The short sojourn of Route 66 through Kansas is the shortest of any state at just 13.2 miles. But, don’t for a moment discount this brief journey, as in these few short miles, there is more of the Route 66 experience than any other dozen miles on the Mother Road. This short stretch of the road also provides a peek at Civil War history, the Old West, and the mining days of the tri-state area.
The highway was paved entirely in 1929 and was never bypassed by the Interstates that sidestepped so much of Route 66. Though the road zigs and zags along section lines, the route is well-marked and easy to follow.
Heading out of Joplin, Missouri, you will see blighted land that looks a bit like a battle zone. From years of lead and zinc mining, the area has been left scarred by this industry that petered out in the 1970s. Referred to as “Hell’s Half Acre,” there can be glimpsed a beauty in the devastation.
In Galena, you can stop and see the Howard Litch Historical and Mining Museum that exhibits the history of the mining industry and the terrible union fallout in the 1930s, which left Galena’s streets bathed in blood. As you turn south on Main Street, you will be on the road that was once called Red Hot Street, as the saloons and bawdy houses stayed open 24 hours, catering to the many miners of the area.
Three miles down the road, you will cross the Spring River and come to the small town of Riverton, which houses the old Eisler Brothers Store, built in 1925.
After leaving Riverton, you will soon come upon the Rainbow Bridge, built in 1923, and the only one left still standing on Route 66. Though doomed for destruction, the Kansas Route 66 Association convinced the officials of Cherokee County to leave the Brush Creek Bridge standing as a historic landmark. Fully refurbished today, It is in such good condition that you can still drive over it.
Old Route 66 continues into Baxter Springs on Willow Avenue, turns left on Third Street, and then right onto Military Ave. Baxter Springs is filled with history from the Civil War and provides a great look at several Route 66 vintage buildings.
At the Heritage Center and Museum, you can learn all about the history of Route 66, as well as the battles that were fought in this 19th-century town that was once visited by the likes of the James-Younger Gang, the Dalton Gang, the outlaw Henry Starr, and Bonnie and Clyde.
Enjoy the friendly hospitality of these Kansas natives before trekking on into Oklahoma!!