Hotels, eateries and museums offer a glimpse of history along the ‘Mother Road.’
BY ELEANOR HENDRICKS MCDANIEL
SPECIAL TO THE FLORIDA COURIER
With the advent of Henry Ford’s “Tin Lizzie,” Americans were eager to hit the road. But before 1926, long-distance travel by automobile was difficult, if not impossible.
Only 2 percent of roads were paved – the rest were dirt or gravel trails. Maps and road signs differed from state to state, and were confusing or non-existent. In 1921, the federal government stepped in and solved those problems by establishing the U.S. highway system.
Old, traditionally named roads like the Lincoln Highway and the Santa Fe Trail, were now numbered. The National Old Trails Highway became Route 66.
A travel invite
Running for 2,400 miles from Chicago, Illinois to Santa Monica, California, the two-lane highway rolled east and west through some of the nation’s most iconic landscapes. It became the pathway to exploration and adventure.
Today, Missouri is working on recapturing the nation’s driving obsession by revitalizing its portion of Route 66 (aka the Mother Road).
The state is inviting motorists to tour that legendary highway’s mid-century heyday. So fill up the car with gas, luggage, snacks and your favorite pals, and hit the road.
Where to stay
Starting in the 1950s, post-war Americans headed out to see the USA.
Clean and comfortable accommodations topped the list of necessities for travelers. In Springfield, Missouri, Edgar and Elinor Lippman built the Route 66 Rail Haven Court. The Best Western chain joined the inn in 1948, and is now called the Best Western Route 66 Rail Haven Motel.
It still retains its retro appearance, but the guestrooms have been updated to please today’s traveler with modern amenities like free Wi-Fi and flat-screen televisions. But in every room hangs a picture of Elvis Presley and his mother when they stayed there.
Stuck in 1949
On the other hand, Boots Court in Carthage is frozen in 1949.
In spite of its choice location at the Crossroads of America, (which is the junction of Route 71 that runs north-south from Canada to Louisiana and Route 66), nothing has changed since post-World War II.
The lodging boasts of period furnishings, chenille bedspreads, showerheads fixed for short people.
There are carports and radios since TVs were rare at that time. But, as the best hostelry in the area, people from all walks of life slept there, including Hollywood’s Golden Era leading man Clark Gable.
Equally as important as lodging was eating while on the move.
For 36 years, Carthage Deli has filled the transient tummy. When customers enter the eatery and see the 1950s décor, they expect 1950s food favorites.
At that time, not many people were counting calories or eating low-fat so large breakfasts like bacon, sausage, eggs, grits and biscuits with gravy were on the menu.
Lunchtime offers the simple sandwiches many of us grew up on: tuna salad, BLT, club and grilled cheese. But just like in those days, Carthage Deli continues to take care of its diners with a sweet tooth by scooping its homemade ice cream, and, on Tuesdays, giving away free brownies.
If you’re still craving more American staples, pull into the first Steak ‘n Shake that, incidentally, still has curb-side service. It’s located right on Route 66 in Springfield.
Museum of memorabilia
The Route 66 Museum in Lebanon gives a comprehensive overview of the conditions, issues and problems along the Mother Road in the 20th century.
The 10-year old venue has a collection of artifacts, photographs, dioramas, newspaper ads, maps and more. Don’t miss the vintage recreations of a diner, a motor inn cabin and a gas station while on your self-guided tour.
The owner, Mark Spangler, is passionate about the subject. He says, “In a 40-year period, we (America) achieved amazing progress for automobile trips.”
Place for car lovers
If you’re motoring along Route 66, you might love cars. If you love cars, you should brake at the Route 66 Car Museum. The site contains over 70 collector vehicles.
Classic antique autos and high-performance sports cars are parked next to Hollywood movie cars, trucks and motorcycles. Cars as old as the 1907 REO and as new as the modern-day Viper bookend those from every decade in between.
Colorful festoons and automobile memorabilia decorate the 20,000 square-foot space. A gift shop sells all sorts of auto souvenirs for kids and adults.
More to see
With more than 300 miles of Route 66 crossing Missouri, there are even more roadside attractions to visit.
For instance, catch a movie at the Route 66 Drive-Inn in Carthage, or pull into a vintage Phillips 66 gas station in the little town of Red Oak – but gasoline is not available.
You can explore caves, taste beverages at St. James Winery and Public House Brewing Company in St. James or tour Wilson’s Creek National Battlefield in Republic. And the list goes on.
For more information, log on to visitMO.com.
Eleanor Hendricks McDaniel is a seasoned travel journalist who enjoys writing about girlfriend getaways, history, culture, food, wine, and some of the people she meets along the way. Her travels have taken her throughout the United States, Europe and other countries. Formerly of Philadelphia, she now resides in Ormond Beach. Follow her on Twitter: @ellethewriter, Instagram: @eleanor1004, Facebook: Eleanor.hendricks.mcdaniel and her website: flybynighttraveler.com.