Vacation on Missouri's Route 66: St. Louis to Springfield
Historic American Roads Come to Life
Route 66 is a favorite historic highway in the USA, extending from Chicago, Illinois to Santa Monica, California in full force for 60 years from 1926 – 1985.
By the mid-1980s, the American Superhighway had displaced much of Route 66, making many parts impassible because of lack of maintenance. Businesses along Route 66 had closed and traffic had died down with drivers taking I-70, I-44, and I-40 westward in its place.
Refurbishing the Mother Road
Parts of Old Route 66 and newer “alignments” that are newer roads built in parallel with Old 66 remained open. A movement to restore the entire length of highway began and as of 2010, much of the Mother Road was open again.
Author Tom Snyder founded the US Route 66 Association and published a collection of official guidebooks for traveling the road across all of its passable sections. Old and new sections of Route 66 wrap around parts of I-44, running roughly parallel.
Bobby Troup Plays Route 66 on the Julie London Show
Bobby Troup wrote Route 66 and helped to write the Guidebooks for the Route with Tom Snyder. You may remember Bobby as Dr. Early in the TV series Emergency, with wife July London as nurse Dixie McCall.
Route 66 Reconstruction
My favorite section of Route 66 is across Missouri, From St. Louis and its suburbs like St. Peters. to Springfield and smaller towns in between. This is the Ozarks Region and has always seemed mystic, because of the rumors, ghost stories, and legends found in this region. It serves the state well in October holidays celebration of Halloween and alternatives along road.
Missouri is known for its grape harvests and along Route 66, you will find fruit stands at the side of the road selling them, especially in the St. James Area. A good set of day trips to cover 2 or 3 days in Missouri along Route 66 include the following towns in the lists accompanied by maps.
The better route driven to reach these communities is actually I-44, although many parts of Route 66 weave around it under local or county road names or along roads running parallel to the old impassable parts. Historic US Route 66 signs should be posted all along the way to help travelers find the correct turns. Descriptions of driving on the nearly-impassable parts of Route 66 are found in the mystery anthology Murder on Route 66.
St. Louis to Stanton MO
St. Louis to Stanton
This is my favorite part of a driving tour through Missouri.
- Chain of Rocks Bridge: Route 66 was built from east across the Mississippi River to St. Louis on a bridge with a bend in it necessitated by other structures nearby. The original bridge is a footbridge now and fun to walk along.
- St. Louis: Among many attractions, Jefferson National Expansion Memorial Gateway Arch is another here along the Mississippi Riverfront, with museums and national historic buildings. Between the legs of the Arch you'll find the underground Museum of Western Expansion. Nearby are the Eads Bridge, the historic courthouse, Kiener Plaza, Laclede's Landing, the Old Cathedral, the art deco ship SS Admiral, and the entrance to the St. Louis Riverfront Trail. One the way out of town and westward, you will find several shopping malls.
- Kirkwood: A registered historic railroad depot, the Missouri Pacific Depot is located here. The National Museum of Transport is also in this locale.
- Eureka: Route 66 State Park. The Visitor's Center and Museum is located near the entrance, which was formerly a location called Times Beach. Six Flags Over Mid-America amusement park is also here.
- Pacific: National Historic Places include the Red Cedar Inn.
- Gray Summit: From Eureka to Gray Summit and around this region, the State of Missouri built the first Route 66 Park in the nation. It offers greenspace, picnicking, and bike/hike trails with Missouri River access among over 400 acres of land. The Henry Shaw Nature Center is in this locale and a scenic overlook in the park is located at Pacific.
- Stanton: Meramec Caverns and Meramec State Park. During the 1950s, Art Linkletter’s TV show matched couples up by using the UNIVAC computer. In exchange for the match, their wedding and a honeymoon, a young couple agreed to spend some time each day in the Meramec Caverns dressed as a caveman and cavewoman. As tourists walked by their hideaway in the cave, they came running out, him chasing her, yelling, and scaring the guests. It was a haunted cave for several days and many tourists began laughing after the initial shock. I heard about this on a tour of the caverns and have always remembered it. One cave contains a shallow lake that looks very deep, but it is illuminated with colorful lights and when a recording of Kate Smith singing God Bless America plays, a light show entertains the guests. You might also want to visit the Jesse James Wax Museum, commemorating the legends that Jesse and his gang hid in the caves.
Sullivan to Arlington MO
Sullivan to Arlington
- Sullivan: Architecture and old cemeteries make interesting sightseeing and places for doing tombstone rubbings. The Shamrock Court is all hand-cut Ozark stone.
- Bourbon: The main street of Bourbon is the actual Route 66, although it may be marked Business I-44. The town's water tower is a particular landmark.
- Cuba and Fanning: Cuba is known as the Route 66 Mural City for its many outdoor murals, including one of Betty Davis by a local artist. A famous attraction here is the historic Wagon Wheel Motel and another is an old Phillips 66 service station. At Fanningf, youcan see the World's Largest Rocking Chair at 42 feet tall.
- St. Jame: Grape country is especially productive here for table (eating) grapes. Much of Missouri produces excellent wine grapes. Several wineries are located in nearby Rosati.
- Rolla: Route 66 Motors features vintage cars out front. Historic buildings and stores are great sightseeing venues. The University of Missouri branch here even has Stonehange (see photo above). A mule trading post is also fun to visit.
- Doolittle: This town honors Captain Jimmy Doolittle of WWII in the Pacific Theater. He was also a well-known airplane race champion. John's Modern Cabins is a site that contains remnants of individual log cabins in its old motor court.
- Arlington: Beginning in Arlington, a side route carries travelers to Big Piney River to find Devil’s Elbow, a curve in Route 66 lined with bluffs above the river. Arlington offers historic builds and an old resort called Stoneydell.
Hooker to Springfield MO
Hooker to Springfield
Along this portion of the route, family-friendly sights and retail establishements are several and travelers can see trading posts, historic bridges, and small picturesque towns between the stops.
- Hooker: Hooker and Hooker's Cut are uninhabited places that make up a beautiful yet dangerous section of Route 66, containing a river bend known as Devil's Elbow curve. Route 66 was improved to a 4-lane divided highway in 1981, but fell into disuse. The official Bluffs and Outlook above the river are under good maintenance and considered a state-recognized scenic area. Some military museums lie between here and Waynesville.
- Waynesville: This town has a historic stagecoach stop and buildings listed on the National Register of Historic Places. A rock frog named W.H.Croaker stands on a hill to the north and an annual Frog Fest is held in the middle of May. An entrance to Fort Leonard Wood is found near this town as well.
- Lebanon: The Munger Moss Motel with bright neon sign and Sandwich Shop are now the Elbow Inn, still a sightseeing place as well as a motel. Between here and Springfield, Route 66 veers far to the east from I-44, but is drivable. The local library hosts a Route 66 Museum.
- Marshfield: Buena Vista’s Exotic Animal Paradise is a family-oriented venue and the town has a few historic buildings.
- Springfield: Several preserved buildings and historic Route 66 signs are located here. Dozens of native Ozark stone buildings and underground warehouses are located in Springfield, along with many old motor courts, stores, trading posts, markets, churches, and service stations. National historic places are practically innumerable.The Shrine Mosque (turned into a concert venue) is included, as well as Central Square where Wild Bill Hickock killed a poker opponent over a gold watch. Controversy fills some historical and media sources about this incident shooting, and many feel that it took place in Kansas City, on either the Kansas or Missouri sides of the double-city. Elvis Presley played the Shrine Mosque twice and always swore he'd come back, so it's a place for Elvis-spotters.
Route 66 in Entertainment and Documentaries
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.
© 2010 Patty Inglish MS