Sunday, November 11, 2012

Discovering Route 66 in St. Louis

I’ve been a Route 66 buff ever since we lived in Flagstaff, AZ in 1987-1991. I purchased “Route 66: A History of the Road and Its People” by Quinta Scott and Susan Croce Kelly in 1989, then Michael Wallis’ “Route 66: The Mother Road” the following year, and other books. When we moved from Flagstaff back east in 1991, we were able to follow quite a bit of the road through some of the communities, and we could glimpse the old highway beside the interstate in, for instance, Oklahoma. I still like to drive sections, especially in my home state of Illinois.  When I taught at University of Akron, I had wonderful students in a colloquium, "American Highways and American Wanderlust," in which we read Kelly's book plus a Lincoln Highway text and books like "On the Road," "The Grapes of Wrath," and "Blue Highways."

Earlier on this blog, I wrote about motels on Route 66 and other highways ( and some earlier trips on the old road ( When we moved to St. Louis in 2009, I understood why travel guides indicated that anyone wanting to follow Route 66 through St. Louis should choose one of the routes rather than them all. There is the original route through the middle of the city, a large portion of which is Manchester Road (State Route 100).There is the route around the city, from the Chain of Rocks bridge west (now Interstate 270) to Lindbergh Blvd south. There is also the city route (probably the most famous version), from the MacArthur Bridge then south and southwest, on portions of Tucker, Gravois, Chippewa, and Watson Roads. Much of that route is now State Route 366. Another part of the city route diverts from the Chain of Rocks Bridge and runs toward the downtown along Riverside Drive and other streets.

I’ve driven nearly all these alignments, though piecemeal. Recently I visited the location at 7th Street and Chouteau where the now blocked and abandoned pavement crosses the MacArthur Bridge. With that, I visited all the city route other than the Riverside Drive stretch. A book called “Route 66 in St. Louis (Images of America)” by Joe Sonderman (Arcadia Publishing, 2008) gives the routes through the city, and some websites are also helpful:

I’ve yet to visit the old Chain of Rocks Bridge, now a pedestrian and bicycle way. A pair of 1991 murders happened at the bridge (the case is still occasionally in the local news), which made me feel sad and worried about the location, so I need to visit the bridge when a local event happens there and brings a crowd. This websiie provides information about the bridge:

A book called “Route 66 in St. Louis (Images of America)” by Joe Sonderman (Arcadia Publishing, 2008) indicated how many motels and restaurants operated along Lindbergh Blvd. Today, the road has a much different landscape of retail and financial businesses and upscale neighborhoods.  But in Route 66 days, travelers could find many different places to stay and eat. One of those old motels remain, the Ivy Motel.

There were many places along the city route, too. Sonderman’s book provides photos and postcards of many now-gone places. I wish I could’ve seen the famous Coral Court motel on Watson Road. It was torn down in the 90s and replaced with a subdivision. I pass the location on my way to the hair salon and later look at Quinta Scott’s photo to imagine the layout. Other vintage motels are still nearby: the Chippewa Motel, the Wayside Motel, the Duplex Motel, and a little further west, a place that had been called the La Casa Grande Motel, interesting because of its Pueblo Revival style. Other notable 66 establishments, like the Donut Drive-in and Ted Drewes Frozen Custard, both on Chippewa, are worth visits.

Last summer, I decided to take the road out of town a bit.  Watson Road merges onto I-44 in southwestern St. Louis County.  I drove a while before I saw a sign for a place called the Route 66 State Park visitor’s center. Taking a lovely stretch of the old road I came upon the place and found wonderful displays inside, as well as a good book and gift shop. The center has portions of the Coral Court sign and other relics of the old highway. I picked up another book by Joe Sonderman, “Route 66 Missouri” (Schiffer Publishing, 2010).

Outside the center, Route 66 crosses the Meramec River, but the bridge is now permanently closed. As I looked at this new book of Sonderman’s, I learned that I was at the famous Times Beach, the community that was declared contaminated with dioxin and razed in the 1980s. The center had been the Bridgehead Inn at Times Beach and later the EPA headquarters during the cleanup effort.

Continuing through the Meramec Valley, I pulled off and drove the road through Pacific and its countryside. I discovered another vintage motel, the Gardenway.  Beside the place is the Shaw Nature Preserve. Henry Shaw was the founder of Missouri Botanical Garden back in St. Louis.

A future trip will be Meramec Caverns, which I last visited over forty years ago. I wish I had some memories of Route 66 from that trip----probably three hours from my hometown in Illinois----but I remember Dad and I and my grandmother taking a tour of the famous cave in the late 1960s. My mom was claustrophobic and stayed behind, but I had enduring memories of the place famed as Jesse James’ hideout.

No comments:

Post a Comment