A funding crunch is looming and will impact preservation efforts surrounding Route 66 — the historic roadway that stretches from Chicago, Illinois to Los Angeles, California and passes straight through St. Louis, Missouri. Evangelists for the “Main Street of America” are doubling down on efforts to secure new funding for the highway.
The route’s designation as a national trail seems the most likely path to securing new funding as the National Park Service’s Route 66 Corridor Preservation Program sunsets in 2019. Joining “St. Louis on the Air” to talk about the areas of interest on the highway for St. Louisans as well as preservation were:
- Bill Hart, Executive Director, Missouri Preservation, author of the 2015 book, "Historic Missouri Roadsides"
- Ruth Keenoy, Historic Preservation Specialist, Landmarks Association of St. Louis
- Frank Butterfield, Director, Springfield Office of Landmarks Illinois, member of Board of Directors for the organization Illinois Route 66 Scenic Byway
A nostalgic road trip down Route 66
Route 66 has found its place in the road trip hall of fame — not only for its length, 2,451 miles, but also for its status as a cultural icon. Song like Nat King Cole’s “Route 66” call to mind a certain kind of role that existed among roads before the interstate highway system was put in place connecting local, small town treasures to one another.
“The route is not just a collection of industrial archaeology, buildings and landscapes — it is an experience,” said Hart.
Preservation efforts deal not only in preserving the motels, drive-ins, houses, buildings, bridges and other sights to see along the road but also to preserve the road bed itself, said Keenoy. Some of this is done by designating buildings as part of the National Historic Register, so structures will not be demolished and are better marketed to travelers who want to see history in the flesh.
When funding runs out in 2019 through the National Park Service, preservationists also hope that designating the road a National Historic Trail by an act of congress would also protect it. Doing so would add the road to a list of other scenic, historic, and recreation trails in the United States such as the Camino Real and the Santa Fe Trail that have the protection of the federal government.
A 2012 study by Rutgers University said that the economic impacts along Route 66 showed that more than 85 percent of Route 66 travelers visit historic places and museums and tourists spend $30 million dollars annually at attractions around the route.
Here are few of the spots the preservationists and listeners/callers to the show wanted people to check out:
Frank Butterfield: Downtown Edwardsville and Decamp Junction
Route 66 ran directly through historic downtown Edwardsville. Butterfield recommended checking out the Wildey Theater, an example of art deco architecture, and the new lighting on the Luna Café. “Things like that are important to the character of Route 66,” he said.
He also recommended a visit to Decamp Junction, a tavern in Staunton, which “is time travel— you feel like you’re traveling Route 66 when it was still a recognized route,” Butterfield noted.
Tony Kozina, on Twitter: Ted Drewes
— Tony Kozina (@TTKozina1) December 1, 2015
Ruth Keenoy: Motels and hotels along the route in St. Louis
Keenoy recommended stopping in at “lots of little hotels along Watson Road” as well as checking out Diamonds Restaurant and Gardenway Motel.
Mad Archivist, on Twitter: Coral Court
Coral court motel...oh wait https://t.co/4XgU3wDUW2
— The Mad Archivist (@PubPolWonk) December 2, 2015
Coral Court was a motel done in modernist design and dubbed “the no-tell motel with a touch of class” that was demolished to build a housing development and is sorely missed.
“It wasn’t protected,” said Hart. “It wasn’t protected locally. The National Register is a recognition program. Much of what is along the highway — commercial and industrial — much of those things are subject to the vagaries of the economy, unfortunately. A lot of times, when travelers quit coming, the businesses fold.”
Hart said that those who loved the Coral Court should check out the Wayside Morel and Chippewa Motel that still exist on that stretch of Route 66. “A National Register recognition of those motels could mean renewed interest,” he said.
Jay, a caller from Normandy: Drive from Jerome through Devil’s Elbow
This stretch of Route 66 goes right by the Gasconade and Piney rivers.
“It is a beautiful area,” Keenoy said. “We’re working on trying to get a couple of nominations for that area, including in Devil’s Elbow, a 1920s road and bridge. Also, the Big Piney River Cabins.”
Hart said that the road from Lebanon to Carthage was another must-see as well.
Anna, a caller: The drive from Palm Springs, California to St. Louis
Caller Anna said that she just drove the route from Palm Springs to St. Louis and back over the course of eight days and stayed at motels and hotels along the way. “I think that Statesman, Arizona has the best shops for memorabilia along the highway,” she said.
Nathan S, an emailer: Chain of Rocks Bridge
“ [The] Chain of Rocks Bridge is possibly the largest and most iconic remnant from Route 66,” Nathan wrote. “ It's wonderful that it was preserved and open to the public, but why in the name of god is it only accessible from the Illinois side? St. Louis is sitting on a gold mine. When I visited, there were tourists from Europe who had come to see this amazing structure.
“St. Louis should open a Very large, gaudy visitors’ center with restaurant, gift shop and museum. Make it visible from the Highway 270 bridge — there is an immediate off ramp — and have a St. Louis welcome center with sightseeing literature and tickets to all St. Louis attractions.”
Keenoy said that many other bridges along the route are also in need of preservation — not the least of which include the Route 66 bridge over the Meramec River in St. Louis County, which lies right next to Route 66 Museum itself.
Keenoy, Hart and Butterfield recommended that those interested in joining the preservation movement contact their organizations listed above (click the links for more information).
"St. Louis on the Air" discusses issues and concerns facing the St. Louis area. The show is produced by Mary Edwards, Alex Heuer and Kelly Moffitt and hosted by veteran journalist Don Marsh. Follow us on Twitter and join the conversation at @STLonAir.