Revitalizing Route 66: One Motel at a Time
Originally running from Chicago, IL to Los Angeles, CA, Route 66 is perhaps the most famous road in America. However, since its removal from the national highway system in 1985 in favor of the new interstates, Route 66 has struggled to recapture its former glory. Today, though it’s impossible to follow the iconic highways original course in its entirety, many of the historic gas stations, motels, and shops along the way are coming back to life as enterprising owners seek to reclaim an important piece of Americana.
Cases in point are several motels along Route 66 as it passes through Missouri. Built in 1935, The Wagon Wheel Motel in Cuba is the oldest continuously operating tourist stop along the highway. When current owner Connie Echols purchased the motel in 2009, the establishment was in rough shape. Echols has since restored and modernized each of the motel’s stone cottages.
Likewise, the Boots Motel in Carthage is in the midst of a complete restoration as sisters and co-owners Deborah Harvey and Priscilla Bledsaw seek to recapture the motel’s 1949 heyday. At the self-proclaimed “birthplace of Route 66” in Springfield, MO the Best Western Route 66 Rail Haven dates back to 1938. In 1951 the hotel became one of the founding members of the now widespread hotel chain. Though it has been added onto since its original construction, the hotel still retains much of its historic feel with vintage gas pumps, antique signs, and a pair of classic Fords out front.
Another Route 66 landmark is ready to make a transition of its own; Romona and Bob Lehman have owned and operated the Munger Moss Motel for 41 years. Now in their mid-70s, the couple is looking to pass the motel onto a new generation, “I won’t sell it just to anybody,” Ramona says. “I want somebody who loves Route 66 to take it over. It’s part of our heritage. We’ve got to keep it alive for our kids.”