Rolla's portion of historic Route 66 offers a few authentic sites that have been in operation since the heyday of America's love affair with the automobile and traveling.
Want to find a real piece of Americana? Rolla’s portion of historic Route 66 offers a few authentic sites that have been in operation since the heyday of America’s love affair with the automobile and traveling.
Try to picture the topography of travel in the 1940s and 50s. What we consider state highways, worn out and bumpy, were once traveled as super highways, or interstates as we enjoy today. Going down US Route 66, there was not a truckstop or convenience store every few miles as it is today. Prior to the construction of super routes such as the famous highway, folks would have to enter towns to find lodging for overnight road trips. One story that my mother related to me, was that her family, in the 1950s would travel the highways in their big Buick, her and her three siblings sharing the backseat. The trunk of the car was loaded with blankets for sleeping on the side of the road, and a big pot of beans resting in the floorboard between her mother’s feet, served as road food.
Old Route 66 in Rolla
The first trail in the area was opened by deer and buffalo, and later used by Indians. It followed the divide in the Ozarks. After the late 1600s, white explorers and trappers followed it; they named it the "Great Osage Trail" (after the Osage Indians). The road used to build and service the military telegraph line built in the 1860s followed it and was known as the "Wire Road"; it became the main road between Springfield and St. Louis.
During the early 1910s, cars became more frequent in the Ozarks but the roads were full of potholes or muddy traps during the rainy periods. The Inter-Ozarks Highway Association lobbied successfully for a decent state highway and that is how MO-14 was built between Springfield and St. Louis, and given a gravel surface. Route 66 was aligned along it in 1926. *Courtesy Route 66 America
Rolla no longer has any eating establishments in existence from the mother road’s historical times, but Rob and Kricket’s Tater Patch comes close with some pretty cool memorabilia. They have been in operation for 40 years, collecting vintage music items along the way. This venue serves as host to some of the areas hottest bands. Tater Patch is a favorite of motorcyclists, and locals alike. If The Hard Rock Cafe opened a road house, it would be something akin to this place. The food is the big draw with potatoes, of course, being the specialty of the house. Tater tots come out piping hot in cute mini metal fryer baskets, and loaded baked potatoes are available in some creative combinations. The Chicken Cordon Bleu potato is heaping with broccoli, blue cheese, grilled chicken, ham, and topped with blue cheese dressing. There is also the loaded chicken pot pie potato, as well as the chili cheese, and philly cheese steak potato. But the most unusual has to be the loaded breakfast baked potato, overflowing with eggs and sausage gravy. The atmosphere is nostalgic, with old metal signs and cracked aged guitars, but eclectic with hipster wait staff sporting bright red hair, or piled high dreads. Once such server, Ivan, greets folks with high energy, friendliness, and personal banter. No fakers here, the servers seem to actually enjoy their work and the people. Rob and Kricket's Tater Patch is located on Route 66’s segment of Martin Springs Road off of Kingshighway.
Totem Pole Trading Post
The nearby Totem Pole Trading Post is an original Route 66 establishment still in operation today.
Opened in 1933, the luncheonette gift shop is still going strong. Located at 1413 Martin Springs Road, it is the oldest mom and pop gas station venture along the route.
The gas pumps were shut down in 2010, standing like statues as reminders of the great highway’s intention. The Totem Pole is packed with Route 66 and Missouri gifts as well as a stunning display of oddities.
Edwin Long Hotel
Listed in the National Register of Historic Places
718 Pine St.
The National Bank of Rolla (1870s-1933) occupied the northwest corner of the first floor and the Edwin Long Hotel (1931-1970s) had the remainder of the building. The basement level served as the College Inn banquet hall, with a capacity of 350. The hotel had 75 guest rooms and the Edwin Long Coffee Shop for daily dining. The hotel was located adjacent to the historic U.S. Route 66, which ran directly through Rolla, MO on 8th Street.
Daily room rates were $2.00 for a single bed and $3.00 for a double bed, with each room having a tub shower and radiant heat. The Edwin Long Hotel operated from 1931 until the early 1970s, when the building was purchased by the Phelps County Bank for the headquarters of its banking operation. The hotel's business slowly declined after U.S. Route 66 (now I-44) was rerouted in the late 1950s from downtown to the northern outskirts of Rolla.
The First National Bank of Rolla was liquidated in 1933 during the Great Depression. Rolla State Bank, which took over the bank space, occupied the northwest corner of the first floor of the building until 1963. Phelps County Bank then took over the entire building. It has continued to operate in the same location.
Phelps County Bank restored the building's exterior in 2001. It occupies the entire building.
Over the years, many famous people stayed at the Edwin Long Hotel, including President Harry Truman, actress Marilyn Monroe, and actor Victor Mature. The hotel served as the premier facility for travelers using Route 66 or the Frisco Railroad from the 1930s through the early 1960s, when passenger railroad service stopped. Motels built on the rerouted Route 66 (I-44) during the 1950s and 1960s drew away travelers from downtown. *History courtesy of Hometown Rolla Missouri USA.
Route 66 25th Annual Summerfest
Once a year, the town hosts a celebration of all things Route 66 related. A weekend showcasing the beginning of paved road travel features arts and craft shows, car shows, and lots of family fun. Vendors line the streets of downtown Rolla offering all kinds of items memorializing America’s first coast to coast highway.
Activities include the Route 66 car cruise, Miss Route 66 pageant, a drummers competition, street dance, a movie under the stars and much more. Live bands entertain festival goers downtown, and lots of automobile history is on display.
Mule Tobacco Barn and Trading Post
The Mule Trading Post is a dizzying array of novelties and Route 66 souvenirs. Opened in 1916, it’s Rolla’s longest operating business on the great highway. Focusing modern day on the jerky outlet, and sunglasses store, the trading post knows how to cater to travelers. History is also on display, with the most popular landmark the giant “Hillbilly” sign standing proudly in front of the store, greeting I-44 travelers. The sign was originally from Sterling Hillbilly Store in Hooker, Missouri. The formerly neon lighted fellow with moving arms to hail visitors was moved to The Mule Trading Post in 1981 when I-44 and State Highway 28 segment of Route 66 was reestablished.
Route 66 has had a lot of influence in pop culture over the years. John Steinbeck's work references the mother road in the novel “The Grapes of Wrath.” Nat King Cole sang about “getting your kicks on Route 66.” Country’s Asleep at the Wheel sang the song “Route 66”, and even the band Depeche Mode crooned about the famous route in the 80s. The historical significance beckons to be explored, and can offer a lot of fun this summer.