They call Spencer a ghost town, but I say that there would have to be more town here for it to qualify. This dot on the southwest Missouri map has but one row of buildings, capped by this restored Phillips 66 service station.
It’s the last thing you expect to find as you turn onto this old, almost forgotten alignment of the road.
Because it is almost forgotten, it still bears the 1924 steel truss bridge I wrote about here and the 1920s concrete pavement I wrote about here. It looks like what is now Highway N used to curve around to follow this alignment, but what is now Highway 96 was built later to be a straighter and truer path for the Mother Road. That must have happened a very long time ago for the bridge never to have been upgraded and the concrete never to have been covered with asphalt. Check out that glorious concrete as it passes by this station.
Spencer formed here in the 1870s, with a store, a church, and a post office lining what was then known as Carthage Road. It’s said that by 1912 the old road had become impassable, which hurt the town’s fortunes. The arrival of Route 66 in 1927 led to the concrete pavement and the bridge. It sparked the local economy enough to establish this service station and a few other businesses.
This was first a Tydol station; later, it switched to Phillips 66. I imagine that the road brought just enough business here to provide a living for the proprietors, but not enough to make anybody wealthy.
The realignment of Route 66 along what is now Highway 96 had to have hurt business, but the construction of nearby I-44 surely killed it. Traffic dried up and soon these businesses closed for good.
This restoration is recent, and appears to be ongoing. I’ve seen photos of this building from the past few years that show it boarded up in dereliction and, later, in various stages of restoration. This awning and these gas pumps weren’t there just a couple years ago, for example. The other buildings in this row have been tidied up but it looks like a lot more work can be done to them. Here’s hoping that happens. It’s stops like this, out in the middle of nowhere, that make Route 66 a wonderful museum of 20th-century history.
Check out the restored Standard station on Route 66 in Illinois here.
As long as there have been cars, anyone driving a long distance has needed a place to bed down for the night. In the early days of auto travel, they camped, at first in friendly farmers’ fields and later on rented roadside campgrounds. Next, primitive cabins were built as a place for travelers to sleep, and later some of those cabins came with amenities such as heat and running water. Next came the motel, with many rooms in a row under one roof. At first they were all independently operated, but eventually chains of motels opened regionally and nationwide.
When the Interstates came, the chains had the means to build at the exits. Today you’ll find almost nothing but multi-story chain motels along the Interstates. Some of the older chain and independent motels still serve travelers along the old two-lane highways.
Few would find a roadside camp or primitive cabin acceptable as lodging today, of course. The camps are all gone, but here and there some of the cabins remain, albeit serving other purposes, such as this set on the National Road in Ohio. As my sons and I drove Route 66 we set out to find a well-known set of abandoned primitive cabins in Missouri. John’s Modern Cabins are on an abandoned section of the road a few miles east of Doolittle, which is a few miles east of Rolla. They haven’t served travelers since sometime in the late 1960s, when I-44 opened alongside the Mother Road and business dried up.
This section of Route 66 was abandoned not that long ago. The section of Route 66 that fronts John’s Modern Cabins used to serve as the north frontage road for I-44, but several years ago I-44 was moved a bit north, cutting off this section of the road. It’s a little tricky to find John’s Modern Cabins today. You have to follow the old south I-44 frontage road and cross a gravel path to reach the abandoned Route 66 alignment and the cabins. The green arrow pinpoints them on the map.
When you find them, you’ll see that they’re in serious decay.
This notice nailed to a tree warns that these cabins are on private property and are unsafe, and trespassing is at the explorer’s risk. So we walked up to, but stayed out of, these cabins.
These were just sleeping rooms in their day – four walls, a roof, and (presumably) a bed. If you needed to answer nature’s call, you stepped outside and found an outhouse. One still stands on the property.
The first cabins on this site were built in the 1930s by Bill and Bess Bayless of logs from nearby trees. After Bess was murdered (!) Bill sold the cabins, and after a couple more owners John Dausch bought them. He named them after himself, erecting the neon sign that still stands on the property. John built a few more cabins of concrete and asbestos.
If you snoop around the Internet, you’ll find photos of John’s Modern Cabins from before the roofs all started to collapse. It won’t be too many years before they will have collapsed entirely. I think they were just perfect as we found them. I asked one of my sons to photograph me by one.