By the carload, busload or buggy load – Jamesport welcomes all
by Leigh Elmore
Jamesport, MO has a motto: "Step back in time." However, wags have added a line: "But watch out where you step."
The two worlds of Jamesport, MO often meet in the parking lot of the Jamesport Grocery. (photo by Leigh Elmore)
Together the motto and addendum provide evidence of how modern America can celebrate its past and how modern Amish people still embrace 19th century technologies and continue to prosper.
This small town of 525 residents has managed to do what few rural communities have done – reinvent itself after its traditional economy disappeared along with the railroads that built it.
Jamesport today is one of the most popular centers for the antiques and vintage trade in the state, pulling in day-trippers and many bus tour groups throughout the spring, summer and fall seasons.
That is the "step back in time" part.
The other part has to do with the "deposits" on the town's streets left by the dozens of horses that navigate them daily, pulling individuals and families in all manner of buggies, carts and drays belonging to members of the large Amish community that entirely surrounds the town. You won't hear any complaints from the townsfolk or merchants, though. In fact the horse droppings are simply part of the charm of this rural community.
If Jamesport is considered one of Missouri's most active antique centers, it is just as famous for having the largest Amish community in the state, with about 200 families living on prosperous, meticulously maintained farms.
Each community benefits from the other in a true symbiotic relationship. Public curiosity about the Amish lifestyle draws tourists, who in turn, patronize the antique shops of the "English" (as the Amish refer to those not of their faith). And tourists who come for the antiques are predisposed to shop at the numerous Amish businesses outside of town. In addition to several large and easily spotted Amish businesses, many Amish farms have small hand-painted signs indicating items for sale such as produce, dairy products, quilts etc. Don't be shy; dollars speak eloquently here.
"We and all the other merchants in town have maps that can guide visitors to the various Amish enterprises outside of town," said Misty Scott, owner of Simply Primitives, one of several antique, vintage and specialty shops in town.
Scott pointed out that Jamesport's annual car show will be held on June 23.
"We get a lot of out of town tourists in for that," she said. "It's a very popular event."
She also noted that the annual Amish Auction will take place July 4-5 on an Amish farm. "It's a big consignment auction on an 80-acre farm. You might find anything for sale," Scott said.
Sept. 28-29 will bring the two-day Heritage Days Festival and on Oct. 11-13 is the ever-popular Quilt Auction, which draws quilt fanciers from the entire region.
The Amish began arriving in the Jamesport area in the mid-1950s, just as the town's fortunes began to subside and it took a few more years for the antiques businesses to begin cropping up.
Gary and Carol Ellis planted the seeds of the antique trade with Warren Antiques, operated by Carol, for most of its history. "When we first started, Carol and I were the only thing going in Jamesport," Ellis told Discover Vintage America in 2015. Ellis would travel to Kansas City and hit the garage sales.
Out of that seed grew dozens of antiques shops over the years, several operated by the Ellises simultaneously. Little by little other shops opened up. Some have come and gone, but the tradition of doing business in Jamesport is now seemingly self-sustaining.
These days there are 10 antique and collectibles enterprises in town, along with furniture stores in the area, grocery and variety stores, a half-dozen restaurants, country inns, bed and breakfast inns and an RV campground as well as various service companies, including the largest harness supply and carriage dealer in the Midwest.
If you have a soft spot for things that are vintage, Jamesport is waiting for you.
Leigh Elmore can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org