Kelly Hackler bought 7.75 acres west of Phillipsburg last year so he would have a place close to home for fishing. The property includes an acre-and-a-half pond where he has caught some nice catfish.
Now, Hackler is learning about the mystique of Route 66, because the property also includes what remains of the little-remembered Twin Oaks gas station, restaurant and rental cabins.
Hackler, 58, would like to restore at least two of the four surviving Twin Oaks buildings. “It’s just a dream right now,” he said, adding that he can’t afford such an undertaking without financial help, perhaps a grant of some type.
For now, he’s trying to learn more about the history of Twin Oaks. “All I’ve got to go on is hearsay,” he said.
Unlike its better-known Route 66 counterparts, apparently Twin Oaks never was depicted on a postcard. “That’s the reason this property hasn’t made it in the history books, because there were no post cards made,” he said.
Joe Sonderman, a Route 66 historian, editor of Show Me Route 66 Magazine and an avid collector of Route 66 postcards, said he’s never seen one of Twin Oaks.
“The story I got is the original station was built in 1925,” Hackler said. He has been told that the station was built by the son and widow of a prominent Phillipsburg merchant, which is very close to a story told by the merchant’s great-niece.
According to the blog of Martha Bernie of Pasadena, Calif., her great-uncle, Eli Preston “Pres” McMenus, owned a general-merchandise store in downtown Phillipsburg in the early 1900s. McMenus died in 1920 just shy of his 44th birthday. His widow, Sade Bilderback McMenus, and his brother, Willie, ran the store until “at some point less than two years later, there was some sort of an argument, and Uncle Willie packed up and moved into another store front in Phillipsburg, going into direct competition with the widow,” Bernie wrote.
Sade McMenus eventually sold her store and went into business at the Twin Oaks, less than a mile west of downtown Phillipsburg on what commonly was called the Conway Road. If the station was built in 1925, as Hackler has been told, the road would have carried the designation of State Route No. 14.
The following year, it would become Route 66.
Hackler said he’s been told that the original gas station was torn down in 1945 and the present structure built. But a 1931 photo on Bernie’s blog appears to be the same gas station that’s on Hackler’s property today. A sign in the old photo advertises Texaco motor oil.
Neither the gas station nor the adjacent restaurant is recognizable to a casual passerby today, because, at some point, the canopy of the gas station was enclosed and the porch of the restaurant was removed. The garage of the only remaining cabin also has been boarded up. “It’s wide enough for a Model A,” Bill Jones, president of the Lebanon-Laclede County Route 66 Society, said about the garage when Hackler gave a tour to him and Gary Sosniecki, the society’s vice president.
The restaurant building, which also may have been Mrs. McMenus’ home, had been remodeled for a craft brewery before Hackler bought it. The brewery developers found a bigger building, which made the Twin Oaks property available to Hackler. A 1931 photo of the porch in the book “Route 66: Laclede County Memories, 1926-1957” shows the word “SANDWICHES” painted vertically on a pillar.
Next to that building is what looks like a stubby church steeple. “I just call it the old water-tower building,” Hackler said. With a flashlight, he pointed through an opening in the ceiling to a tank about 12 feet in diameter and 4- to 6-feet deep. “The water had to be pumped into it because it has a roof on it,” Hackler said.
The property has a well, so “I don’t know what the purpose (of the tower) is.”
Entering the enclosure of the gas station’s canopy is like entering a time warp. The stucco front of the station appears unscathed, although Coca-Cola signs on each side of the door are rusted to the point that one is barely identifiable. So is the metal Pepsi insignia on a screen door.
Decals on the windows advertising Salem cigarettes and Pepsi-Cola reveal that the station still was open in the 1950s. According to the “History of R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Company,” Salem cigarettes first were sold in 1956. “The Light Refreshment,” the Pepsi slogan in the decal, first was used in 1953 after the drink’s recipe was changed to reduce sugar content, according to “The Pepsi-Cola Story” by Bob Stoddard.
Hackler said the station “was supposedly to have been open into the 1960s. When the Interstate came, it closed down.” I-44 opened in Laclede County in 1957, triggering the end for many rural businesses along the old route.
Details of what happened to Twin Oaks after I-44 opened are sketchy. Hackler said he heard that a liquor store was in the gas-station building at one time. Someone lived in the one remaining cabin, leaving a stack of VHS cassettes behind. Hackler said Twin Oaks had five or six cabins originally; a second cabin survived until recently. A mobile home was placed on the property, then removed. A concrete apron behind the station is dated August 1960. A three-bay garage was built behind the station. Hackler said he doesn’t know the purpose of the garage.
The property was divided into separate parcels at one time, but Hackler said a Marshfield real-estate broker put them back together and cleaned up the site to make it more saleable.
Hackler, a truck driver, is a native of Windyville who lived 25 years at Charity before moving to rural Phillipsburg in 2013 to help care for his elderly mother and stepfather.
He welcomes more information about the history of Twin Oaks and ideas on how he can restore the surviving buildings before they deteriorate further.
Hackler may be contacted by emailing the Lebanon-Laclede County Route 66 Society at LebanonRoute66@gmail.com.