Route 66 in the News

Sights Abound in Missouri

2009-03-24 20:07:28

From dilapidated ruins to stately Victorian homes, Route 66 travels past many interesting sights through southwestern Missouri.

In December, my parents and I followed old stretches of the Mother Road on our way out to visit my sister and her husband in suburban St. Louis. When we returned to the West a few days later we tried out a few Route 66 stretches we missed the first time around. Most of these detours were along our first day traveling southwest on -- and just off -- Interstate 44.

We pulled off the interstate every so often to drive along part of the old Route 66. Near the town of Cuba we exited and followed a former stretch of Route 66 now known as Missouri Supplemental Route ZZ (talk about downgrading) to the tiny community of Fanning. There we found Danny's Gas Hole with an elaborate mural depicting the heyday of Route 66.

Yet the mural barely compares to what stands about 100 feet away: The Route 66 Rocker. This massive, white rocking chair emblazoned with the Route 66 highway logo declares itself as the "World's Largest."

After a little coaxing I finally convinced my mom to stand at its base for a photo to show how big it really is.

The best part, however, came as we exited the freeway at Springfield and headed west along the old route via two state highways, 266 and 96. Here we passed farms set on rolling hills and old rundown gas stations and storefronts that once thrived during the height of traffic on the Mother Road.

An interesting little hamlet named Halltown had several rundown but photogenic buildings begging to have their portraits taken. Unfortunately with it being Sunday and our location falling securely within the Bible Belt, most of the businesses along the way were closed.

Farther down the road we arrived in the town of Carthage, the Jasper County seat. We had read in a Route 66 guidebook that we shouldn't miss the majestic courthouse there so we pulled off the Mother Road and made our way through the rustic downtown.

Red brick buildings filled the town, many of them sporting old advertisements painted on their sides and further accenting the town's Americana feel.

Then suddenly you see it rising above everything else: The guidebook was right -- this courthouse cannot be missed.

Constructed from locally quarried stone in 1894 to 1895, the courthouse rises three stories but a cupola-topped clock tower in the center doubles its height. Additionally eight turrets -- a square turret on each corner and four rounded turrets on two of the sides -- add an almost castle-like majesty to the building.

Being Sunday, the courthouse was closed so we were not able to view the mural depicting the history of Carthage inside. However, I read later that it was the site of a few battles during the Civil War.

After walking around the outside of the building for a few photographs we continued on to Carthage's South District. We had read that this neighborhood filled with stately Victorian homes was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1982.

The South District is evidence of the great wealth once found in Carthage thanks to the mining and manufacturing industries of the past. However the town still serves as headquarters for Leggett & Platt, a Fortune 500 manufacturing company.

From Carthage we continued on old 66 west through Joplin and into Kansas, which hosts only 13 miles of the Mother Road as it passes through the town of Baxter Springs. Unfortunately the restaurant we had planned to eat at in Baxter Springs -- which is housed in a former bank that Jesse James reportedly robbed -- was closed and we had to continue on. So we headed south into Oklahoma and hopped back on I-44 to make our way to Tulsa for the night.

Because we spent so much time exploring the side roads through southwestern Missouri we had to stick to the freeway on our return trip from Tulsa to St. George but it was worth it for the architectural wonders of Carthage.

~Brian Passey, for TheSpectrum.com

 

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