventure

For some time now, I’ve been getting the itch to do some more exploring outside of St. Louis. While the city and suburbs are interesting in their own right, something about my flatlands upbringing has forever engrained in me the desire to seek out open spaces and sweeping views. And my adventure last weekend quenchedeven if only brieflythat deep thirst.

Confluence of Missouri and Mississippi Rivers

On that Friday afternoon, I had mentioned to a coworker that I wanted to go eagle watching sometime. I asked if she knew of any local hotspots. In response, she told me all about a beautiful area just north of St. Louis where the Missouri and Mississippi rivers meet. My mind began racing with possibilities. By that evening, I had laid the tracks for a Saturday jaunt up U.S. Route 67 into the Alton, Illinois area, for a day of fun and exploration. And what a day it turned out to be!

Seeking Out the Confluence

The first objective of the day was to navigate our way to a small park on the Missouri side known asget ready, this is a mouthfulEdward “Ted” and Pat Jones-Confluence Point State Park. It’s located at the tip of a talon-shaped piece of land bordered by the Mississippi and Missouri rivers.

From U.S. Route 67 just before the bridge into Alton, we hung a right, drove past one of the busiest looking gas stations in America, and continued past a visitor’s center and marshlands filled with migratory birds. Before the road took a sharp left, we turned right onto a bumpy, gravelly road that winds aimlessly for four miles before arriving at an equally gravelly parking lot. For all those concerned, there are restroom facilities available at this point. I’m sure some people would be thankful for them after the bumpy ride.

Confluence of Missouri and Mississippi Rivers

The weather was just favorable enough for the short walk through the treeline to reach the water. At this point, the wind seemed to converge from all directions, uninhibited by the open, frigid waters ferrying chunks of ice southward.

A dozen or so other brave souls were also out at the point. There were a few educational signs, an extremely tall pole commemorating the infamous flood of ’93, and a cement walkway that went further out to the edge of the water.

Sign from the Flood of '93

I ventured out to the very last rock connected to land and stared ahead. It was indeed a neat sight to see the slow-moving, albeit powerful currents of the two rivers colliding and merging into one.

Before we turned to head back to the cars, someone pointed out a lone eagle, soaring above the precise point of the confluence.

The Confluence of Two Great Rivers

Bar Food Extraordinaire at Fast Eddie’s Bon Air

After visiting the confluence, my stomach was growling for lunch. To remedy that, we headed into Alton to experience a local legend of a restaurant. Fast Eddie’s has been in existence since the 1920s, and since then it has expanded to seat nearly 400 people. (Be prepared for packed parking and to flash your ID at the door; patrons must be 21 to enter.)

Preparing Burgers at Fast Eddie's

I’m glad we were accompanied by people who had been there before. After you enter, you then need to snake your way behind a bar to join the end of the food line. Fast Eddie’s has a simple and inexpensive menu, and because of the simplicity, the line moves blessedly fast. You can grab a half-pound burger hot off the grill for $1.99. (Another tip: Come with cash, as that’s the only accepted payment method for food. ATMs are available, but you’ll likely get charged a fee for using them.)

The other half of the experience was finding somewhere to sit. The place was packed to the hilt with all kinds of people, which made for interesting people watching, but it complicated our efforts to find a table with four available chairs. We checked both the indoor and enclosed outdoor seating areas. We did end up finding a table and enjoyed tearing into our food and sharing in conversation.

Winding Down at Grafton Wineries

As the sun was setting, we followed Illinois Route 100, also called the Great River Road, north from Alton toward the smaller town of Grafton. The road tightly hugs the curves of the Mississippi to the left and gives way to the region’s rising bluffs on the right. The combination of scenery and sunset was spectacularly beautiful.

Sunset from Aerie's Winery

We reached our destination,  Aerie’s Winery, with enough light left to enjoy the view. The winery overlooks both Grafton and another confluence—of the Illinois and Mississippi rivers. Reaching it involved a steep ascent up several hills, but the view at the top was entirely worth it. It was the perfect place to relax, unwind, and enjoy some locally bottled wine.

Another Sunset View at Aerie's Winery

We also stopped by the Grafton Winery, which sits right off Main Street. The owner herself took care of our wine tasting and poured a sample of an item not even listed on the menu. She and her staff earned a lot of points in my book for their attentive service.

All in all, our experience in Grafton was the cherry on top of an exhilarating dayand that has only whetted my appetite further for exploring the area surrounding the Great River Road.

Know Before You Go

The following information was up-to-date as of the publication date of this blog post.

Fast Eddie’s Bon Air

Phone: 618-462-5532

Address: 1530 East 4th Street, Alton, IL 62002

Website: http://www.fasteddiesbonair.com/

 

Aerie’s Winery

Phone: 618-786-8439

Address: 800 Timber Ridge, Grafton, IL 62037

Website: http://www.aeriesview.com/winery/#aeries-winery

 

Grafton Winery and Brewhaus

Phone: 618-786-3001

Address: 300 West Main, Grafton, IL 62037

Website: http://thegraftonwinery.com/Winery-In-St.Louis/

The Katy Trail

My Introduction to the “Katy Trail”

For the duration of my time in St. Louis, I have been continually intrigued by a certain “Katy Trail.” It started with driving down highway 364 turned 94 to head to wine country near the small towns of Defiance and Augusta. What begins as a 10-lane divided highway with a 60 mph speed limit eventually whittles down to a 2-lane, often 45 mph or below speed limit due to constant twists and turns through the hilly Missouri countryside.

Leaving the suburbs through this route is like traveling along a literal backwards passage of time. You have to keep transitioning one lane to the left as the miles wear on, because civilization gradually dedensifies and almost falls away entirely.

Starting out around Maryland Heights (approximately a third-ring St. Louis suburb), the scenery looks almost nothing like the “wild yonder” 20 minutes to the west past the bridge over Interstate 64. Here, the rings of suburbs surrounding the core of St. Louis cease, and the road narrows from four lanes to two, and the trees close in on both sides as you continue your trek out into the country.

Although Defiance and a plethora of wineries stand only 15 minutes away by this point, the drive seems much longer than that. Once you slow to the country-town speed limit and wind your way through the steep left-rights of some of Defiance’s streets, you’ll notice several gravel lots that seemingly adjoin the junction of biker bars in the middle of Defiance.

Looking closer, you’ll realize that not only are the lots mostly full, but the majority of the vehicles packed in those lots are equipped with bike racks. And the individuals teeming out of those lots will almost certainly be heading straight into the treeline.

Neon Clad Walkers on the Katy Trail

As you pass by, you’ll notice that, no, these individuals aren’t headed to some strange wilderness camp, but they’re all going on a half-size looking gravel road. This is an unmistakeable sight. One quarter of said individuals will be outfitted with sweats of various kinds, and the other three quarters will likely be donning all shades of neon that have thus far been discovered (I must be one of the aforementioned people… see the picture above).

Finding the Right Access Point

That was my first exposure to the Katy Trail. Since then, I’ve done a lot of reading up on it (see links at the bottom of this post). Most of the park (if not the entirety of it) is an old railroad bed transformed into useable trails for walkers, hikers, and bicyclists. The park spans more than 200 miles, with countless access points scattered through much of Missouri.

With so many options for where to start, where exactly does one start? For me, the answer was right out my back door. Well, almost.

Several of my friends use the Katy Trail access point in Defiance, but for me that can be a long drive. Driving across the Missouri River on 364, though, I began to notice a good-size parking lot on the west side of the river by the highway. Once I even exited at the nearest ramp and drove around until I found the parking lot. But it wasn’t until this summer that my fiance and I finally returned to that spot and made that our entry point into the world that is the Katy Trail.

I highly, highly recommend it.

Katy Trail in the Shade

The Katy Trail Experience

It was a balmy, late summer afternoon when we started out on our walk. The parking lot is elevated high above the actual trail, so those wanting to access it have to take a series of switchbacks right by the base of the bridge crossing the Missouri. It was fun going down, but I think you can guess how I would later feel about going back up.

With the choice of either turning right toward St. Peters or left toward St. Charles, we turned right and headed for the area that looked like it offered more shade. That’s something to watch out for–although much of the trail is shaded, it would be unpleasant to be caught in a wide open section on a blistering hot and sunny day.

Our walk lasted about four miles. We kept going all the way until the trail crossed a section of road, and we decided the shade of the trail we had already covered was more inviting than what lay ahead. Wise decision. And what a neat section of trail! It’s very flat and accommodating to different skill levels, whether you’re an endurance runner or just want to ride a bike for leisure.

Peek of the Missouri River from the Katy Trail

The section we chose to cover had sweeping vistas of the river at times, butted up against nice houses (for HGTV lovers such as myself), and cut through interesting tracts of different types of nature. If one hour is all you have, it’s a nice, immersive experience without straying too far from the parking lot.

More Info

For general information about the Katy Trail, the links below can be a good starting point. I wish you the best of luck on discovering your own Katy Trail adventure!

http://www.bikekatytrail.com/

http://mostateparks.com/park/katy-trail-state-park

http://www.traillink.com/trail/katy-trail-state-park.aspx

Extra Tidbit

This year, St. Louis is celebrating its 250th year of existence! To mark the momentous occasion, artists all over the city have erected fully decorated cakes in parks, near public monuments, in important buildings, and in other areas to highlight the diversity of all this city has to offer. Guess what we found right in the parking lot? Take a look!

Happy Birthday, St. Louis!