Vol. VII, No. 2, Fall 1993 / Winter 1994

The Early Years of Route 66 in Phelps County, Missouri

Written and compiled by John F . Bradbury , Jr.

Route 66 through Phelps County replaced Route 14, a graveled "all weather" road which offered mighty slow going during anything but good weather. Work began on the concrete slab in 1928. As paving progressed, more and more coverage of the new highway appeared in the local newspapers. Readers followed its progress.

Citizens celebrated the completion of both the highway and new amenities for travelers along it. One hundred and twenty-five citizens opened the At last a service station in St. James with a grand dinner. Dessert was followed by a helping of hyperbole in which speakers called the opening a "red letter day" for the town and community, which seems quite a tribute for a gas station. Tourist courts proliferated at junctions. At Knobview (renamed Rosati in 1933), St. James, and Arlington, some of the older businesses which were originally oriented to railroad travelers made an about face toward the highway, hoping to short-stop some of the dollars that were now passing through on the road, not the rails. Rolla and St. James improved their public images by completing the paving of city streets which connected with the highway. St. James could boast the only section of boulevard on 66 in the state. Rolla erected large electric signs bearing the city's name on the east and west entrances to town.

Although Route 66 was a modern phenomenon, the route it followed is thousands of years old. Through Missouri, it traverses the northern Ozarks, where it remains the best way to negotiate this geographical barrier between the northeastern United States and the Southwest. It follows the divides between watersheds and is known to geographers as the interior ridge route. Through instinct or experiment, big game animals at the end of the last ice age probably blazed the trail, taking the path of least resistance, the easiest ground. Cherokees, Delawares, Kickapoos, and Shawnees used it during the Indian removal episodes of the 1800s. Thousands of Union army soldiers marched the route to Springfield during the Civil War. The telegraph line completed along the road to Springfield in the 1840's gave rise to the name "Wire Road" which still exists on modern maps. Railroad construction through southern Missouri followed nearly the same line. When Interstate 44 replaced Route 66, in many places the new road was superimposed on the old. In other instances the old pavement became the outer road for the new inter state, leaving large sections of fabled highway intact. Route 66 is an example of the first modern interstate highway system in the United States and also an artifact of a well-traveled prehistoric pathway.


But if the completion of a concrete highway between Rolla and Lebanon (the last part of Route 66 to be paved through Missouri because it was the hardest part) was cause for grand celebration, Route 66 was also an interstate stage along which all sorts of publicity events occurred. C.C. Pyle's transcontinental foot races generated national headlines in 1928 and 1929. Later events included a man who walked backwards across the United States; an ox-drawn covered wagon bearing the legend "The West Still Lives"; chautauqua performers; and circus troupes. Today, the annual trek of the wagon train of Boys Town of Missouri continues a well-tested idea.

The road and events along it were a major part of the local news during the early years of Route 66. The people who traveled it, too, came in for more than a little comment. Whether it was a millionaire's son or a busload of nearly asphyxiated passengers, there always seemed to be something happening. The greatest amount of coverage came in 1931 when a grand celebration was held in Rolla to commemorate the completion of Route 66 across the state. Everyone who was anyone was there. It was, said one spectator, better than the Veiled Prophet parades in St. Louis.

Not every development along the road was welcomed. "Dead Man's Curve" between Rolla and St. James, the Beaver Creek bridge west of Rolla, and the Little Piney bridge at Arlington--the latter of which remains a dangerous spot on Interstate 44--gained a fatal kind of recognition as common sites for automobile wrecks. The armed robbery of Campbell's filling station east of Rolla in 1928, Zulpo's filling station at Rosati in 1930, and Schuman's Tourist City in 1931 reflect dark events on the great route.

The "classic" period of Highway 66 lasted barely two decades before realignments, lane additions, and other improvements in the 1950's left the highway looking much like Interstate 44 which was completed in the 1960's. In addition to the concrete slab itself, structures which were once filling stations, cafes, and tourist camps mark the route of one of the Ozarks' greatest steps toward modernity and the site of almost every imaginable human drama.

Rolla Herald, May 5, 1927. p. 7.
Believing the time has come when America must be served by a great continuous highway to connect, like a railroad, the centers of population with a region capable of expansion by younger generations, the business men of America's Great Southwest have formed an association, "The U.S. Highway 66 Association," to bring into being at the earliest possible date, through Federal and State legislation, America's widest concrete thoroughfare. They propose to concrete the U.S. 66 Highway from Chicago, II1., to Los Angeles, Calif ....
Rolla Herald, June 9, 1928, p. 1.
Springfield Leader, June 7th.
U. S. Highway No. 66, better known as "The Main Street of America," will be the next state highway to be completely concreted across the state, according to local state highway engineers ....
Boosters of the Ozark region are anxious for the completion of the concreting of No. 66 across Missouri, as tourists are being routed across the state over No. 40, which follows the Missouri River from St. Louis to Kansas City, by way of Columbia and Jefferson City.
A large portion of the tourists will be drawn to this section in crossing the state when No. 66 is paved all the way, but many refuse to come by this route as long as it remains unpaved and another paved highway is available.


Rolla Herald, April 26, 1928, p. 1.
The trans-continental foot racers running over Highway 66 (Main Street of America) from Los Angeles to New York, arrived in Rolla Tuesday. The first to arrive was Phillips Granville, a Jamaican Negro, and Ed. Gardner, Seattle, Wash., Negro. Granville, who is the champion runner of Canada, is from Hamilton, Ontario.
The runners started from Waynesville, Mo., promptly at seven o'clock Tuesday morning and 4 hours, 39 minutes, and 37 seconds later Granville and Gardner arrived at Rolla on a tie in time. The official distance from Waynesville to Rolla is 32.4 miles, making the average speed for the first two arrivals almost eight miles per hour.
Souvenir program courtesy of Western Historical Manuscripts, Rolla
The official distance from Los Angeles to Rolla is 1969.3 miles. There were one hundred and ninety-nine runners to start from Los Angeles. Of this number 73 runners arrived at Rolla Tuesday afternoon. This was the 52nd consecutive day of the race. The leading runner is Andrew Payne, of Claremore, Okla., his running time from Los Angeles to Rolla is 330 hours, 32 minutes, and 42 seconds. Peter Garvizzi, of Southampton, England, is running second in the race. He is only 36 minutes behind Payne. Garvizzi's running time is 331 hours, 8 minutes and 42 seconds.
The race is being run under the direction of Mr. Charles C. Pyle. He has a number of assistants, among them Red Grange, the famous football athlete. They travel in an immense bus which is magnificently finished and furnished. Also there are other busses for newspaper correspondents and other service.
Rolla Herald, August 9, 1928, p. 1.
An event that marked a new period in the life and history of Rolla occurred Wednesday and Thursday of last week, when the magnificent new Pierce Bus Terminal was officially opened and dedicated to the use of the public. The first meals were served in the large and spacious dining room Wednesday noon. A number of representative citizens and their wives together with the tourist trade dined at the Terminal Wednesday evening. Upon invitation, Charles L. Woods went to the broadcasting wagon just outside on the grounds, which is equipped with loud speakers, and made an impromptu talk. Mr. Woods said that the people of Rolla rejoiced over the fact that the Pierce Petroleum Corporation had selected Rolla for building this magnificent terminal. No place in the United States, and that means the world, said Mr. Woods, could boast of a handsomer or a more magnificently equipped Terminal than this one. As a matter of fact it is the first and only one of its kind in America.


St. James Leader, June 20, 1929, p. 1.
Friday morning the Pickwick bus going west stopped in St. James with the passengers and crew all gassed They were out in the air and under medical treatment for a few hours. Another car, the Greyhound, arrived and they were transferred to that car and went on their way.
Rolla Herald, June 27, 1929, p. 7.
. .Mr. Schuman owns and operates Schuman's Cottage City, an institution catering to travelers on Highway 66 and 63 .... Seventeen clean comfortable cottages ideally suited at the north city limits of Rolla, will cause thousands of tourists to stop in our city each season. Hot and cold shower baths, lavatories and nicely equipped rest rooms are provided for the comfort of our guests. It is a general comment of tourists that the Schuman Cottages are the nicest and cleanest along the highways. Such a cottage city is a real asset to Rolla.
Rolla Herald, August 29, 1929, p. 2.
One of the most beautiful resorts anywhere along Highway 66 is the Atlasta Service Station just east of St. James. This elegant service station was opened by Mr. Thomas Biles, the owner and proprietor, last Thursday evening in magnificent style. In response to invitations over a hundred and twenty-five representative citizens of St. James, including a few from Rolla, Newburg and St. James, were guests of Mr. and Mrs. Biles at an elegant banquet. The station is a handsome two story building about 30 x 75 feet of the most attractive architectural design. It has balconies over the east and west ends and over the front. Under the front balcony are gasoline pumps to serve the trade. This affords a broad entrance [to] a large reception room about 24 x 50 and on the north side is a broad fireplace. The floors upstairs and downstairs are of hardwood. The reception room is fitted up with a fountain, cigar counter and in here lunches and meals will be served. It is most attractively furnished. In the west end is a large kitchen and serving room fitted up with the most modern appliances. Up stairs is the large banquet hall, which is also the dance hall, and as stated, opening out from this are balconies on the east, west, and south.
Rolla Herald, September 5, 1929, p. 4.
A police dog that wore boots and a hitch hiker en route from California to the East, tied up traffic on U. S. Highway 66, 12 miles west of this place, Saturday morning. The hitch hiker fainted, and the dog refused to allow anyone near him.
Motorists, believing that the man was a victim of a car accident, summoned Coroner A. M. Light of Rolla, who went to the scene in an ambulance. When the Coroner arrived, the hitch hiker, whose name was not learned, had revived. He said he was subject to fainting attacks, and that he has not been hit by a car. He and his dog were given a lift eastward by motorists.
Rolla Herald, November 21, 1929, p. 1.
The new Pierce Pennant Hotel, which opened on November 4, has been averaging about 20 guests per night, with their largest number of guests reaching 37 on November 11, according to W. D. McNichol, the manager.
Among the guests have been Arthur Carew, well-known film director from Hollywood, California, and Hector M. Pasmezozlu, Greek consul from St. Louis, who with a party of eight spent Saturday night and Sunday at the hotel. On November 30th Mr. Pasmezozlu will again be a guest at the hotel, and has made arrangements for a dinner and dance for twelve or fifteen couples from St. Louis.
The hotel and terminal were subjects of an extensive write-up in the last issue of The Tourist, a national touring magazine.
Rolla Herald, March 12, 1931, p. 1.
Cities from St. Clair, Mo., to Tulsa, Okla., are planning to take part in the celebration of the completion of the 65-mile stretch of paving of U. S. Highway 66 in Missouri, to be held here next Sunday.


Postcard, courtesy of Western Historical Manuscripts, Rolla.
Rolla Herald, March 19, 1931, pp. 1, 4.
A grand celebration, a great parade, everything a splendid success. Such were the expressions heard from the lips of about eight thousand spectators who came to Rolla last Sunday to attend the celebration of the completion of Highway 66 across Missouri, the uncompleted seventy-two mile stretch of road between Rolla and Lebanon having been concreted, making a concrete ribbon from St.. Louis to the Kansas border. It was a worthy celebration and all towns along the route between St. Louis and Tulsa, Okla., had representatives to express their delight at the completion of the great highway leading all the way from Chicago, St. Louis, Rolla, Springfield, Joplin, Tulsa, Oklahoma City, hence on to Los Angeles--the real Main Street of America.
The parade headed by Col. J. L. Peatross, a world war veteran of distinction, was over two miles long. It depicted the evolution of traffic from the days of the ox cart and prairie schooner down to the present with fine automobiles and airplanes. Following Col. Peatross in the parade came the R. O. T. C. department of the School of Mines under command of lieutenants Hardin and Winslow, headed by the R. O. T C. band.
It required one hour and fifteen minutes for the parade to pass the reviewing stand. Following the R. O. T C. division came the Boy Scout band of Springfield. Mo.. one hundred and ten pieces, under command of Dr. Ritchie Robertson. the director. Its fine music and perfect time brought forth bursts of applause all along the line of march. Many Springfieldians were present, among the number being M. J. Murphy, a retired Frisco engineer, who was a pioneer citizen of this section, and also Mr. Haley. "A grand sight," exclaimed Mr. Murphy, "I am glad to see my old home town making such a splendid display. You can't hold Rolla back," said Mr. Murphy. The American Legion drum corps of Springfield also participated. The drum corps of the Goad-Ballinger post of the Legion won second prize on their appearance and performances. About 30 members of the corps made this trip to Rolla in buses.
Float after float depicting something of historic interest or of business enterprise passed in review and received the commendation of the crowd. It is impossible in this account to name each float, but there were several floats that demand special attention. There were many wagons, covered wagons, buggies and carriages of former days. The covered wagon, drawn by mules and supplied by the Anheuser-Busch corporation of St. Louis, attracted great attention. Another vehicle that excited great interest was the fine old carriage of William James, owner and proprietor of the Meramec [sic] Iron Works. St. James furnished a splendid lot of automobiles dressed in gala attire. Claremore, Okla., sent in mules carrying packs and led by Indians or people painted to look like Indians.

Postcard, courtesy of Western Historical Manuscripts, Rolla.


By no means the least to attract attention was the old Stevens-Durea [sic] automobile, about a 1907 model, when there were no front doors--all open. It was driven by its own power, by Luman Long. The car was the second car owned by Mr. [U.S. Senator] Edwin Long. The Rolla floats with the dancers dancing the quadrille and old time dances, also the one representing Amos and Andy came in for their share of praise, as well as the Rolla Creamery float, manufacturers of Gold Medal Ice Cream, Pride of Rolla butter, pure ice and the old lady in the Ozark Supply float running the spinning wheel. There were splendid representations of automobiles from Rolla, St. James, Sullivan and St. Clair, together with many others from many towns along the course of Highway 66. The traffic for the day was directed by members of the St. Louis police force and patrolmen from the State Highway Department.

St. James Leader, June 4, 1931, p. 4.
Plennie L. Wingo, a man walking around the world backwards, stopped in St. James long enough to get some new toe taps for his shoes. This was the 4th pair he had wore out.
He started from Fort Worth, Texas, April 15th, and has been walking ever since. He wears periscopic eyeglasses, fastened over his ears like regular spectacles, which enables him to see where he is walking. He will continue on 66 to St. Louis then on hi-way 40 to New York where he will secure passage to Europe. Wingo expects to complete the trip in about four years. He depends entirely on the sale of postcards for his expenses. He averages about 20 miles per day.


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