Rural Missouri Magazine

Your man in Jamesport
Jim Woodward offers everything a visitor to
Jamesport might need — lodging, dessert, music
and tours of local Amish sites

by Jarrett Medlin
At Woodward’s Custard Shop, Jim Woodward serves a cup of frozen custard to young Sophie Pliley while her brothers, Spencer and Saxton, and babysitter, Nina May, look on. The old-fashioned store in the heart of downtown Jamesport serves as Jim’s base of operations, where he sells frozen custard and offers tours of the Amish.

Life seems to slow down at the Jamesport city limits. Black horsedrawn carriages driven by the area’s Amish citizens travel slowly along the main highway, and nearly every passerby offers a smile and friendly wave.

Downtown Jamesport is no exception. Tourists casually stroll in and out of the antique shops, gift stores and bakeries that line Broadway.

Inside one particular store, a brick building with a sign reading “Woodward’s Frozen Custard,” a silver-haired man scoops ice cream from a frosted machine. Youngsters anxiously wait and watch, standing on their tippy toes to peer over the counter.

When the front door opens, the man turns. “Hello, pilgrim,” he says with a grin as another group of weary tourists wander inside. “Be with you in just a minute.”

It’s here, at the heart of Jamesport, where Jim Woodward spends most of his days scooping ice cream, directing tours of local Amish sites and strumming his guitars that rest at the back of the store. For the past seven years, he’s called this small town in northern Missouri that he used to visit on weekends and family vacations, his home.

Jim offers tours of local Amish sites to visitors of Jamesport. He used to lead country bus tours until recently switching to self-guided tours because of rising expenses.

“If you’d have told me 10 years ago that I’d wind up in Jamesport, I’d have told you you’re crazy,” he says. “It was the furthest thing from my mind.”

Indeed, it seems odd that a former marketing man who’s lived in Dallas, Colorado Springs and Birmingham for decades would settle down in a place where the official population consists of only 505 citizens. But today, Jim is an avid supporter and expert of Jamesport.

“Since he moved here, he wasn’t afraid to jump in and help out,” says Nancy Tracy, vice president of the Jamesport Community Association and owner of Marigold Motel. “Jim and his wife, Linda, seem to get along with everyone in town, and he’s good friends with a number of the Amish.”

Jim is a veritable jack-of-all-trades, whose expertise is driven by an insatiable curiosity. He builds impressive hand-crafted guitars, offers self-guided tours of the Amish, sells custard, manages a bed and breakfast and is extremely knowledgeable of the locals’ diverse religious practices.

Jamesport has the largest Old Order Amish population west of the Mississippi. It’s not unusual to see horse-drawn wagons traveling the streets during Jim’s tours.

“I’m just sort of in awe of all the religions around me,” he says later that day, driving a path that visitors take while on his self-guided tours. “In just this one area there are the Amish, the Dunkards, the River Brethren, German Baptist, Mennonites, Mormons and all of the other mainstream religions.”

As he steers the wheel, he begins an informative narrative about the Amish: “The first Amish church in Jamesport was founded in 1953. Today, 146 Amish families in the area own about 12,000 acres of land, making this the largest Old Order settlement west of the Mississippi.”

He goes on, never missing a beat while answering any questions. It becomes apparent that Jim gave bus tours for years before recently converting to self-guided tours, in which visitors can listen to an informative CD narrated by Jim while driving a planned route to points of interest. Each year, around 200,000 people take the tour while visiting Jamesport.

Those who take Jim’s self-guided tour glimpse a radically different lifestyle than most Americans are used to seeing — one in which citizens heat their homes with wood-burning stoves, make phone calls from booths 200 feet from their houses and use tools powered by air pressure.

Carolyn Kasemeier, a visitor from Kirkland, Wash., read a book about the Amish before taking the tour with her husband and daughter. “It was so fascinating to see how the Amish live,” she said after a tour. “It’s like stepping back in time.”

Three Amish boys are pulled in a wagon. Amish residents riding in horsedrawn carriages are a common sight in Jamesport.

Along the way, visitors like Carolyn stop at Jake and Mary Graber’s home, an Amish farm where the couple builds and sells outdoor furniture with a biblical theme. Jim is good friends with the Grabers and has even celebrated a number of birthdays and New Year’s Eves with the family.

In fact, over the years, Jim has come to view his Amish neighbors as just that — neighbors.

“Actually, I don’t hardly view them as Amish anymore because I’ve been around them so much,” he says.

While many visitors believe the Amish lead a simple way of life, Jim realizes their lives are much more complicated. “It’s not simple,” he says. “They face the same issues and problems as everybody else.”

Jim and his wife, Linda, run the Painted Lady Bed and Breakfast, a refurbished early 1900s Victorian cottage they bought shortly after moving to Jamesport seven years ago.

Back at his shop after the tour, Jim scoops custard and talks about the store and his other businesses. “This store’s been an antique shop, a tea room and now it’s a custard shop,” he says. “So we’ve done just about everything we can think of.”

The idea for a custard shop came about as more of a personal treat than a savvy business decision, he explains.

“While we were in Dallas, we used to eat at a place called Wild About Harry’s. They had about the best peppermint custard I’ve ever eaten,” he says. “So when I found out we could make it here, we ordered the ingredients because we wanted to eat it. Then we just decided to start selling it, and that’s how we got to this point.”

Now, he sells a variety of premium ice cream that’s made fresh every day and hand-scooped for each customer. Throughout the week, he spends the majority of his time at the custard shop, which resembles an old-fashioned soda fountain shop.

Jim works on the frame of a guitar built from the rig of a pre-World War II Martin model. Jim builds about 10 to 15 guitars per year and spends around 80 hours working on each one.

When Jim’s not working downtown, he spends time in a small shed behind the Painted Lady Bed and Breakfast, a renovated early 1900s Victorian cottage he and his wife run in their spare time.

Inside his workshop, Jim builds dreadnaught guitars from Adirondack spruce, a type of wood thought to be extinct at one time. He builds about 10 to 15 guitars per year and spends around 80 hours working on each one. Still, he insists selling the guitars is not a business.

“Really, it’s just a hobby,” he says. “I like the challenge of trying to figure out how to make those things, but I don’t want to build too many.”

Jim keeps several guitars at the back of the custard shop for local musicians to come in and play.

In Jim’s opinion, there’s always time for friends, music and custard.
“Here, I don’t have to worry about catching up with the rest of the world,” says Jim. “I can just relax and enjoy the simple things.”

For more information, call (660) 684-6080.

Rural Missouri | June 2020 Issue

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