Smack dab in central Missouri, between Kansas City and Saint Louis, is the town of Fulton. It’s got a small-town feel, but it’s loaded with history and charm, which makes it just perfect for a day trip. Here, a healthy dose of world history — including a museum focused on one of Britain’s most legendary statesmen — fits right in with a traditional Midwestern downtown district full of shops and galleries. There are also two university campuses to explore, and there’s even something for the classic-car fan!
Here are just a few ways to spend a day in charming Fulton.
Check Out The National Churchill Museum
When you think of a small town in the Midwest, Sir Winston Churchill probably doesn’t come to mind. But Britain’s two-time prime minister actually came to Fulton, and he left an indelible impression there. In 1946, just after the end of World War II, Churchill delivered his famous Iron Curtain speech to a packed house at Fulton’s Westminster College. Today, both his visit and famous speech are commemorated at the college’s National Churchill Museum.
Housed in a historic Christopher Wren-designed church (painstakingly moved stone by stone from London, shipped, and reassembled in Fulton), this special place tells the story of Churchill, his global leadership, and the massive world changes that occurred during his lifetime. While the museum’s exhibits — including some of Churchill’s paintings and pieces of correspondence — are incredibly fascinating, the building is currently undergoing renovations and temporarily closed to the public. But you can still check out two outdoor items of interest: Break Through, a sculpture using pieces of the Berlin Wall to commemorate the Iron Curtain speech; and Iron Curtain, a sculpture depicting Churchill giving his famous address. Both are located near the museum.
A sign for Westminster College (Photo Credit: RozenskiP / Shutterstock.com)
Explore The Campuses
Fulton has long been known as a center of education in the state of Missouri. It’s home to two historic campuses: the aforementioned Westminster College and William Woods University. Both schools have a feel all their own, and both are definitely worth checking out.
Westminster College, a private liberal arts college, was founded back in 1851. Churchill’s visit in 1946 kicked off a proud tradition of internationally renowned leaders — Margaret Thatcher, Mikhail Gorbachev, Lech Walesa, Harry Truman, Ronald Reagan, and George H. W. Bush, to name a few — making visits to the college. Much like the University of Missouri just a few miles down the road, the campus radiates from a set of large Corinthian columns, all that remains of the original Westminster Hall, which was destroyed by fire in 1909. The campus is beautiful, with its Greek revival architecture and tree-shaded spaces — it’s well worth a stroll!
William Woods University, an equally historic and picturesque campus, is also located in Fulton. Founded in 1870 as a school for girls orphaned during the Civil War, William Woods is now known for its equestrian studies and American Sign Language undergraduate degrees, as well as other courses of study. If you’re looking to take in a bit of art and culture during your Fulton visit, head to the university’s Mildred M. Cox Gallery. Located in the Gladys Woods Kemper Center for the Arts, the gallery features rotating exhibits by students, faculty, alumni, and regional artists and is open to the public.
The Church of St. Mary the Virgin (Photo Credit: Nagel Photography / Shutterstock.com)
Step Back In Time
Fulton is the seat of Callaway County, which has a fascinating backstory all its own. History buffs will appreciate the Kingdom of Callaway Historical Society, which maintains both a museum and a research center. The museum, located in a former men’s clothing store downtown, is packed with artifacts, documents, and photographs that really bring the area’s history out of the past and into the present. Here, you’ll learn how the area got its “Kingdom” nickname and how its iconic one-room schoolhouses educated generations of children. You’ll also see then-and-now postcards featuring Fulton’s most recognizable sights.
The research center, open for hard-core history buffs, is also located downtown, and volunteers are happy to help visitors search for specific information about Fulton and its past residents.
Check Out The Classic Cars
Fulton is also home to one of the Midwest’s largest and most complete collections of classic cars. The Auto World Museum was founded by Bill Backer, who owned the Backer Potato Chip Company in Fulton. His love for vintage cars knew no bounds, and by the mid-1990s, he’d collected nearly 100 vehicles, including an old doctor’s horse and buggy, a 1909 Model T, a 1931 Rolls-Royce Phantom, and many more. Backer moved much of his beloved collection to an old retail space in Fulton, and then moved it again in 2006 to its current location.
While there, you’ll be struck by the chronological grouping of the vehicles. The collection compellingly tells the story of both the area and the automotive industry. Even if you’re not a classic car aficionado, this museum is worth a visit.
Pro Tip: For more classic car experiences, head to one of these nine must-see car museums in the United States.
Treasure hunters, take note: Fulton is blessed with more than its fair share of antique stores and markets, and you’re sure to find something special at one of them! Rock Garden Antique Barn, located just west of town, features period furniture and home goods and accessories. Artichoke Annie’s, about 20 minutes from Fulton, is an antique lover’s paradise. It’s a mall with dozens of dealers who offer vintage items and collectibles in the 30,000-square-foot space. There are also several antique shops in the Brick District downtown — read on for more information about Fulton’s historic shopping hub!
Head To The Brick District
Fulton’s aptly named Brick District is sure to win over anyone seeking a bit of retail therapy! One hundred locally owned shops, boutiques, galleries, and eateries are housed in its historic brick buildings on cobblestone streets. Smockingbird’s Unique Gifts sells home goods, kitchen and pantry items, and accessories, many made in Missouri. Well Read is a bibliophile’s heaven, with its assortment of new releases and vintage finds. And Remade for a Purpose features upcycled home goods, many of which are crafted by adults with disabilities. Those who appreciate the art of a handwritten letter will love 1 Canoe 2, an upscale stationery store that also offers totes, backpacks, and travel accessories.
Grab a bite to eat at the renowned Fulton Cafe. Its tasty Cuban menu makes it a favorite with locals and visitors alike, and the cafe recently appeared on Rural Missouri’s list of best restaurants. And be sure to save room for dessert, because Saults Drug Store is a sweet blast from the past, still serving up old-fashioned ice cream treats at its counter.
The Brick District also routinely hosts special events, including open-air concerts and food festivals. No visit to Fulton would be complete without a stop-and-shop here!
Hit The Trail
If you’re an outdoor enthusiast, Fulton has you covered. It’s close to several trailheads on the Katy Trail and boasts its own 5-mile hiking and biking trail along Stinson Creek. And keep in mind that you’re just a short drive from the Lake of the Ozarks, one of Missouri’s largest lakes and resort areas.
Pro Tip: Wine lovers, take note: A side trip to sip and sample might be of interest. Nearby Serenity Valley Winery offers a wide range of wine varieties to try and plenty of room to picnic.
Where To Stay
If, at the end of the day, you decide there’s just too much to see and do, an overnight stay might be in the cards. Luckily for you, there are plenty of accommodations to choose from. Budget chains abound in Fulton and in nearby Kingdom City. For a more personal and luxe stay, however, consider the Loganberry Inn. Built in 1899, the bed and breakfast offers a variety of rooms, including the ones where Margaret Thatcher and Lech Walesa stayed during their visits to Westminster College.
Pro Tip: Fulton would make a great stop on a road trip from Saint Louis to Kansas City.