West of Paris Springs Junction, old Route 66 takes a jog off across State Road 96 onto County Road N, south to Spencer, Missouri. After a right turn, you first cross a 1923 one-lane steel truss bridge over Johnson Creek. Just beyond the bridge is the ‘town’ of Spencer, Missouri.
This tiny little settlement started in the 1860s on the old Carthage-Springfield Road after Oliver Johnson built a mill along the creek that was soon named after him. The site became popular for travelers who stopped along Johnson Creek near the flour mill. The place was initially referred to as Johnson’s Mill until Mr. Spencer from Illinois opened a store at the site where a post office was established in 1868 called Spencer.
By the 1880s, the village had another general store, a schoolhouse, and a Methodist and Christian Church. Before long, others moved into the settlement, and the town gained a grocery store and blacksmith shop. But the town would be short-lived for the agricultural community. The post office closed in 1907, and the road to Spencer became impassable by 1912. Once traffic stopped, businesses closed, people moved on, and Spencer became a ghost town
About a dozen years later, a man named Sydney Casey learned the plans for a new highway in 1925. He put down a $50 deposit (later, he made eight payments of $50 for a total of $500) for the old town of Spencer, which contained a vacant feed and seed store built in 1910 and two acres of land. As Route 66 was being constructed through the area, Casey reopened the old feed and seed store to supply items to the workers building the new highway and motorists driving up and down the newly poured concrete road. Sydney soon found out the old building needed more work than he wanted to put into it, so in 1926, he constructed a new building next to the existing old store, and by 1928, he had expanded it into a row of buildings, with the store on the left, a structure in the middle that served at various times, as a feed store, cafe, and barbershop, and at the far right, was a service station and garage. Casey’s service station began as a Tydol station, but around 1938 became a distributor for the Phillips 66 brand.
The Casey family ran both the store and the service station/garage, while various people operated the middle building over the years. Spencer soon became a community center as well as a traveler’s stopover. Dances were held on a platform across the highway, neighborhood news was exchanged from the bench in front of the store, and an old stove in the garage provided a comfortable gathering spot for card games.
Unfortunately, the “new” Spencer would not last. In 1961, Route 66 was realigned through the area with the new Highway 96, bypassing Spencer and nearby Paris Springs Junction. Shortly after, the store and gas station went out of business. This was a precursor for the rest of the area when I-44 bypassed Route 66 in southwest Missouri.
Carl and Ruby Casey purchased the property from his mother and brothers in 1985 and took residence in the family home behind the store buildings.
Afterward, the row of vacant buildings vacant sat empty and silent until, in 2007, they were purchased by Francis and Mary Lynn Ryan of Salina, Kansas. The Ryans obtained the property from Kent Casey, whose grandfather, Sydney Casey, first acquired the land in 1925. The property had remained in the Casey family for three generations up to this point.
The Ryans rebuilt the canopies in front of the Feed and Seed store and the gas station and garage while adding gas pumps, signs, and other memorabilia from their personal collection in front of and inside the buildings throughout the years. In 2010 they rebuilt the roof over most of the building. The Ryans’ good friends Quentin and Cathy Stockham helped with the projects.
In 2022, Ed Klein, who owns Route 66 World and has been doing preservation work on Route 66 since 2007, purchased the buildings from the Ryans. Klein has more plans in the works to restore all the buildings close to how they were back in the 1930s and 1940s, bringing yet more character to the forgotten town of Spencer. The concrete roadbed in front of the building row is some of the last of the original highway Route 66 surface still in use.
From here, Route 66 continues by traveling northwest for about one mile before rejoining MO-96 and making its way westward another five miles to Heatonville.
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