Gray Summit to St. Clair, Missouri – Meandering in the Ozarks


Diamonds Restaurant Sign in Gray Summit, Missouri

Diamonds Restaurant Sign in Gray Summit, Missouri

As you continue down old Route 66, you’ll hardly know when you have left the town of Pacific and entered the unincorporated town of Gray Summit, as old buildings and businesses continue to dot the highway.

Gray Summit

With just some 2,600 people, Gray Summit was founded by Daniel Gray of New York, when he built a hotel here in 1845. The town was the highest point on the Missouri Pacific Railroad between St. Louis, and Kansas City, Missouri, and a railroad tunnel still runs beneath the town.

While in Gray Summit, you can stretch your legs among the Missouri wildflowers at the Shaw Nature Reserve run by the Missouri Botanical Garden.

The Plains Arapaho soon split into two separate tribes, the northern and southern Arapaho. The Northern Arapaho lived along the edges of the mountains at the headwaters of the Platte River, while the southern Arapaho moved towards the Arkansas River.

The reserve was established in 1925 when air pollution in St. Louis threatened the plant population. The reserve includes a visitor center, mansion and 14 miles of hiking trails. To view the Shaw Nature Reserve, take exit 253 from I-44.

A family friendly stop in Gray Summit is Purina Farms that allows visitors to pet and feed farm animals and provides demonstrations on sheep-shearing, cow milking and caring for household pets.

At the intersection of MO-100 and US-66 stands the “new” Diamonds Restaurant and Gardenway Motel Sign. Alas, the “new” Diamonds Restaurant has not survived the fast moving traffic of I-44. The original Diamonds location, established in 1927, was moved from to here in 1967, after I-44 bypassed their original location on Highway MO-AT. That building, which then housed the Tri-County Truck Stop, still stands some two miles on down the road in Villa Ridge.

Villa Ridge

Tri-County Truck Stop, Villa Ridge, Missouri

Tri-County Truck Stop, Villa Ridge, Missouri

As the old road continues on into Villa Ridge, you’ll pass by the still open Gardenway Motel, named for the Henry Shaw Garden Way Road when this old pathway once sported numerous native trees, shrubs and plants. The Gardenway Motel, established in 1945, continues to cater to Route 66 travelers and features a great old neon sign.

The first Diamonds, built in 1927, was constructed in the shape of a baseball diamond, hence the name. Touted as the “World’s Largest Roadside Restaurant,” the business was established by Spencer Groof and also sold Phillips 66 gasoline and rented cabins across the street. In 1948, the restaurant burned to the ground in a fire that blazed so so furiously that Route 66 had to be temporarily closed. Rebuilt, the Diamonds continued to operate at this location (west of exit 251) until 1967 when it was bypassed by the interstate. Picking up, lock, stock, and barrel, including their vintage sign, the business moved two miles eastward, but still did not survive. The original Diamonds then began to house the Tri-County Truck Stop and Restaurant, which ironically, did live on beyond the Diamonds Restaurant. However, it today is also closed. The building is located at 144 Old Highway 66.

Just about one mile further down the road at 427 Missouri Highway AT, you will see the old Sunset Motel. Built in the 1940’s, the motel offered 12 units and advertised Panel Ray Heat and Beautyrest Mattresses. But, the old lodging facility is now closed.

Zephyr Station west of Villa Ridge, Missouri

Zephyr Station west of Villa Ridge, Missouri

A bit further down the road is an abandoned Zephyr Station and Cafe overgrown with weeds and quickly deteriorating.

A few more miles down the road, just east of exit 242 is the Indian Harvest Trading Post. Though not a vintage icon, it looks “inviting” as it is complete with a few buildings resembling teepees and lots of advertising, which gives it the “flavor” of old Route 66.

Strangely; however, this “retail” operation charges customers to come into their “teepee store,” which is not, by the way, reminiscent of a museum, nor in any way, warrants an admission charge. And, the merchandise is very limited and appears to be imported (from Mexico or China?)  When Legends of America visited in November, 2007, the admission was $2.00, the amount of which could be credited against a purchase. However, because the selection was so limited and the prices so high, we forfeited our admission fee. Certainly, this does not, portray Route 66′ revival at it’s best. We strongly suggest you pass on this stop.

St. Clair

Hot and cold water towers in St. Clair, Missouri

Hot and cold water towers in St. Clair, Missouri

Route 66 continues to meander north and south of I-44 until it enters the St. Clair, Missouri, home to about 4,500 souls. Established in 1849 as a railroad community for the St. Louis and San Francisco Railway, it was first called Traveler’s Repose by one of its initial settlers. However, in 1855, it was changed to St. Clair. It began to grow as zinc and lead mining developed the area and by the turn of the century had a population of about 500.

Today, St. Clair boasts small town charm and is a wonderful place to raise a family.

While here, you will find the St. Clair Historical Museum, which includes Indian artifacts, mining items, a doctor’s office, and a general store.

If you’re ready for a bite to eat, be sure to stop in at the Lewis Cafe, at 145 Main Street, which has been serving up home cooked meals for over 65 years.

On your way out of town, look to the north for St. Clair’s quirky hot and cold water towers, as you continue your journey west on MO-WW to Stanton and Meramec Caverns.

Between St. Clair and Stanton, Route 66 meanders along the North Service Road. Keep your eyes open along here as you will see several old motel buildings in various stages of disrepair.

© Kathy Weiser/Legends of America, updated November, 2017.

Also See:

Missouri Route 66


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