Eerie Ghost Towns of Route 66 Will Leave You Quaking
When Route 66 was completed, it provided a nearly cross-country road for families to travel. It was the first “interstate” road and along its path popped up many small towns and businesses. With the construction and completion of the interstate highway system in use today, many of these small towns were bypassed. The businesses closed and with those closings small towns became ghost towns, dusty reminders of an era gone by when families vacationed together, small businesses were the pride of small towns, and Route 66 was America’s main highway.
Funk's Grove, Illinois
The “Home of Maple Sirup” was a favorite stop for Route 66 travelers. The town was small and home to the Funk family who settled here in 1824 and began making maple sirup not long after. The maple grove is still here, and though the trees are worth many millions of dollars, a trust protects them and insures that they only ever be used to produce sap for maple sirup. That same trust insures that Funk’s Grove will always use the old spelling with an “I” – sirup.
Funk’s Grove is still accessible from Route 66 and there is an exit here as well on I-55. Though the old town lies deserted, visitors can still see the old general store and train depot, overgrown with weeds and vines. Funk’s Groves is still here as well, making sirup and selling it as well as Route 66 memorabilia. The maple grove is a national natural historic landmark.
Times Beach, Missouri
Times Beach was doomed to failure almost from the start. Incorporated in 1925 and touted as a close country getaway for residents in St. Louis, lots were cheap and there was plenty of country along the Meramec River. However, the Great Depression soon hit Times Beach and the rest of the country.
The little town held on, becoming a lower middle-class city, all hopes of a resort city dashed. In the 1970s, the town could not afford to pave its roads and the town was very dusty. A local waste hauler was hired to spray oil on the streets. He claimed it was simple engine oil but the truth was discovered about five years later – he was using waste oil saturated with dioxins. The town was closed to residents in 1982, and the federal government bought the town in 1983 and eventually hauled out 265,000 tons of the tainted soil before giving the land back to the state of Missouri.
Today the town is a 480 acre state park. The visitor center is located in the 1935 roadhouse that was called Steiny’s Inn and the original historic Route 66 bridge over the Meramec River is still there. Visitors to the park can enjoy seven miles of trails for hiking, biking or horseback riding, picnic sites and a boat ramp on the river.
Warwick thrived like so many Midwest towns thrived in the 1800s, because of the railroad, and it died like so many of those same towns died, because the railroad left. The area was first settled in 1891 with a post office to follow in 1892. By the time Warwick reached its prime, it boasted several grocery stores and gas stations, two hotels, a cotton gin, a bank, a newspaper, the train depot, a school and church, a saloon, a saw mill and several other businesses. The freight train ran to Warwick until 1986, but the town died long before that, in the 1940s, when the original railway went bankrupt and was bought by Burlington Northern. That was when passenger service to Warwick ended.
In the 1960s the nearby town of Wellston wanted to annex Warwick but the residents resisted. Instead, in 1968 the Warwick school became one with the Wellston school. The school building is now empty except for the occasional meeting and for voting. Today several people still live in or around Warwick. The area is primarily agricultural with large farms around. Streets are lined with empty buildings where businesses once thrived though a 1-mile drive out of town will bring a Route 66 traveler to Seaba Station Antiques. The building was once a filling station and auto mechanic but has gained new life as a shop.
Many of the other “ghost towns” along Route 66 still have residents, but Foss is completely empty. Only a couple of buildings, many foundations and broken sidewalks line the empty streets of a once-thriving town.
Foss grew the most between 1900 and 1905 and by 1912 had several stores, cotton gins, hotels, businesses and an electric plant. The railway bypassed Foss, however, and as that became a major mode of transportation the town’s business left to the nearby rail towns of Clinton and Elk City. The Dust Bowl of the 1930s further caused the population to dwindle. The final blow came when the nearby Air Force installation closed down at the same time that superhighway I-40 was built, bypassing Foss.
Today the only remains of the town are the ruins of Koebel’s Gas Station, an 1894 church and the pioneer jail. Nature lovers may still want to stop in the area however. About 10 miles away, the Foss State Park features 120 campsites along the shores of an 8,800 acre lake.
Though Canute is still inhabited, it is far past its glory days. Today it gives Route 66 travelers a glimpse at the past. Visitors can take a peek at the 1918 jail, the old Cotton Boll Motel and the restored Canute Service Station.
Lela was once a booming railroad town, a stop from Chicago on the way to Rock Island and the Gulf. Unfortunately, the town sprang up too close to nearby Shamrock, Texas, could not keep pace with the larger town, and in the 1920s many Lela residents moved to Shamrock. The town had a couple of population boosts – when natural gas was discovered there and when Route 66 opened – but nothing could save the town’s eventual demise. In the 1970s the post office closed and in 1992 the Lela school district closed.
Today there are no open businesses in the town, only a few residences though many more lie abandoned and overgrown. There are, however, several local attractions which continue to draw visitors to the area. The old Lela school building still stands with a Texas historic marker in front. In nearby Shamrock the Tower Station and U-Drop Inn, once art deco landmarks along Route 66, house Shamrock’s Chamber of Commerce.
Leaning Water Tower
Jericho Gap, Texas
Jericho Gap was never really much of a town. Its population peaked at 100 in the 1930s. This stretch of historic Route 66 was infamous as an 18-mile stretch of quagmire that travelers were often stuck in. The quagmire boosted many businesses as locals pulled travelers out of the mud. Some rumors even said that locals intentionally watered down this stretch of highway. Route 66 was moved a half-mile in 1939, by passing the town and all but guaranteeing its demise. Today, the most there is to see in Jericho is the old tourist court which is in disrepair, and the Britten Truck Stop water tower which was built to lean as a gimmick to attract tourists. It still stands and is a great photo op.
Ghost Towns in New Mexico
Many miles of Route 66 lay claim to ghost towns in New Mexico. Most of these towns popped up as railway stops, thrived through the heydays of Route 66, only to die when the interstate highways were built. Most of Route 66 through New Mexico is still gravel and dirt, another deterrent to any traveler who wishes to see the historic area.
If visiting the old Route 66 in New Mexico, you will lots of tumbleweeds but no people in Glenrio, Endee, and San Jon. A stop in San Jon is a great photo op for anyone who enjoys taking photos of old buildings. Then there are Montoya, Newkirk and Cuervo. Back on the interstate (because the old road is just not passable west of Cuervo), the Frontier Museum lies abandoned where families once stopped for a pony ride, a cold one or a meal in the Frontier Café. Back on Route 66 the road winds through Indian Lands and many ghost towns including Budsville, where an old café still serves meals, and Cubero, where a trading post has held on. Cubero had many tourist courts. Ernest Hemingway reportedly stayed here while he was writing The Old Man and the Sea, and Lucille Ball also stayed here for awhile after she left Desi Arnaz. Further west, Gallup, New Mexico is surrounded by ghost towns, more than a dozen of them. They include Clarkville, Heaton and Navajo. Many of these towns were mining camps, closing when the mine closed.
Canyon Diablo, Arizona
Canyon Diablo (or Devil’s Canyon) is the more of an Old Wild West ghost town. Located alongside Canyon Diabolo, the town took the canyon’s name when it came into existence as a railway stop. An impressive bridge spanned (and still does) the canyon, an artist’s rendering of the bridge making its way onto hundreds of postcards during the Route 66 era. In the 1800s, the town had a reputation worse than Tombstone and Dodge City. Today it can only be accessed by four-wheeler and the only remains to see are those of the train depot turned trading post.
Two Guns, Arizona
Long after Canyon Diablo became a ghost town, Two Guns popped up alongside the old town’s remains. Named for a hermit who was rumored to live in a cave in the canyon, Two Guns quickly became a popular tourist stop on Route 66 with a café, motor court, and even a “zoo”. This town, like so many others, died quickly when I-40 was built. It can still be reached by car where the intrepid can see the remains of the zoo and the old bridge that crossed the canyon.
Gold Road, Arizona
A gold mining boomtown, Route 66 passed through this town giving it more life and another character-filled town for travelers on America’s Main Street. The gold mine was closed in the early 1900s and the original town was razed in 1949 so not much remains. Driving through, however, one can still see the foundations of buildings, the old water tank and mine shafts.
Mojave Desert, California
Across the Mojave Desert lies 100 dusty miles littered with ghost towns. For many of these towns, absolutely nothing remains today but in a few others there are still decrepit remains of what once thriving businesses and homes. In Goffs, California, the Mojave Desert Heritage and Cultural Association has renovated the 1914 schoolhouse and now makes its home in the building. In Chambless, several buildings stand vacant behind a tall chain link fence.
A few miles down the road, the town of Amboy is a currently a work in progress. Though it remained active well into the 1980s, it appears deserted today. The owner of the town has reopened the Amboy Café as a gift shop and there are plans to reopen portions of it as a restaurant as well as restore the motel, cottages and gas station. Nearby Amboy Crater is an old volcano that last erupted 10,000 years ago and was once a popular tourist attraction.
Further west the towns of Ludlow, Newberry Springs and Daggett are virtual ghost towns though a few businesses still survive in each. All three were important water stops in the dry desert, especially during the 1800s when the Mormon Trail passed through the area and travelers needed water.
Shortly after passing through these towns, Route 66 meets up with I-40 and beyond that is still very popular highway for travelers in California. The ghost towns along the Mother Road bear witness to an emerging era in America, when families piled in the sedan and hit the open road for adventure. Seeing those ghost towns is still an adventure for the many people who savor the history of Route 66.
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© 2010 Cristina Vanthul