Missouri’s Route 66: Everything You Need to Know

By Audrey W. | Arcadia Staff
Construction of road that would evolve into Route 66 was one of the most ambitious projects the nation undertook in the 1920s. It is largely made up of several smaller roads and highways that were altered and rebuilt to connect between themselves and within the larger Route 66 layout. As one of the most famous roads today, we’re taking a look into the history of Route 66 in Missouri
 
Building Missouri’s Route 66
 
Before the portion of the route that cuts through Missouri was incorporated into the Route, it was used as the central highway connecting St. Louis to Joplin and Joplin to Kansas. The first stretch of this road was once a Native American Trail used by the Osage tribe. However, in the early 19th century it became known as “Wire Road” after being laid with telegraph wire. When the wire finally came down, the road was incorporated as part of the Ozark Trail and is today a part of Route 66. The second section of the Route was first completed as Interstate-44 before becoming part of the nation’s highway. 
 
To be added to Route 66, the two roads had to undergo enormous construction projects that rerouted the roads to align with the desired Route 66 path. Due to the history of mining in Joplin, the Route follows a zig-zag path through town – unique to the entire Route. In Springfield, several main streets and avenues were adjusted to accommodate for Route 66. Missouri was the first state that Route 66 passes through to erect a historic marker. In 2006, a sign marking the Route as a National Scenic Byway. 
 
Legends of the Route
 
Known as Spook Hollow by residents, the stretch of highway between Rolla and St. James is famous for a freaky resident: the Goat-Man. Residents have reported seeing flying figures that don’t resemble anything they’ve witnessed before and unidentified footprints have been found at a nearby cemetery. Goat-Man isn’t the only strange being rumored to haunt this road. Part of the road earned the name “Bloody 66” because of its daunting twists and turns. Drivers along the route should keep a lookout for ghostly roadside appearances and the spirits of Civil War soldiers. It passes by the Lemp Mansion, which witnessed its residents commit suicide one by one and Pythian Castle that was an orphanage that became a military hospital, and finally, it was used to house prisoners during World War II.
 
Famous Sites Along Missouri’s Route 66
Gateway Arch
 
The Gateway Arch is not only a famous stop in the state of Missouri but an icon of the nation itself. Located in St. Louis, the arch stands at 630-feet tall and is the nation's largest monument. It was built facing west and is commonly referred to as “The Gateway to the West.” The Arch was designed by Eero Saarinen in 1947 and construction lasted from 1965 to 1967, costing the state the equivalent of over $80 million in today’s money. 
 
Meramec Caverns
 
As the most-visited cave in Missouri, the Meramec Caves will be hard to miss during a Route 66 road trip through the state. The caves are famous because they’re thought to have been where Jesse James hid from law enforcement while he was on the run. The caves have been welcoming visitors since 1935 and are about 4.6 miles long. 
 
Chain of Rocks Bridge
 
While visitors can’t drive their car over the Chain of Rocks Bridge, they can ride a bicycle or ride across. This bridge is famous for the 22-degree bend in its middle - an unusual sight on modern bridges. It crosses the Mississippi just outside St. Louis and is an astounding 5,353 feet.
 
Mural City
 
Located in Cuba, Missouri, this stunning part of the city is a cannot-miss on a Route 66 road trip through the state. One of the earliest of these murals in the Osage Mural Meeting in Missouri that depicts members of the Osage tribe meeting French settlers and was painted by Norman Akers, an Osage artist. This is just one of the many murals that line the streets of this neighborhood. 
 
Red Rocker
 
The Red Rocker is the world’s largest rocking chair, standing over 42 feet tall, and was erected on April Fool’s Day in 2008. However, visitors are not regularly allowed to sit on the rocker. “Picture on the Rocker Day” takes place on the first Saturday in August and is the only day that visitors are allowed to climb up to the rocker’s seat to take a photo. 
 
Drive-In Theater
 
This is one of the few remaining drive-in theaters left in the state. Visitors can catch a movie here from the first weekend in April to mid-September. The theater was originally built in 1949 to give visitors access to films when the nearest television signal was miles away. Today, it is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
 
Taking a drive down the stretch of Route 66 that passes through Missouri is well worth a visitor’s time. Learn about the road’s history and stop to see the sites on this legendary route.