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Route 66 in St. Louis

When I began searching out the alignments of Route 66 in St. Louis in 1978, every bridge across the Mississippi  seemed to have carried the old road.

In 1926 when the highway was designated the old McKinley Bridge, that bridge that carried both cars and trains on the same level, first carried Route 66 across the Mississippi to Salisbury Street From there the highway went out Natural Bridge to Prairie and crossed Fairgrounds Park to Vanderventer. Vanderventer carried it to Clayton Avenue, which took it through Forest Park to Skinker at HiPoint. Skinker bled into McCausland, which carried it to Manchester Road and out to Pond, Missouri, where it hitched up with the Old State Road, Missouri 100, which is the only road going west from St. Louis that does not cross a river.

Rick Dinkela has Route 66 crossing the MacArthur Bridge, also known as the free bridge, and going west along Chouteau to Manchester and out the state road in 1927

Chain of Rocks Bridge with a bend


The Scott brothers started planning the Chain of Rocks Bridge at the extreme northern end of St. Louis and completed the Chain of Rocks Bridge in 1929, but neither Missouri nor Illinois put the bridge on their official maps. The brothers paved an additional 600 feet of roadway to connect their bridge to Lindberg Blvd., which became the 66-Bypass, but it was a long time before the bridge carried 66 across the river officially.

The brothers sold the bridge to Madison, Illinois, which got it on the official maps and turned it into a golden goose for the city.

When it did, the Chain of Rocks Bridge dumped travelers out onto Riverview Blvd., which carried people to West Florissant, which bled into Twelfth Street. That alignment probably hitched up with the Chouteau-Manchester alignment until 1933, when the State of Missouri moved Route 66 off the ridge road that carried the Old State Road and moved it down into the Meramec Valley and built a new Route 66 that picked up the Old State Road at Grey Summit.

After that Twelfth Street, which became Gravois Blvd, which became Chippewa, which became Watson carried the road out to the new Route 66 in the Meramec Valley.  This was City 66 and crossed every major north-south-east-west street in St. Louis.

So after 1933, City 66 followed West Florissant, Twelfth, etc; Lindberg was the 66 Bypass to Watson; Kingshighway, which ends at West Florissant, was also a 66 Bypass and carried the traveler to Chippewa and west.


Along Route 66–Central Oklahoma

Last fall I returned to eastern Oklahoma for the first time in a dozen years. Back in the eighties and nineties, when I was cruising Route 66 for two books, Along Route 66 and Route 66, I was concentrating on the architecture of the roadside businesses and the people inside them. I hardly noticed the landscape, until a last trip in the mid-eighties. And I was working in black and white, not in color. I was cued into form, not color.

Last fall, the landscape along Route 66 blew me away.

Edna Prokupt's Bus Stop, Luther, Oklahoma

I passed through Luther, hoping to see Edna Prokupt’s tiny gas station and bus stop, a giraffe stone building in red rock. It was gone. So was the bridge across Wildhorse Creek, replaced by a low modern bridge, the kind that doesn’t allow the driver to see the stream.

Wildhorse Creek at Luther

The creek cut through green fields of winter wheat, its banks pink, but not deep red.

South Canadian River near Geary

West of Oklahoma City the South Canadian River is redder, but the winter wheat, now in the spring twenty years ago is just as green. The South Canadian has been eroding the bank and moving closer and closer to old Route 66.

North of 66 at Okeene

North of 66 at Okeene, an anvil cloud rises over the more winter wheat in the fertile agricultural belt that is central Oklahoma.

Erosion channel near Elk City

At Elk City, the sandstone hills are startling red. The red dirt comes from the underlying Permian formation, filled with iron oxide, which extends from the Kansas border to the Red River.

So when you drive Route 66, pay attention to the landscape from the  Illinois prairies, to the Ozark forests and streams, to the red hills and streams of Oklahoma.

Chambless Camp, Cadiz, California

Chambless Camp, 1932

Cadiz, California

James Albert Chambless and his children came west from Arkansas in the 1920s and settled near Amboy.  When they saw opportunity in the Cadiz valley, each family member, James, Melvane, and Pearl, took a desert homestead–160 acres–and improved it. They mined their land, and built a roadside business along the newly designated U.S. 66. When the highway moved to Cadiz in 1932, the family moved with it and built Chambless Camp. In the late 1930s James married Fannie Gould. She ran the place, turning the camp into an oasis, complete with rose garden and fish pond.

With few gas stations in the desert, places like Chambless Camp and Roy’s, on west at Amboy, grew into full service enterprises geared to helping naive travelers cross the Mojave.

Wreckers were the center of their businesses, with repair shops to fix cars, cafes to feed stranded motorists, and cabins to bed them down while they waited–sometimes for days, the press of business was so great.  Chambless Camp also provided a massive canopy–a trussed roof four bays wide and two deep, supported by seven columns set on stone bases. Inside the large, dim building Fannie presided over a cafe, a grocery, and a service station. She refused to sell beer, but during World War II, made gallons and gallons of lemonade for soldiers who chugged it down in a picnic area located under an oasis of acacia trees. Out back James Chambless lined up a series of small concrete block cabins with tin roofs.

Chambliss Camp, Chambliss, California

Route 66 Bike Trail, St. Louis to Chicago

Chain of Rocks Bridge, St. Louis

Chain of Rocks Bridge, St. Louis

Between August 29 and September 3 there will be a bike tour to promote the development of a Illinois Route 66 bike trail between Chicago and St. Louis. For those of you in St. Louis, it will start at the Chain of Rocks Bridge across the Mississippi, the old bridge that has been converted to a biking/hiking bridge. The ride will end at the beginning of Route 66 on Jackson Avenue near the Art Institute in Chicago. The Illinois Department of Natural Resources is developing the trail with the help of the League of Illinois Bicyclists.

The Bloomington Pantagraph has an extensive article on the section in McLean County, Illinois, which includes abandoned sections of the old route at Chenoa, Lexington, and Towanda.

For more information go to http://www.bikelib.org/route66/2009ride/ for information about food, lodging, and route. This last comes in a 14 page users’ guide.

For a great read-aloud guide to Route 66, check out my book Along Route 66 and my history of Route 66, Route 66: The highway and it people, with Susan Croce Kelly.

Route 66 Landscape, Grant Park, Chicago

Grant Park, at Jackson and Lake Shore Drive, Chicago

Grant Park, at Jackson and Lake Shore Drive, Chicago

When Chicago, founded in 1833, incorporated Fort Dearborn into its townsite six year later, it designated the land east of Michigan Avenue public land. In 1844 the city name the old fort, Lake Park. Eight years later the city built a causeway just off shore, creating a lagoon between the beach and the roadway, which turned in to stagnant water. The city filled the lagoon with debris from the Chicago fire in 1871 and in 1896 extended the park into the lake with landfill. It became Grant Park in 1901.

Wrong Gas Station

I attributed the wrong gas station to the Laurel Kane’s hard restoration.

See her gas station/museum at http://postcardsfromtheroad.net/afton.shtml.

New Route 66 Interpretive Center in Tulsa

The City of Tulsa, Oklahoma  will build a new Route 66 interpretive center. It will be a three story building, housing a restaurant on the top floor, an interpretive center, office space, gift shops, and smaller restaurants on the lower floors. It will cost $10 million and be funded with public and private funds. It is a part of a larger Route 66 master plan.

The former 11th Street Bridge has be renamed the Cyrus Avery Bridge, and the Avery Centennial Plaza and the Avery Centennial Skywalk are located on the east end of the bridge. Cyrus Avery, a member of the American Association of State Highway Officials that laid out the Route 66,  was instrumental in getting the road routed through his hometown of Tulsa.

An oil man, he also owned a tourist court and restaurant at the east end of Tulsa, built before the advent of Route 66.