After heading west from Springfield, Missouri on old Route 66, you’ll drive through a scenic stretch of the Mother Road on your way to Carthage that provides numerous peeks at the past along this almost abandoned piece of payment. Though still populated by large farms and ranches, the old towns along this slice of the highway have long passed their prime when I-44 barreled through. Though some of the settlements along this section still have a few people living in them, almost every one of the dozen or so towns that once thrived here, have long since become ghost towns or don’t exist at any more.
Old Route 66 meanders westward out of Springfield on Missouri Highway 266 through rolling hills that are situated along the western edge of the Ozark Plateau. Within a few short miles, you’ll come to what must be one of the oldest cemeteries on Route 66 – the Yeakley Cemetery, established in 1852.
Named for a prominent farmer and rancher named Thomas Yeakley, this well-tended cemetery also boasts the Yeakley Chapel, built in 1887, that continues to provide services today.
The Ghost Town of Plano
A few more miles will bring you to what was once the small community of Plano, Missouri. Today, there are but two buildings left that clearly pre-date Route 66. As you roll westward, you will probably first notice and crumbling stone building on on the northwest corner of an intersection. It looks as if it might have survived a number of Missouri’s many Civil War battles when this old route was known as the “Wire Road,” a strategic path that extended from St. Louis to Fort Smith, Arkansas. The tree-invested limestone building has even been alleged to have served as a casket factory and mortuary. Apparently all that is not true though, and the fact is, according to the Springfield News Leader, it was built in 1902 by the Jackson family, with the occasional help of neighbors, with two rooms becoming a general store where families would sell produce, eggs and baked goods.
The Leader reports that upstairs had a living quarters with another large room for meetings and even church services. The Jackson’s also had another building, no longer standing, just across the street that served as a mortuary and undertakers parlor where caskets could be purchased, which apparently is where the confusion has come for the stone buildings past.
Just across Route 66 to the south side of the old highway is a former Tydol Station and Garage, that now serves as a private residence.
The old road continues to roll over gently sloping hills before arriving at Halltown.
Halltown – Where Yesterday Meets Today
Halltown, which was founded in the 1870’s when George Hall opened one of the first stores in the area. In 1879 the post office was established and named after Mr. Hall. During Route 66’ heydays, the town supported almost 20 businesses including three grocery stores, a drugstore, a blacksmith shop, service station, garage, and a variety store. In fact, business was so good during those days that Halltown was known as the “Antique Capital of the World.”
Today, Halltown exudes small town charm in its few surviving businesses. But, mostly, it’s boarded up stores sit quiet in this small town populated with farmers and Springfield commuters. One store that remains open is Whitehall Mercantile, providing a treasure trove of antiques and collectibles displayed from floor to ceiling in this long standing building. First built in 1900 as a grocery and general store, the false front mercantile, complete with stone foundation and wooden porch, provides a rich view of the past in both its building and its merchandise.
Other historic buildings include the 1930 Las Vegas Hotel and Barber Shop, the old Hamilton Brown Shoe Company, and several other old buildings.
While covering the next three scenic miles to Paris Spring Junction look for the 1923 Billies Creek Bridge, as well as the remains of an old station on the side of the road.
Paris Springs Junction – Revival on the Mother Road
Just a few more miles down the road you will come upon Paris Springs Junction. Though current maps, as well as the Missouri Highway Department, identify this little burg as Paris Springs, that is not correct. Paris Springs was actually located one-half mile north of this junction. The small settlement that would become Paris Springs was first settled in 1850s and called Chalybeate Springs, for the iron-rich healing waters flowing from Clover Creek. Later, when the company of Cherry & Johnson utilized Clover Creek to run a mill that ground flour and cornmeal at the site, the town’s name changed to Johnson Mills. O.P. Johnson also built a sawmill and wool mill, and a chair factory was operated by E.L. Davis. Other businesses also included a blacksmith, shoemaker, a wagon-maker, and an attorney.
The town’s name changed once again in 1872 when Eli Paris opened a hotel to cater to the many people flocking to the town to partake of its healing mineral waters. Named for the hotel operator, it became Paris Springs and not only provided a dip in its rich springs but also produced bottled waters.
When Route 66 barreled through in the 1920’s, it bypassed Paris Springs by ½ mile. Before long, a few businesses were set up to the south to take advantage of the many travelers along Route 66. This small cluster of buildings soon took on the name of Paris Springs Junction.
A dome shaped cobblestone garage was one of the first buildings to be built at the junction in 1926. Four years later a Sinclair station was built next to the garage. Owned by Gay and Fred Mason, the couple also added a cafe and three cabins to their little enterprise, which they called Gay Parita, after Mrs. Mason. Taking advantage of the busiest road in America, the masons did a brisk business fixing flat tires, and selling gasoline, sodas and sandwiches for the next 25 years. When Gay Mason died in 1953, Fred continued to operate the business, but when tragedy struck again, burning down the Sinclair station in 1955, Fred retired to his home behind the burned out station. He died in 1960.
Shortly thereafter, Route 66 was decommissioned and the junction was bypassed by I-44. For the next several decades, the property sat silent, utilized only as a residence. However, this small burg gained new life when the Gay Parita property was purchased by Gary and Lena Turner. Working with his son, Steve, Gary rebuilt the old Sinclair Station, which today sits shining and new, beckoning to a new generation of Route 66 travelers. While the “new” station is not an exact replica of its predecessor, its facade is in character for the 1930’s era. The “station” doesn’t sell anything –no gas, no sundries, no gimmicks or tourist memorabilia — just memories and enthusiasm spilling from one of Route 66′ biggest fans – Gary Turner. Sadly, Gary Turner passed away in January 2015 and his wife Lena just a few months later. Gary spent many days/years welcoming roadies from all over the world, sharing Route 66 history, and promoting the road. He will be missed, but there is life still at the Gay Parita, as Gary’s daughter Barbara Turner took over in 2016.
Several other buildings also continue to stand in Paris Junction, including the 1929 Paris Springs Junction Store, that once sported a cafe and station, as well as Dot Mason’s Log Cabin Station, which later served as as an auto sales building, and a 1944 slab stone garage.
As to the original Paris Springs, ½ mile north of the junction, the only remaining building is a small church.