American Queen - New Madrid, Missouri
When you think of earthquakes in the U.S., you immediately think of San Francisco or the west coast in general. How many people today[end] are even aware that one of the strongest earthquakes to ever hit the U.S. was in the winter of 1811-1812 along the Mississippi River? New Madrid, Missouri, was little more than an outpost founded by fur trappers when more than 1,000 earthquakes struck. The strongest quake reportedly rang church bells as far away as Boston and Toronto! The ground shifted so violently that portions of the Mississippi River near New Madrid actually flowed north for a period.

New Madrid Fault

New Madrid survived the earthquakes and eventually became one of the busiest stops along the Mississippi. During the Civil War, New Madrid was known for being close to the Battle For Island Number Ten. Today, New Madrid is a sleepy little town along the banks of the Mississippi. They experienced a devastating flood in 1927 which meant New Madrid was already in a depressed economy when the Great Depression hit the rest of the country. Like a lot of small towns, New Madrid never really recovered. There are about 3,000 residents living in New Madrid today.

Downtown New Madrid

When we stepped off American Queen in New Madrid about 9:30am, it was already close to 90 degrees and humid. Good thing that American Queen hands out complimentary bottles of chilled water before you leave the boat.

Complimentary Bottled Water

Instead of taking the Steamcoach into town, we decided to walk along the levee, about ¾ of a mile into town. An observation deck extends out into the river. Those who walk to the end will find a marker that describes the Civil War battle for Island Ten. When you walk down the levee you end up on Main Street and the first stop is the New Madrid Historical Museum. Admission to the museum is included in your American Queen cruise fare, as with all stops along the Steamcoach route. The museum is filled with artifacts from the town's history and the Civil War. There are photos showing the many floods the town has endured, most recently in 2011, when the levees were blown up by the Corps of Engineers to relieve the high waters of the Mississippi.

New Madrid Historical Museum

A couple of blocks from the Museum is the Higgerson School House, one of the longest surviving one-room school houses in the country. Grades 1 through 8 were taught in this school and students attended school 8 months out of the year. Students "enjoyed" a "Cotton Vacation" where they got to skip school so they could work in the fields picking cotton. The school continued to operate until in was closed in the 1960's.

Higgerson School House

Our final stop in town was the Hart-Stepp House Gallery. The home was built in 1840 and has been converted into a photographic art gallery. After viewing the beautiful photos, we walked back to the old schoolhouse to board a "hayride" which would take us on a 1.8 mile tour to see the outside of some of the local historic homes while our guide told us stories about the devastating floods that have occurred in New Madrid. It turned out that this tractor-pulled wagon with hay bales covered with a tarp was our transportation back to the boat. We were the only people who chose to take the ride at 11am in the heat, so we had a "private" tour! It was a fun way to see a little more of New Madrid and the price was right: free!

Hart-Stepp House

One thing becomes apparent when you visit New Madrid. The people of this little town are warm and inviting. It is obvious they love the fact that American Queen stops here and they go out of their way to extend southern hospitality. New Madrid is one of those towns that you probably would never take the time to visit were it not for an American Queen sailing. We are glad we did!