We seek out the timelessness of the Mother Road. The byway promises a return to a simpler, unhurried time. But in our quest to find each Route 66 relic and artifact we rush past the smaller towns that provided the fibrous material that formed the cross country highway which connected us all.
By Laura (Abernathy) Huffman
I have deep affection, and appreciation for Route 66. A “ghost section” at Morgan Heights (Pulaski County) was my backyard playground for a time. My school bus squeezed between the Big Piney River and the former Possum Lodge. I blew the engine in my first car on the four lane section near Hooker Cut. May 12, 1991 my brothers and I gifted a copy of Route 66- The Mother Road by Michael Wallis to our mother. She barely had enough time to skim it before we wanted to borrow it. I’ve sat elbow to elbow on the old stools at Elbow Inn‘s wooden bar with Route 66 enthusiasts from around the world. We may not have shared the same language but we shared a passion for the nostalgic road, and a beer or two.
I have yet to travel the entire length of the Mother Road from Chicago to Santa Monica, but I have journeyed from Edwardsville, Illinois to Catoosa, Oklahoma on the legendary route. I may have a touch of hometown sentimentalism when it comes to the old road but, in my opinion, the Ozarks section of Route 66 is second to none. The Ozarks stand out for their scenic beauty, timeless hills, and iconic Route 66 landmarks such as the Wagon Wheel Motel, John’s Modern Cabins, the Devils Elbow 1923 steel bridge, and Bob & Ramona Lehman’s Munger Moss Motel. Sandwiched between the two roadside motel bookends are two classic American towns that are often underappreciated as we rush between “must see” points on Route 66. Both St. James & Waynesville are gems on the Main Street of America and each should be leisurely explored and their small town atmosphere should be savored.
St. James, Missouri- The Forest City
July 4, 1860 was the first time that a Frisco train steamed into St. James. It is easy to imagine the city’s nickname, Forest City, as a tribute to the gorgeous tree-lined streets along James Boulevard (Route 66) and throughout quaint turn of the (19th) century residential areas. Norman Rockwell would have been at home here. The town’s restored railroad depot remains near the tracks on West Springfield Street and beckons silently to anyone with a camera in hand. Other film worthy spots include the St. James Chapel, the Old City Hall Museum, Leo Cardetti’s Flag & Flag Pole Company, Scioto Park, and James Memorial Library. The public schoolhouse across from St. James Chapel, built in 1909, was designed by Henry H. Hohenschild while he served as Missouri’s State Architect.
Foodies and small batch connoisseurs will be pleasantly surprised with several of the Forest City’s trendy spots. Just A Taste wine bar, Sybil’s Restaurant & Gift Shop, and Matt’s Steakhouse are all worth several visits. The Gardens at St. James, a partnership between St. James Winery and Public House Brewing Company, is a popular outdoor venue. Three Squirrels Winery pairs their wines with cheese, crackers, salami, and art. Meramec Vineyards, a boutique winery, serves lunch daily at their bistro.
Other “can’t miss” locations in, or very near, Saint James are Maramec Spring Park, Vacuum Cleaner Museum (described by Smithsonian Magazine as one of the seven most fascinating museums on Route 66) Johnnie’s Bar (operated as Johnnie’s Bar & Indian Relic Museum in the 1960’s) and Ruby’s Ice Cream.
Waynesville, Missouri- On the banks of the Roubidoux
People have been drawn by Waynesville’s scenic beauty for almost two centuries. G.W. Gibson settled near the Big Spring in 1831 and residents and travelers have been captured by her charm ever since. Pulaski County Tourism Bureau offers a free walking tour brochure that will guide you to Waynesville’s historic sites. Historic buildings and giraffe rock homes and businesses will keep you busy snapping pictures for your Instagram feed.
Three sides of Waynesville’s downtown square will tempt your taste buds. Ursula’s Schnitzelhaus brings a taste of Bavaria to the north side, Nona’s Kitchen lovingly prepares comfort food on the west side, and Hopper’s Pub serves suds and pub food on the south side. For a unique dining adventure fish a trout from the Roubidoux and Cellar 66 wine bar (located in Roubidoux Plaza) will clean and cook your catch. You can sample regional wines, spirits, and beer while dinner is cooking.
Boutique shopping is also a hit around Waynesville’s square. It is hard to leave Seda’s Gift Shop, Just Because, or Eclectic Originals with an empty shopping bag. The square is also home to two museums- the 1903 Route 66 Courthouse Museum and the Old Stagecoach Stop. Both locations are on the National Register of Historic Places and include small souvenir shops. The old courthouse was designed by Henry H. Hohenschild while he served as Missouri’s State Architect. Two antique stores, Lost In The Woods and Talbot House are both within walking distance of the Square. A jewelry store, flea market and scuba diving shop add to the square’s reputation as the center of activity.
While in Waynesville, do not overlook visiting Roubidoux Spring and the Trail of Tears Historic Site at Laughlin Park. Other photo opportunities include Frog Rock, the Roubidoux Bridge, and Roubidoux Conservation Area. Waynesville is known for its Old Settlers Day festival in July and Frogtoberfest held each October.
Waynesville’s small town charm will stick with you and make you a repeat visitor.
*Disclaimer- Laura (Abernathy) Huffman’s day job is with Pulaski County Tourism Bureau, the marketing agency of record for Pulaski County, Missouri which includes Waynesville. She received no compensation for this article. All thoughts and opinions are her own. Include both Saint James and Waynesville in your next Route 66 trip through Missouri and she is sure that you will agree that they are both gems of the road.