Among rivers, forested hills and bubbling springs, you will find Rolla, Missouri – a haven for outdoor fun.
The first settlers of the area were farmers who began to arrive in 1818 and building along the river banks. Though the town wouldn’t begin for several more years, a man named John Webber built the first house were Rolla would be in 1844.
The next year the Frisco Branch of the Southwest Railroad would begin to survey the land for the westward pushing railroad. A man named Lieutenant James Abert led the survey and would later become the first professor of Civil Engineering at the Missouri School of Mines.
When the railroad began to be built, a small settlement began to form in 1855 when the railroad erected an office and several warehouses. Anticipating the coming of the railroad, nearly 600 people moved to the area within six months. In 1857, Rolla was made the county seat of Phelps County and the next year the city was officially laid out. The town was named when one of the original settlers, formerly of North Carolina favored the name “Raleigh” after his home town. Other settlers agreed on the name on the condition that it wasn’t spelled that “funny” way and they settled on “Rolla.”
On January 1, 1861, the first train arrived in Rolla, but, the outbreak of the Civil War halted westward expansion of the line. However, the town became an important transportation hub as supplies were shipped from the east and loaded to wagons headed west. During the Civl War, Rolla served as a military post with as many as 20,000 Union troops stationed in the vicinity.
In 1870 the Missouri School of Mines and Metallurgy was founded due to Rolla’s location and its mineral riches. Today, the school provides twelve fields of engineering and science degrees, including mining and metallurgy.
When Route 66 came through, it replaced Route 14, a gravel road that was difficult to travel in anything but good weather. Work began on the concrete slab in 1928, and from Rolla to Lebanon, it was the last piece to be paved in Missouri because of its difficulty. The completion was cause for a huge celebration. Rolla further improved its image by completing the paving of city streets which connected with the highway. In no time, Rolla became a vacation playground as tourist cabins motels, trading posts and fishing camps sprang up.
Today, Rolla continues to be a haven for outdoor adventurers with its proximity to the Current and Jack’s Fork Rivers, Ozark forests, caves, springs and bluffs. The town also provides a rich view of its heritage in its historical buildings and vintage peeks of old Route 66.
On the corner of Third and Rolla Streets is the John A. Dillon Log House, built in 1857 and utilized as the first Phelps County Courthouse. Today the building houses the Phelps County Museum. In 1859 Phelps County began to build another Courthouse just across the street, which also served as a hospital and supply storage during the Civil War.
For views of Route 66, be sure to check out the Mule Trading Post just as you enter the east side of town. On the west end is the Totem Pole Trading Post, opened in 1933 offering gas and novelties to cross country travelers. Located at the corner of Route 66 and Martin Springs Drive, the vintage store sells antiques to new adventurers of the Mother Road.
For an interesting look something else altogether, visit the Rolla Stonehenge, a partial reconstruction of the ancient megalith, built by students at the University of Missouri at Rolla.
Continue westward on a scenic drive through several small settlements and resorts that were bypassed by Interstate I-44 many years ago. Along this historic stretch, you’ll see the remains of John’s Modern Cabins, built in 1935, the old ghost town of Arlington, the remains of the once popular Stony Dell Resort, Larry Baggett’s Tribute to the Trail of Tears, and more as you make your way to Devil’s Elbow.