Sharon Haight remembers accompanying her granddaddy in the 1950s to Lebanon’s ice house to buy blocks of ice, then chopping the ice with her siblings for the overnight guests at Camp Joy.
“As soon as they checked in,” brother Craig Fishel recalled, “we took a pitcher of ice to the units.”
The ice was free — except when youngest sibling Marla delivered it. “She would try to sell it,” Craig said.
“Yeah, I did!” Marla Garland admitted with a laugh.
Three of the four children of Joy Spears Fishel -- named after Camp Joy -- visited the site Saturday of one of Lebanon’s first tourist courts, the family business where they spent much of their childhoods in the 1950s.
The occasion was to see the Camp Joy cabin that the Lebanon-Laclede County Route 66 Society has been restoring since businessman Lee Sing gave it to the group in January. It’s the last cabin remaining from those that at one time covered four acres bordering Route 66 on the south, Sherman Avenue on the east and Catlin Avenue on the west.
Haight, of Joplin; Fishel, of Springfield; and Garland, of Blue Springs, reminisced about their grandparents and great-grandparents, who operated Camp Joy, and the chores they performed as children, just as their mother and Uncle Clark did a generation earlier. They inspected the restored cabin – now sitting on a trailer awaiting its move to Boswell Park -- and debated the original color of its trim. They pointed to where other Camp Joy buildings were situated. They even filled up a plastic bag with hexagon tiles scraped from the floor of the restored cabin’s bathroom, which was removed during the restoration.
Their grandparents, Emis and Lois Spears, and great-grandparents, Charles and Lida Spears, founded the camp in 1927, the year after Route 66, then a two-lane gravel road, came through Lebanon.
Like other overnight facilities in the early days of Route 66, Camp Joy’s original overnight customers slept in tents. The first cabins were built in a “U” with the open end fronting the highway. As business grew, more cabins were built around the outer edges of the property.
Camp Joy also included four three-room houses and detached garages on the west side of Catlin Avenue, all of which remain. The oldest Fishel kids, Sharon and Craig, lived in one of those houses with parents Clyde Jr. and Joy. Around the time of Marla’s birth in 1954, the growing family moved to a home on Sherman Avenue. In 1960, the Fishel family moved to Springfield but visited Lebanon often.
On the east side of Catlin Avenue, great-grandfather Charles and his second wife Mabel – Lida died in the 1930s – lived in a house at the front corner. The kids called their great-grandfather “Carlie” and his wife “Mommy Mabel.”
A workshop was behind the house – it seemed bigger to the children than it probably was – then, behind the workshop, cabins 8 and 9, one of which is the rescued cabin. Craig said brother Evan, of Marshfield, who was unable to attend, believes the restored cabin is No. 8.
The siblings walked behind the cabin, toward the center of the Camp Joy site, to the foundation of Camp Joy’s original bathhouse. “Everyone came here to shower like a regular campground,” Craig said, adding, “If (Sing) ever digs up over here, he’ll find the plumbing.” Later, the bathhouse was moved, and eventually, the cabins had their own showers.
The large brick building that remains in the rear of the property was built for grandfather Emis Spears’ collection of vintage cars. Spears acquired a 1927 Pierce Arrow with a V-12 engine. “It was like a gangster car,” Craig said, motioning with his hands how wide the doors opened.
“It was so tall, it wouldn’t go through the door of the buildings he had.” So Emis built a new building “and filled it with old cars.”
A gas station anchored the front of Camp Joy for many years, but that building was moved in the mid-1950s to the north side of the property where it became another rental unit.
Sharon remembered that one of the Fishel kids’ chores was helping clean the cabins every day, a meticulous task because Grandma Lois required the pillows to be placed a certain way.
Marla agreed, adding that their grandmother “was very picky.”
But there were rewards. The Bluebird Café was just across Catlin Avenue. “Every night, as soon as we got to put the No Vacancy sign out, we’d go over there and eat,” Craig recalled. “Grandma would eat, and I would have cherry pie. That’s why I like cherry pie so much.”
Camp Joy’s name was updated to the Joy Motel in the late 1950s or early 1960s. It remained in the Spears family until 1971 when, following the death of her husband, Lois Spears sold the property for $100,000 to Mr. and Mrs. Martin Bolles, who owned adjacent property.
Craig said the family began sorting through eight crates of Camp Joy memorabilia Friday night and barely scratched the surface. He presented the Route 66 Society with more than a dozen family photos, most with Camp Joy as the setting. After scanning them for its website, the Route 66 Society will turn them over to the Lebanon Route 66 Museum for safekeeping. “This is only the beginning of what we can find,” he added.
Craig also presented the Route 66 Society with a $1,000 check to be used on the Camp Joy project as the organization sees fit.
The Fishel siblings were welcomed to the site by Bruce Owen, Howard Fuller, Dave Chastain and Gary and Helen Sosniecki of the Route 66 Society. Fuller grilled hotdogs for the group over a fire built of scrap lumber in the foundation of the cabin.
Craig Fishel, who is a state representative representing a Springfield district, was accompanied by his wife Donna. Tom Peters, dean of library services at Missouri State University and a Route 66 scholar, also was present to conduct research on Camp Joy.
The cabin is scheduled to be moved to Route 66-themed Boswell Park at 8 a.m. next Saturday (May 4).
It will be rededicated in a ceremony at 11:45 a.m. June 15 at the Lebanon Route 66 Festival in Boswell Park. The festival’s theme is “Celebrating Camp Joy.” The Fishel siblings plan to attend.
“You guys are honoring our family,” Craig said about the cabin project.