Spencer – Quiet Now
Past Paris Springs Junction, old Route 66 takes a jog off of State Road 96 onto County Road N on its way to Spencer. This very old piece of concrete pavement first crosses a 1923 triple pony-struss bridge over Turnback Creek, before meandering on to traverse the 1926 one-lane steel truss Johnson Creek Bridge. Just beyond are the few remains of Spencer, Missouri.
This tiny little settlement, that was never much more than a “spot in the road,” was first founded in the late 1870s when a post office was established. Later a store and a church were built to cater to the small agricultural population of the area. However, by 1912, it was already a ghost town when the road to Spencer became impassable and most people moved on. When Route 66 made its way through town, the community saw a small resurgence, with a grocery store, a Tydol station and a garage, a dry goods store and a barbershop. These businesses all died when Route 66 was bypassed by I-44.
Up until recently, the “entire town” was but one row of vacant buildings. Though they were in good condition, they sat silent and lonely on this old stretch of the road. However, this historic site has been purchased by Francis and Marie Lynn Ryan of Salina, Kansas. The Ryans obtained the property from Kent Casey, who’s grandfather, Sydney Casey, first acquired the land in 1925. Sydney Casey built the buildings and ran the businesses at the time the Mother Road was blazed through the area. For the first few years, the gas station was a Tydol station but later it changed to Phillips 66, to which the Ryans have restored it to today.
Today, the gas station and garage have been restored to their former glory, welcoming a new generation of Route 66 travelers. The gas pumps, signs, and other memorabilia are from the Ryan’s personal collection. Helping with this project are locals, Quentin and Cathy Stockham, who have placed the vintage police car in the front of the buildings. Though tiny Spencer was never large enough for a police department, it adds yet, another touch of great nostalgia to this historic site.
More plans are in the works to restore all of the buildings, bringing yet more character to the forgotten little town of Spencer.
Be sure to add little Spencer to your “must-see” list along your journey.
Heatonville – No More Services
The road continues from Spencer northwest about one mile before rejoining MO-96 and making its way westward another eight miles to Heatonville. Platted in 1868 by Daniel Heaton, this small town was first simply called Heaton. Later the “ville” was added to the name. A year later, the town had about ten homes, a store and a blacksmith shop. It was the post office center of the area until 1881, at which time it sported about 50 people. However, that same year, the post office was discontinued as there was no one to act as postmaster. It would be another seven years before it would reopen. When Route 66 was established several businesses were opened to accommodate the travelers. All are gone today, but for the old 1936 D.L. Morris Garage building on the south side of the road.
Onwards to Carthage
The next 26 miles westward to Carthage, Missouri passes through a number of old towns including, Albatross, Phelps, Rescue, Plew, Avilla, Forrest Mills and Maxville, of which, some have very small agricultural populations, others sporting little more than crumbling buildings, and a few with no more than a foundation to suggest that anyone ever lived there.
Breezing through Albatross, seeing nothing more than a sign to indicate it was a town, the road continues to Phelps, a small town that dates back to the 1830’s. The town grew to a relatively good size until the 1870’s when everything south of Carthage Road (later Route 66) burned to the ground. Persevering, the town sported a population of about 80 people in 1882, supporting a school, several churches, a general merchandise store, a drug store, a wagon maker, blacksmith, and a doctor. The town got another boost when Route 66 barreled through, but today is just another quiet spot in the road.
In the area of the old town sites of Rescue and Plew, this was once a haven for tourist courts. Shadyside Camp, just before the intersection with Route BB, near Rescue, originally operated as a cabin court with a gas station and cafe. Currently utilized as a residence, the property includes five rock buildings in a semi-circular configuration, popular during the Route 66 era.
Between Plew and Avilla are the remains of the 1935 Log City Camp on the south side of the road. Log City also sported a Mobil Station, coffee shop and store. Right across the street was the 1928 Forest Park Camp, which included rock cabins, a cafe, a tavern and a dancehall. During Route 66′ heydays, these two businesses were major rivals for decades. Today, Meister’s Body Shop and Garage are housed in Log City’s old station and restaurant building and a few cabins still remain. Across the road, a lone stone cabin remains at Forest Park Camp.
Avilla, Missouri seems to be the “Capital” of this little section of the highway, still called home to about 140 souls. Situated in a rich farming district, Avilla’s post office was established about 1868. The flourishing town also sported a general merchandise store and a hotel. By 1874, the Availla sported two churches, a school house and population of about 500. Like the other small towns on this now lonely stretch of road, Avilla bustled when the Mother Road came through. Afterwards, it too settled down to a quiet way of life, but continues to sport a few open businesses. Several old buildings can still be seen in the town including its 1915 post office, which remains open, a very large store building that looks like it might have been a lumber yard or hardware store, the falling walls of an old motor court, and a Route 66 era garage.
After another 12 miles, the pathway comes to Carthage, allegedly passing through two old townsites – Forrest Mills and Maxville, but of these places, we could find no remains.
However, during this trip, look to the north side of the road for what is probably the oldest gas station on Route 66. This prefabricated 1915 Standard Oil Station is made of steel panels that look like wood siding and vintage metal tiles. Currently, there is talk of moving this old station to the new site of Red Oak II, a recreated “old town” just northeast of Carthage.
And, speaking of Red Oak II, this “ghost town” was built from the remains of numerous area buildings. The site is just east and north of Carthage and is well worth the side trip.
Route 66 (main page)
Ghost Towns (main page)