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Road trip! Springfield, Missouri, is ‘birthplace of Route 66’

CR Rae
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CR Rae photo

All of us have heard of the historic Route 66 that stretches from Chicago to Santa Monica, California. The road opened Nov. 11, 1926, and offers today’s travelers a fun and interesting trip back in time.

Choosing one place to spend some time along Route 66, we travel to Springfield, Missouri, home to the Best Western Route 66 Rail Haven motel (Elvis slept here) and “the birthplace of Route 66”: A telegram was sent from the Colonial Hotel in 1926 stating that the road be named Route 66. The hotel is no longer standing but a marker is at the site.

In Springfield, Route 66 travelers will find many historic, unique and quaint places to visit along the highway. It is best to begin your trip at the Springfield Visitor Center and pick up some info on the many things to do and see. It is well marked with a big Route 66 sign on East St. Louis Street, which is Old Route 66.

One of the most iconic places to visit is the Route 66 Rail Haven motel. It opened in 1938 and continues to give visitors a warm welcome and unique stay. It is where Elvis Presley spent the night after a performance at another historic landmark, the Shrine Mosque. The motel is a true step back in time: I stepped into the Elvis room and immediately felt the vibe. From the pink Cadillac bed to the jacuzzi and memorabilia, it was reminiscent of the King. The motel also has a “Wild Bill” Hickock room. He was involved in a gunfight in the town square. The room has memorabilia and a Wild West theme with velvet cushioned chairs and a copper tub.

The classic Route 66 motel is listed on the National Register of Historic Places and not just because Elvis slept there. The motel has classic cars, gas pumps and other Route 66-themed items.

I found it to be clean and safe, and they were following all COVID-19 protocols. Be sure to ask at the desk for a list of things to do along Route 66, as they have a good one.

The Gillioz Theatre in Park Central Square is also on the historic places list. It is a Spanish-style theater where Route 66 travelers often made a stop.

Also on Route 66 is the History Museum on the Square. I really enjoyed this unique museum that showcases the history of Route 66. Try to outshoot Wild Bill Hickok, learn what it was like during the Civil War, or take a ride on the Trolley Time Machine. The interactive displays and other items throughout the museum make it very kid-friendly and fun for all ages. I found COVID-19 protocols were in place.

At Park Central Square to the right of the fountain, visitors will find information commemorating the official birthplace of U.S. Highway 66. Also, there is a marker on the southeast corner where Wild Bill had the shootout over a gambling debt in 1865.

Reds Giant Hamburg has a 66 history. It opened just after WWII and is said to be the first drive-through restaurant in the U.S. It closed in 1984 but the classic ’50s diner made a comeback in 2019. This Reds is in a different location but along Route 66, greasy-hamburger seekers will find the original sign and information talking about the popular Springfield burger and fry place.

These items are just a sampling of what there is to do along Route 66 in Springfield. Also check out the Calaboose old city jail, Rock Fountain Court Historic District and the Route 66 Car Museum.

Your adventures may not be the same as those in the 1960-64 TV crime drama “Route 66,” but a day or two or more will offer a fun adventure of your own.

Contact CR at crraetravel@gmail.com.

CR Rae photo