Sullivan to Bourbon, Missouri – Mining & Whiskey on Route 66


Sullivan – A Lead Mining Maven

Missouri lead mining

Missouri lead mining

Sullivan, Missouri was founded more than 150 years ago, by Stephen and Dorcas Sullivan, who migrated to Missouri from South Carolina. They learned of the Meramec River and the surrounding country, which was rich in game and minerals, from none other than Daniel Boone. They settled in the area, built a cabin and cleared a large tract of land which they farmed.

In June, 1856, the couple purchased 169 acres of property, which would later be the site of the original town of Sullivan. When Stephen heard of the plans of the St. Louis & San Francisco Railroad Company to extend the Southwest Branch from Franklin (Pacific) to Rolla, he donated property and a building to the Railroad for a depot. Fifty lots were soon  laid out and the fledgling town was named for them.

In no time, people began to migrate to the area, working as farmers and mining the rich mineral deposits. The community soon bustled as a center of mining operations.

The motel is long gone, the old sunrise Motel sign still stands in Sullivan, Missouri.

The motel is long gone, the old sunrise Motel sign still stands in Sullivan, Missouri.

The mining of lead, iron, zinc and copper remained a strong economic base for Sullivan until an industrial lull in 1877. Nearby Stanton, which had originally been the more prosperous of the two communities, began to decline during the 1880’s, but Sullivan continued to prosper.

Today, this small town of about 6,300 souls, with its revitalized historic downtown area, provides a great opportunity to relax while visiting the many attractions of the region.

Meramec State Park, located four miles south of Sullivan on Highway 185, provides nearly 7,000 acres of natural springs, more than forty recorded caves, trails, fishing, a visitor center/museum, and camping facilities.

For vintage Route 66, check out the old Sunrise Motel Sign at 805 N. Service Road, before heading on down the road to Bourbon.

As Route 66 moves onward toward Cuba, Missouri, it skirts the tracks of the Burlington Northern and Santa Fe Railroad, passing through the very small town of St. Cloud (population 56) before meandering southwestward to to Bourbon, Missouri.

Bourbon – Named for Liquor

Circle Inn Malt Shop, Bourbon, Missouri

Circle Inn Malt Shop, Bourbon, Missouri

Believed to be the only town in the United States named for bourbon whiskey, this small town of just some 1,400 souls, prides itself on its small town charm and friendly folks.

The town got its start when the construction of the railroad began in the 1850’s, roughly following the Old Springfield or “Wire” Road. This soon brought a number of settlers to the area. Most of the railroad workers were Irish and were used to drinking whiskey. The first general store soon set up a barrel of bourbon near the construction site and became known as the Bourbon Store. Before long, the railroad workers were calling the new settlement Bourbon and it stuck.

A post office was established in September, 1853, first called “Bourbon in the Village of St. Cloud” and homes and businesses began to spring up along the railroad tracks and the Old Springfield Road. Later, the town name was shortened simply to “Bourbon.”

While in this quaint old town, have a treat at the Circle Inn Malt Shop, family owned since 1955, located at 171 S. Old Highway 66. There is also a private residence here that once housed the Bourbon Lodge Phillips 66 Station. Right next door are a couple of old Bourbon Lodge Cabins.

Onondaga Cave

Onondaga Cave

Onondaga Cave

About seven miles beyond Bourbon is the turnoff for Leasburg, Missouri where you’ll have the opportunity to take a side trip to a spelunker’s paradise – Onondaga Cave State Park. Considered to be one of the nation’s finest “show” caves due to its onyx formation, the Onondaga Cave is designated a National Natural Landmark. The park is also home to Cathedral Caves, also well decorated with many formations. Above ground there is also plenty of natural beauty. The Vilander Bluff Natural area provides visitors with a panoramic view of the Meramec River, for which canoeing and fishing abounds. The state park is seven miles southeast of I-44 at the Leasburg exit. Along this road can be seen several painted barns for the cave, similar to those for Meramec Caverns.

Returning to Route 66, the old highway travels through one of Missouri’s finest wine and grape producing regions. Some vineyards can be observed from the road and several roadside stops sell grapes, grape juice, wine, honey, and other locally produced products in the summer and fall months.


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

Also See:

Missouri Route 66

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *