By 1940, the population of the city had reached over 60,000. Spurred by rapid industrial growth over the next 20 years, Springfield’s population increased dramatically, resulting in a population of 100,000 by 1960.
Though Springfield is a modern city today, Route 66 once passed through it’s very heart. Like many cities that have seen immense growth since the advent of the Mother Road, you sometimes have to keep a sharp eye out to find evidence of the old highway.
There are two paths you can travel the route through Springfield, exit I-44 at Kearney Street and head west. Continue on Kearney St and you will be on primary Route 66. However, City 66 begins at Glenstone, where you will turn south to St. Louis Street/College St. Continuing your journey, you will soon reach the town square, where you will veer to the right to get on College Street to the Chestnut Expressway, winding up on Missouri Highway 266.
Your journey through Springfield will first take you past the site of the long-abandoned Sunset Drive-in Theater. Though the drive-in is long gone, the sign still stands. A bit further down the highway, you will see the remains of an old motor court on the north side of the highway, and a few miles beyond, the Rest Haven Court, at 2000 E. Kearney Street, one of the few original Route 66 motels left in Springfield today.
After a jaunt down Glenstone on City 66, and turning onto St. Louis St, you’re in for a treat. At 1158 E. St. Louis is one of the older Steak “n” Shakes from 1962, complete with shiny chrome and vintage sign. Steak ‘n’ Shake got it’s beginning on Route 66 in Normal Illinois back in 1934. However, the reason this Springfield Missouri location is special is due to the fact it really hasn’t changed a lot from it’s original design. From the building to the curb service window, they have kept the retro look throughout, and it’s said to be one of two surviving Steak ‘n’ Shake’s with the 50’s/60’s era design. It was added to the National Register of Historic Places on August 1, 2012 (Read more on Route 66 News).
Downtown, are many old buildings including the Woodruff Building and the historic Lander’s Theater, which is reportedly haunted. The Gillioz Theatre, at 325 Park Central East opened October 12, 1926, just one day after Route 66 was named. It was completely renovated in 2006.
As you travel west of the square on the old road you will see the pristine Melinda Court, which continues to serve travelers of the Mother Road today. A bit further along the line is another vintage motel – The Wishing Well Motor Inn.
There are very few more vintage icons left in a city that grew quickly after Route 66 was born, and even faster when it was decommissioned. But still, Springfield was the home of Route 66 co-founder, John T. Woodruff, which makes it a special place along the Mother Road.
Groundbreaking for a new Route 66 Roadside park was held in 2014. The park is on West College Street, between Fort and Broadway. It’s a tribute to Springfield’s designation as the Birthplace of Route 66.
Springfield’s population is about 168,000 today. Set in the pristine rolling hills of southwest Missouri, the city has many amenities to offer the visitor including museums, nightlife, culture, history and more.