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Wednesday, Aug. 24, 2016

Sikeston's historic homes featured in new brochure

Sunday, January 6, 2008

Vanice and Betty Johns plant a shrub in the lawn of their 1917 home. The home is one of the 24 which are included in the Historic Homes Walking and Driving Tour
SIKESTON -- Often tourists, as well as those who live in or around Sikeston, drive through the historic streets to look at the homes built in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

And now, through a cooperative effort of several groups and individuals, a brochure with locations and history of those homes was developed to share those stories with locals, as well as attract more tourism to the downtown area.

"The initial response has been 'I've always wondered about that home,' or 'I never knew that information,'" said Linda Lowes, director of governmental services for the City of Sikeston. She is also a member of the Historic Midtown Development Group and on the Sikeston-Miner Convention and Visitors Bureau Board. Those groups, as well as historians, homeowners, the city, Board of Municipal Utilities and state of Missouri worked to made the brochures a reality.

"We wanted to create a tourist attraction and to share some of the history of downtown Sikeston," said Kathy Medley at the Sikeston Department of Economic Development, a major contributor in the completion of the brochure.

The brochures can be found at several downtown businesses as well as the Sikeston Area Chamber of Commerce office, Sikeston-Miner CVB and the Depot. They feature 24 homes and 14 landmarks, in addition to some historical facts about Sikeston.

A map of the homes
"It's a good brochure for an overall condensed version of Sikeston's history," said Mandy Pratt, executive director of the Historic Midtown Development Group.

The selected homes are on a designated route, so it can be a walking/driving tour. Also combined with the cooperative marketing grant the CVB received to pay for the brochures is an additional Missouri Department of Transportation Enhancement Grant, which will provide for period lighting, landscaping, seating, the removal of asphalt and other changes to the area.

Mark Hensley, chairman of the committee that created the brochures, said he hopes this is only the first phase.

"We have a lot of beautiful old homes in Sikeston," he said. In fact, he owns one of the homes on the tour. "We have a lot to show and a lot to offer and we want people to enjoy it."

The committee selected homes built circa 1920 and for significant historic value, said Medley. The homeowners were then asked to make their home part of the tour -- which doesn't involve opening their home to the public. Those taking the tour are to stay on the street or sidewalk.

Most of the homeowners agreed to have their property part of the tour. Hensley said for him, it was a matter of home ownership pride. "It's an honor and a privilege, I feel, to have my home on this tour," he said.

Betty Johns, whose home is also on the tour, was part of the committee, and serves as president of the Depot Board of Directors. She said the brochure is something the town has needed for awhile.

"We had already started having calls down at the Depot even before they did the brochures," she said. Volunteers often directed tourists to those areas, but the brochures are a better tool.

"It's more meaningful if you have a brochure in front of you and you know a little history behind it," Johns said. "This was a catalyst for people to come in, get a brochure, and drive around."

Lowes agreed, saying the idea was suggested about five years ago. "But we never had a funding mechanism and the information," she said. "This would never have happened if we hadn't had local historians and home owners to help make it happen."

Judy Bowman and Marilyn Grant were integral in compiling the information, several committee members said.

Lowes said that when people do stay the night in Sikeston, they are often looking for activities such as this to do in the afternoon and evenings.

She and Pratt also noted that Sikeston is in a good locale for day trips, and the tour is a perfect fit for that interest -- and several people do drive to small towns looking for this type of activity.

"We find that a majority of our visitors are coming within a two-hour driving range," said Lowes. "And as a community, we need to promote that and recognize that as a source of economic development."

Under the terms of the state funding, 75 percent of the brochures have to be distributed outside a 50 mile radius of Sikeston. A distributing company is working to spread them in St. Louis, and several have been mailed to visitors centers around the state. Lowes also said that, if requested, staff will mail out the brochures.

And although a big portion of the brochures are aimed at other towns, local interest is also encouraged. "We go past these houses all the time but we don't really know much about them or pay much attention to them," said Pratt.

"We did learn a lot," said Medley. "It was so interesting to hear the history of the homes and the people who lived there."