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Chain of Rocks Bridge Turns 80

The Bend in the Chain of Rocks Bridge

The Bend in the Chain of Rocks Bridge

Two projects came together on the Chain of Rocks Bridge. I first crossed this eccentric bridge in the 1960s on a return trip from Peoria, Illinois. My father, always intent on broadening my horizons, drove me across this bridge at the northern edge of St. Louis. I returned to it many times before it was closed in the 1980s. We celebrated its 80th birthday last week.

I began learning the history of the bridge in the 1980s when I was working on Route 66, The Highway and its People, Photographs by Quinta Scott; Text by Susan Croce Kelly. I told the story of the bridge in Along Route 66, the Architecture of American’s Highway:

“In 1929 John R. Scott and Tom J. Scott, brothers, completed four miles of roadway from Mitchell to the east bank of the Mississippi where they had constructed a most eccentric toll bridge. It was narrow, only twenty feet wide. It had a right turn in the middle, and a remarkable view of the Chain of Rocks, a major obstruction to shipping in the Mississippi, and of the little castles which housed the pumps for the St. Louis waterworks.

The Scott brothers and a group of investors began planning the Chain of Rocks bridge in 1924, two years before U.S. 66 was designated. They wanted to provide a way into St. Louis that by-passed Granite City, Madison, and Venice and cut eight to ten miles off the trip between Chicago and St. Louis. A bridge at the northern extreme of St. Louis would do that.

They started construction on the Missouri side before they had found the bedrock anchor for the pier on the Illinois bank. They never did, at least not in the place they needed it for a straight bridge. So, the Scott’s engineers poked around along the Illinois shore until they found bedrock 200 yards up stream, and built a 22 degree left/right turn into the bridge.

When the Scotts opened the bridge on July 20, 1929, Missouri and Illinois failed to mark it on their official maps. After the initial publicity, traffic dwindled and so did income from tolls. The bridge went into foreclosure. The Scotts reorganized, laid an additional 600 feet of road from the west end of the bridge to connect with Lindbergh Boulevard which became the 66 by-pass around St. Louis, and renewed their efforts to encourage drivers to use the bridge. Discouraged, they sold the bridge to the City of Madison, Illinois in 1939 which turned it into a “Golden Goose” until the Interstate-270 bridge replaced the narrow, two lane bridge with the right angle in the middle where two trucks, going in opposite directions, could not pass.”

Baxter L. Brown was the engineer that designed the bridge. The Union Bridge and Construction Co. of New York and the American Bridge Co. were the builders.

It was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 2006.

Confluence Greenway and Trail Net have leased the bridge from the City of Madison and have gone a long way to restoring the Old Chain of Rocks Bridge and the wetlands and islands that surround its Illinois approach. On a pleasant summer day, it is a good place to walk or bike.


The Blue Mill, Lincoln, Illinois, Another 66 Landmark Saved

The Blue Mill, Lincoln, Illinois

The Blue Mill, Lincoln, Illinois

I travel on my stomach, but I never had Blossom Huffman’s schnitzel sandwich at the Blue Mill.

The Blue Mill, built in 1929 and still serving schnitzel and beer in 1979, will be inducted in the Route 66 Hall of Fame at Springfield, Illinois on Saturday, June 13 in the evening at the Crown Plaza.

The Route 66 Heritage Foundation of Logan County rescued the building in 2006 and is restoring it into a museum. Funding for the project comes from several sources.

By the end of the nineteenth century nearly every town on the Illinois prairie had a little brick steam mill along the railroad tracks. But none looked like the Blue Mill located at the southern end of Lincoln.

Never a Dutch windmill, the Blue Mill started as a vegetable stand and evolved into a tavern, designed to draw travelers off the road at mealtime. At the Blue Mill the Huffman family, who purchased the building in 1945, specialized in serving pork schnitzel in a quick sandwich served at the long bar, or with a leisurely meal served at a table in the dimly lit dining room.

Pig Hip Restaurant, Broadwell, Illinois

Pig Hip Restaurant, Broadwell, Illinois

Down the road in Broadwell Ernie and Frances Edwards named their restaurant after a sandwich of thinly sliced ham slathered in Pig Hip Sauce–a blend of egg, oil, catsup, Worcestershire, sugar, and salt.

It was typical of the family restaurants that lined the roadside. Ernie and Frances served their sandwich in a nondescript board and batten building with picture windows.

Unlike the Huffmans at Lincoln who could use their building to attract customers, the Edwards employed fat chef mounted on the top of a sign to get motorists speeding through Broadwell to pay attention and stop and enjoy Breakfast, Lunch, or Dinner.

Popular Mechanic’s Auto Court Bungalow on Route 66


Shady Rest, West Tulsa, Oklahoma

Shady Rest Cottage Camp, West Tulsa, Oklahoma

In 1935, with an eye on the growing popularity of auto camps, Popular Mechanics published a set of  plans and specifications for a 10  x 12 foot frame cabin, finished with the sheathing of the owner’s choice–clapboard, log siding, or stucco–on the outside and fiber board on the inside.

It was a front gable cabin constructed with a seven foot high frame of 2 x 4 inch studs set on a 4 x4 inch sill plate. The gable was three feet to the ridge. The roof could be roll tar paper or shingles. Standardized barn windows in the walls provided cross ventilation. It was big enough to accommodate two people in a standard double bed. 

Maurice Colpitts, a plumbing inspector for the city of Tulsa, hired a contractor to build the Shady Rest in 1936.

The contractor may have built the little 10 x 12 foot 9 inch clapboard shacks at the Shady Rest from a prefabricated kit purchased at the local lumber store or from the Popular Mechanics cabin design.

Colpitts’ contractor finished the cabins in clapboard and constructed car ports in the space between the shacks. When the Shady Rest was completed, Colpitts moved his family to the auto camp where they all had a hand in maintaining the site while he continued to inspect plumbing for the city of Tulsa.

Charles Lee Cook, manager of the Shady Rest Motel in Tulsa, measured one of his cabins for me to see if it conformed to the plans and specifications of the Popular Mechanics cabin . Close enough.

Bungalow Court, Kingman, Arizona

Bungalow Court, Kingman, Arizona

Three years later, Jack Sapp built a series of similar cabins in Kingman.

In 1938, Duncan Hines recommended to tourists arriving in Kingman, “While it may be hot up here, it is nothing to what it is down in Needles. So better hang around until ‘long about sunset.”

It was good advice, and the people of Kingman supplied plenty of motels to hang around in. The December 22, 1939 issue of the Mohave County Miner announced, “Auto Courts Becoming One Most Important Businesses Here, Huge Sums Invested.” By the end of 1939 Kingman had accommodations for 800 visitors.

Jack Sapp added twenty-four cabins to Kingman’s stock of overnight housing. Sapp built simply, possibly using the design for the ten foot by twelve foot cabin published in Popular Mechanics four years earlier. Sapp added a larger building to house his office and residence, and finished the whole in stucco.

Rock Cafe and other Rocked Buildings on Route 66

West of Rolla, Missouri 66 plunged into the Ozarks and into a vernacular architecture that was unique to the region, but shows up in the Rock Cafe. Ozark proprietors built stone cottages and log cabins using the local materials–oak logs cut from the forests and warm, rusty, Ozark sandstone cut from the hills. Slabstone or “giraffe-stone” construction was developed in the Teens and the Twenties in Thayer, Missouri near the Arkansas border, and carried north to Rolla. “Rock men” set flat slabs of sandstone on a concrete foundation and laid up stone as a veneer over a wood frame or a concrete wall. In Ozark lingo, they “rocked” the building.

Gascozark Cafe and Gas Station, Gascozark, Missouri
Gascozark Cafe and Gas Station, Gascozark, Missouri

Frank A. Jones, who made his living from the Gasconade River and the Ozark Hills, coined the name “Gascozark.”

He operated a resort down on the river, and the Gascozark Cafe and Gas Station up on the hill above the river. In 1931 he bought a small building on the hill and added on to it. When he finished, he had several simple stucco buildings knitted together with an uneven roof line.

Four years later he hired Mr. Lillard, a rock man, “to rock the building.” Lillard wrapped a veneer of large, flat Ozark stones around the front and the sides of the building, using small stones to fill the gaps between the large stones. To even out the roof line, he shaped an arch that spanned the facade and finished it with round cobbles, rolled smooth by the river. At the corners he piled up columns of rubble and mounted lanterns on top.

Rock Cafe, Stroud, Oklahoma

Rock Cafe, Stroud, Oklahoma, 1939

As 66 approached Oklahoma City, it passed through the eastern edge of the Sandstone Hills, which extend to the western edge of the state. The soft, red sandstone, buried under the rolling hills, gives Oklahoma soil and an occasional roadside building, its distinctive color.

When highway engineers cut U.S. 66 through a layer of sandstone near Kellyville, they sold the discarded rock to Roy Rieves for five dollars. Rieves carted it to a site on the eastern outskirts of Stroud, and constructed the Rock Cafe, a one story building with very tall ceilings.

Unlike the “rock folk” in Missouri who laid up slabs of sandstone as a veneer against a frame building, Rieves used masonry construction, laying his hunks of rock, varying from light yellow through red to almost black, on a concrete foundation. At the corners of the building,  Rieves carefully set horizontal stones to build columns that projected through the roof. He took the same care with the fireplace and chimney. In between, he laid the stones every which way.  When he finished, he topped the building with a hat-like tin roof pulled down low. He painted roof green and stated the cafe’s speciality: Bar-B-Que, punctuated with the round face of a fat pig.

The cafe is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.


Pop Hicks and the Glancy Motel, Clinton, Oklhoma

Pop Hicks and the Glancy Motel, Clinton, Oklhoma

Fire damaged the cafe on May 20, 2008. Its owner, Dawn Welsh, rebuilt and reopened last week, saving it from the fate of another iconic Clinton, Oklahoma eatery, Pop Hicks, which burned down on August 2, 1999. 

Ethan “Pop” Hicks–who started with a three booth, seven stool diner, and a lean-to kitchen in 1936–built right up against the street.

On the morning of August 2, a fire, probably electrical, broke out in the back room of Pop Hicks, a restaurant that had been thriving on the myth of Route 66. That afternoon, page one of the Clinton Daily News reported that what started as a small fire, quickly grew into a big fire, and Pop Hicks burned to the ground. No more than three feet to the east, one wing of the Glancy Motel suffered only minor smoke and water damage.

Motel owners like Chester and Gladys Glancy jammed as many units as possible on a narrow site.

The Glancys married in 1925, farmed for a year down the road at Foss, and then moved to Clinton where they ran simultaneously and successively a carnival, a restaurant, a fruit stand, a grocery, and a filling station.

When Chester realized that local motel owners took in more cash in one night then he could in a week with all his businesses, they rented the Clinton Courts south of town. They built the Glancy in 1939. They picked the site because it was next door to Pop Hicks. When they enlarged it in 1948, they responded to mounting competition with an imperative arrow on a bigger, taller, gaudier sign that hung out over the street. Before they retired, the Glancys built a small regional chain in western Oklahoma with motels in Oklahoma City, Weatherford, and Elk City.