If it had been any other highway, Lebanon would have forgotten about Route 66 at 10:45 a.m. Aug. 8, 1957, when the State Highway Commission opened an 8.2-mile stretch of Interstate 44 that bypassed the city.
Though I-44 also kept the Route 66 designation until the old route was decommissioned nationally in 1985, the four lanes of concrete and the three interchanges created by the “Lebanon relocation project” signaled the end of an era – and the beginning of a legend.
If anything, Route 66 is more famous now than when “The Main Street of America” included Lebanon’s Elm Street. Thanks to every form of pop culture imaginable, the absence of Route 66 has made the heart grow fonder, so much so that on May 1, 2001, the county commission officially restored Route 66 as the name of all existing segments of the original highway in rural Laclede County.
Name changes are nothing new for Route 66 in Laclede County.
In the beginning, Route 66 was an Indian trail.
The late Don O. Vernon, then a prominent Lebanon attorney, wrote about those earliest days in a newspaper article celebrating Laclede County’s centennial in 1949.
The route’s first engineer, Vernon noted, was an Indian who, “without a compass made by man, but by the natural instinct given him, had selected the best route from the east to the west, across the Ozark mountains.
“Could a man, a white man traveling this old trail for the first time, have looked into the future, he would have seen one of the great highways of the United States following almost without a change, this trail that had been surveyed by the first occupants of the country. This trail crossed the streams at the accessible fords, followed the sides of the mountains where the grades were a minimum, and led westward through cuts that were formed by Nature. Thus did a primitive race blaze the trail of a modern world.”
In a story about Route 66 in the Fall 1989 issue of Briarwood magazine, Vicki Cox wrote that as the white man settled in the area, Indian control of the trail was pushed westward and, by 1836, the Indians had ceded away their rights.
“By 1837 a state road from St. Louis to Springfield had been authorized,” Cox wrote. “The trail-road had been known variously as the Osage Trail, the Indian Trail, and the Kickapoo Trail. As wagon wheels drove their marks into the dirt, it became known as the Old Springfield Road or St. Louis-Springfield Road.”
It took on yet another name during the Civil War, when, as Vernon wrote in 1949, “this not only was the most direct route from St. Louis to Springfield and farther west, but it was the most accessible road through the Ozarks. For that reason, and to directly connect the two cities, the War department found it convenient and really necessary to string a telegraph wire from the Mississippi river on the east to the western boundary of Missouri. From that time, until the state built Highway 66, it was known as the ‘Old Wire Road.’”
Wallace S. Moye of Springfield wrote in 1992 about growing up along the Old Wire Road, eight miles southwest of Lebanon, in the early 1920s.
“During the winter and after rains, the road would be rutted and Grandfather Sam (Moye) would have (his son) smooth out the road with a drag made from two good sized logs nailed together with boards and pulled with two horses. My Dad would do this as often as was needed along in front of the Moye farm.”
The Ozark Trail
In the early years of the 20th century, the increased popularity of the automobile increased the demand for good roads to drive them on.
The Good Roads movement inspired new organizations throughout the United States, including the Ozark Trails Association, formed in 1915.
“The idea was to build a highway from St. Louis to Las Vegas, N.M., known as The Ozark Trail,” according to a 1949 story in The Daily Record.
“Its chief promoter was W.H. (Coin) Harvey and building a highway without the expenditure of a great deal of money was his goal.”
Meetings were held in every town that aspired to be on the Ozark Trail, including in Lebanon’s filled-to-capacity opera house. Don O. Vernon, Sam R. Farrar and William H. Owen were chosen as Lebanon’s delegates to attend a meeting in Amarillo, Texas, on June 27-29, 1917. They joined more than 5,000 delegates from other communities – including James Armstrong from Pulaski County and Phil M. Bennett from Dallas County – who met in a tent in Amarillo.
Vernon recounted the trip in a story written for the county centennial in 1949.
“William H. Owen, Sr., drove his automobile, and myself, Mr. Farrar, Mr. Armstrong and Mr. Bennett were his passengers. We drove with Mr. Owen to Amarillo and the Owen car was the first one to drive over the Ozark Trail from Lebanon to Amarillo. We had a good car and an expert driver, but the route was abominable. I think it took us about five days to reach Amarillo. However, we had only one puncture on the trip.”
Vernon wrote that there were at least two days of speeches, with each town that wanted the route allowed one speaker.
“West Plains, Cabool, Houston and many others made hoopey come, and it began to look bad for Lebanon. One of their main points was that Marshfield, Lebanon and Richland already had the Frisco railroad and did not need the highway.”
Vernon made the talk for Marshfield, Lebanon and Richland.
“In my feeble way, I described the beautiful Ozarks, the Gasconade, the Osage Fork, Ha Ha Tonka and the wonderful fishing we had in the above and at Bennett’s Spring and the natural resources we had to construct highways. Just a few days before we left, a young fourteen year old girl had landed an 11 pound trout and, of course, I emphasized that fact.”
Vernon recalled that a speaker from Henryetta, Okla., bragged about a prosperous farmer there whose wife had just given birth to quadruplets.
The Lebanon speaker countered by betting that the father of the quadruplets was a Missourian before moving to Oklahoma.
“Before the sound of my voice had died, a big cowboy, with a ten gallon hat, said, ‘By the Gods, mister you are right and he came from Missouri not many years ago.’ This, of course, gave me great applause and I think it had the desired effect on the chairman. Anyway, the Ozark Trail came directly through Lebanon and now it is U.S. Highway No. 66.”
Vernon said the five men who made that trip “are the daddys of that part of U.S. Highway 66, as we were the primary cause of its location.”
A short-lived victory
Unfortunately for Lebanon, and unmentioned by Vernon in his remembrance, Marshfield, Lebanon and Richland weren’t on the Ozark Trail for long.
The Kansas City Star reported on Aug. 14, 1917, that the selection of the “Northern Route” through those cities was “with the provision the road must be completed by the counties and districts interested before April 1918. If the work is not done this fall it is believed the northern route will lose its designation as an Ozark trail.”
A delegation from the Ozark Trails Association, including president Coin Harvey, inspected the route in early 1918 and was disappointed with what they found in southwest Missouri. The Springfield Republican newspaper reported July 14 that the recent tour found that “the worst stretch of road encountered between Springfield and Las Vegas, N.M., was the highway commencing at the city limit line of Springfield and extending about seven miles out on the Carthage road…
“Because of the condition of this stretch of road and another stretch northeast of Buffalo, most of the tourist travel has been sent over the southern route via Seymour, Cabool and Rolla into St. Louis.
“A campaign will be started at once with a view of making a supreme and final effort to get the Ozark Trails in a passable condition from the Dallas County line through to Vienna in Maries county.”
Laclede County’s road boosters attempted that “supreme and final effort,” scheduling an election for Aug. 6, 1918, on a $450,000 bond issue for building and maintaining roads in the county.
“Now is the opportunity for Laclede county to secure good roads,” Milton Fuller, publisher of The Lebanon Rustic, wrote atop Page 1 of his July 25 issue. “Will the voters grasp it? – or will they let it pass?”
Although The Rustic published results of the primaries held Aug. 6 in subsequent editions, the road-bond proposition isn’t mentioned in those articles.
By September, Harvey had given up on Laclede County and its neighbors, calling a Good Road meeting for Sept. 19 at Mountain Grove and Sept. 20 at Willow Springs. Texas County’s Houston Herald said the meetings “are for the purpose of abandoning the Northern Route of the Ozark Trail and accepting the Ozark Scenic Highway route from Springfield to St. Louis.”
The Ozark Scenic Highway ran from Rolla south through Houston to Willow Springs, then west along the future route of U.S. 60 through Cabool, Mountain Grove, Mansfield and Seymour to Springfield. It was the same path as the Southern Route that had been defeated at the Amarillo meeting the year before.
“It is our information that the northern route failed to meet requirements and a good graded road was made only from Springfield to Buffalo, and Col. Harvey is said to have erected a monument at the end of the worked road announcing Finis and has again turned to what was always the practical route from Springfield to St. Louis – the Ozark Scenic Highway,” the partisan Houston newspaper continued.
The Herald’s Sept. 26 edition confirmed Harvey’s decision, “that after mature deliberation and examination of the two routes from Springfield to St. Louis, the Northern route had been selected and named, marked and mapped. The markings were made as far as Buffalo, but it seems when the people thought they had the Trail tied up, they quit work and did not at all fulfill requirements.
“After urging them to complete the work as specified and agreed to, Col. Harvey has abandoned the route and comes to the Southern route again” as part of the Ozark Trail.
No mention of Lebanon and Laclede County being kicked off the Ozark Trail can be found in the Rustic editions that followed.
Lebanon gets another chance
Lebanon would get another chance only four years later. In 1922, the State Highway Commission approved routing a permanent state highway – the future Route 66 – through town.
That decision was made possible by the Centennial Road Law passed by the General Assembly in 1921. According to the 1927-28 official state manual, the legislature in 1921 designated a state system composed of 7,500 miles of highways, with each county to have at least two crossroads.
“Approximately 1,500 miles of the system were to be high type roads, connecting principal population centers.” The manual said that “a surfacing of some higher type than gravel shall be used on primary roads.” The road fund was to be financed by license fees and the gas tax paid by motor-vehicle owners. A highway department was created, headed by a bipartisan State Highway Commission.
The 1922 campaign for a primary road to be routed through Lebanon was chronicled weekly on Page 1 of the Laclede County Republican.
“Plans for the holding of a big road meeting in Lebanon to perfect a permanent organization of towns along the proposed St. Louis-Joplin highway were outlined at a meeting of Lebanon business men at the First National Bank Tuesday afternoon (Feb. 21, 1922),” the Republican reported.
C.M. Knapp, president of the Rolla Chamber of Commerce, was elected chairman. Four directors were named to represent Laclede County: I.T. Curry of Lebanon, W.M. Hawkins of Hazelgreen, Bert Henderson of Phillipsburg and Andrew Roder of Conway.
The Republican explained the group’s goal in its April 28 edition:
“Engineers acting under the direction of the state highway commission will soon begin to lay out the fifteen hundred miles of cross-state roads connecting the larger cities of Missouri…
“It is believed that the directness of the route from St. Louis to Springfield, as outlined by the St. Louis, Springfield and Joplin Highway association, organized recently in Lebanon, will have a great effect on the highway commission when the time arrives to designate the roads.”
The Republican reported that the route through Lebanon was 10 miles shorter than a competing route through Bland and Vienna, 48 miles shorter than one that headed south at Rolla to Cabool and 50 miles shorter than one that passed through Jefferson City.
The route through Lebanon had a slogan, “The Direct Route,” which the newspaper said “is to be used hereafter in all mention of the road.”
Nearly every week the Republican reported on Lebanon’s hopes for the new road.
On May 5, the newspaper reported that each businessman was being asked to “subscribe” $1 to aid in promotion of Lebanon for the road.
On May 12, the Republican quoted from a letter by Wallace D. Martin, secretary-treasurer of the Laclede County Fish and Game Protective Association. “He cites that the road would be the shortest and best route to the Mexican border and also the shortest route to Fort Sill and Reno.”
On June 16: “Recommendations of the engineers of the state highway department for the primary roads of Missouri are becoming completed and will be made public when they are placed before the highway commission at the July meeting, according to word which has been received in Lebanon.”
Theodore Gary, chairman of the State Highway Commission, personally toured Lebanon on July 5, but “nothing definite will be known until the meeting of the highway commission.”
'Lebanon is on the map!'
The decision came July 12.
“LEBANON IS ON PRIMARY ROAD” screamed a rare full-page-wide headline in the July 14 Republican.
“Lebanon is on the map!” the story began.
“Citizens in general and road boosters in particular are enthused with the announcement from the office of the State Highway commission that the tentative selection of routes for 1500 miles of the State primary road system included the road passing through Lebanon and Laclede county.”
The newspaper reported that the first information came in a telegram from I.T. Curry to F.J. Demuth. Curry, Fred D. Harris and attorneys Phil M. Donnelly and L.C. Mayfield were in Jefferson City awaiting the announcement.
The telegram read: “Lebanon gets road. Official information Thursday. On way home.”
In selecting the route through Lebanon, the highway commission stated: “The direct route is warranted by the provisions of the law, which evidently contemplates the connection of such major centers of population by the most direct, practical lines and because it passes through a rather underdeveloped section of the state, possessing almost unlimited resources. It connects the largest population centers of the state with a playground that is unsurpassed in the middle west.”
But Lebanon wasn’t home free yet. The highway commission wouldn’t make the order final until protests could be heard July 25 at a meeting also in Jefferson City.
This time, Lebanon sent 127 road boosters, including the school band, which led a parade from the Madison Hotel, headquarters of The Direct Route supporters, to the statehouse. More than 800 supporters were in attendance, including delegations from Conway, Phillipsburg and Richland.
Judge W.L. Hiatt of Houston appealed for the road to be diverted south at Rolla, passing through Houston, Cabool and Mountain Grove before reaching Springfield. Hiatt said Lebanon already had the railroad and didn’t need a primary highway, too. (Ironically, this southern route was used as a detour for Interstate 44 as recently as the April 2017 flood.)
Donnelly, later Missouri’s governor, rebutted Hiatt:
“We are not building a cattle trail or a road to a fishing hole or spring. The primary system is to connect the chief population centers by the most direct routes. I think the commission should consider the entire state, not the local needs for one county.”
Donnelly was confident that Texas County’s protests would have little effect on the commissioners.
“…our route seems safe,” he wrote in a telegram to the Republican the next day. The newspaper’s headline on July 28, again across the top of the page, read: “LEBANON SEEMS CERTAIN OF VICTORY.”
The Aug. 4 Republican confirmed that the commission had upheld The Direct Route.
The highway would be called not Route 66, but State Road No. 14.
But the exact route still had to be selected, right-of-way had to be purchased, and the road itself had to be built.
In her 1989 article for Briarwood magazine, Vicki Cox wrote that Lebanon’s downtown businessmen “wanted the new state road to come down Commercial Street. The State Highway Department thought it should follow a line similar to what is now I-44. A middle road in between was worked out, so that the new highway came down what was then Elm Street and connected with Springfield Road. Arthur T. Nelson donated the land from his apple orchards for the new project.”
By 1925, the exact route through Lebanon still was in dispute. The Lebanon Rustic reported in its May 21 edition that a petition had been filed asking the State Highway Commission to change the proposed route through the eastern part of the city to connect Route 14 “from the Mill Creek Road at the eastern end of the Thomas Bacon farm to the Bantley place south of Lebanon.”
“It is doubtful if Laclede county gets any concrete road until the grading on the state road is completed across the county and for this reason the sooner the route in question is decided on and rights-of-way secured, the sooner the road will be completed and a hard surface put on it.”
On May 27, the Lebanon Chamber of Commerce met at the Laclede Hotel in what the Rustic called “one of the most largely attended (meetings) in the history of the organization.”
“A resolution was adopted asking the State Highway Commission to change a survey of Route No. 14 south of Lebanon. It is asked that the road be relocated so as to pass through Lebanon on Elm street to Jefferson Avenue, then across lots to Madison avenue to the line between the Millsap and Demuth farms, thence on a line to intersect the Springfield road south of the Hogan farm.”
On June 26, the Rustic reported that the highway commission was to receive bids for clearing of right-of-way, grading and construction of necessary culverts for two Route 14 projects: a 3-plus mile segment from the Webster County line east through Conway and a 4 ½- mile segment from Phillipsburg toward Lebanon.
The highway would open a little at a time. The July 2, 1925, Rustic wrote:
“Highway No. 14 is now open from the Laclede county line on the east to the Mill Creek road and is being used by traffic. The maintenance department is placing lots of gravel on this stretch of road in Laclede county, especially in the neighborhood of Hazlegreen (sic), and it is in fine condition.”
On Sept. 17, the newspaper reported that before the end of November, Route 14 would have 133 miles of concrete open for travel, though none in Laclede County. “These stretches of concrete will be connected, for the most part, with good gravel roads.”
With the prospect of a paved highway south of Lebanon – Elm Street cut through farmland south of town then – the city council let a contract on Sept. 21, 1925, to pave four blocks of Commercial Street in the business district. Completion of that project would be celebrated with a street dance on May 22, 1926.
From 14 to 60 to 66
Work progressed on Route 14, but it still was only a “state” highway. It would connect with state highways of Illinois and Oklahoma on either end, but those roads would carry the numbers assigned by those states.
In text written for the 1988 book, “Route 66,” Susan Croce Kelly explained that the American Association of State Highway Officials, at their 10th annual meeting in November 1924, petitioned the U.S. secretary of agriculture to undertake “the selection and designation of a comprehensive system of interstate routes,” including a standardized numbering system.
A joint board of state and federal officials spent much of the next year setting routes and assigning numbers.
The Oct. 8, 1925, Rustic carried an announcement by Missouri State Highway Engineer B.H. Piepmeier that Lebanon would be on the interstate – or federal – road system.
“State Road No. 14 – the St. Louis to Springfield road – which passes through this city, has been named as an Interstate road by the National Department of Roads and will be Road No. 60. It will extend from Chicago to Los Angeles, California,” the Rustic reported.
Actually, the numbering of the highway as “60” was premature. According to author Kelly’s research, Piepmeier; Frank Sheets, chief engineer for Illinois; and Cyrus Avery, chairman of the Oklahoma State Highway Commission and the leading booster nationally of the route, wanted “60” for its name because the biggest roads were to have prestigious “zero” numbers.
But 60 also was the number sought by boosters of a road from Los Angeles through Springfield to Newport News, Va.
According to Kelly, Piepmeier and Avery were so confident of success that Missouri began posting U.S. 60 signs along the former Route 14 and printed 600,000 maps identifying the highway as U.S. 60.
But when the dispute finally was settled in August 1926, “60” went to the highway that in Missouri ran from Springfield to Sikeston, and “66” went to State Route 14. Stories in The Laclede County Republican would continue to refer to it as either Route 14 or National Highway No. 60 until Oct. 22, 1926, when it carried a report about a Cadillac going into a ditch two miles west of Lebanon on 66.
Meanwhile, construction of the highway continued.
On Nov 23, 1925, Piepmeier predicted to The Lebanon Rustic that “Route 14 would be completely hard surfaced by the end of 1926.”
The Jan. 22, 1926, Laclede County Republican carried a report from Division 8 of the state highway department that 23 miles of concrete slab, 18 feet wide, was laid in Webster County in 1925. During the same year, Laclede County had 16.9 miles of earth grading on Route 14, which cost $120,567.
The Feb. 5 Republican carried important news about Route 14 through Lebanon:
“The Kelly & Underwood Construction Company, of Granby, Missouri, began work last week on Highway No. 14, on Project 33, which is the two-mile stretch of highway passing through Lebanon and connected south of town.
“The road will be graded and bridged and built up to standard for the State slab system. The work will include the building of two bridges on the east end, and four culverts. It will be completed in sixty days.
“From the west, the route through Lebanon will pass through the Nelson orchard, skirt the Nelson residence place and cut through the Nelson tract lying between Madison and Jefferson avenues. It then will follow Elm street to the Crumb place, thence through the Armstrong, the L.A. Hoke and the H.A. Hoke property to the Mill Creek road, continuing along this road to the point where it meets the eastern section of Highway No. 14.
“The highway has meant a great deal to this section, in more ways than one. It has provided employment for a great many men who might otherwise be idle…”
The story noted that Route 14 probably would be closed to traffic between St. Louis and St. Clair until late fall or early 1927 because of construction in Franklin County.
“From Rolla on to Springfield, the road will be an all-weather highway after the first of May.”
The March 26 Republican described the new highway as one of “the great arteries of travel through the United States.”
“When No. 14 is completed and the string of motor cars start coming this way, no longer will the ‘horn of the hunter be heard on the hill,’ but the honk of the motor horn will be heard at all hours of the day and night. A filling station will grace a corner on every block, and the bill board, adding grace and beauty to the Ozark landscape, will emblazon the startling information that Smith’s corn cure will remove ’em in one night…”
The newspaper reported on May 7 that construction through Col. Arthur Nelson’s 100-acre apple orchard was necessitating the transplanting of 60 Stark’s Delicious trees.
“So far as it affects his property and his personal interests, he is turning the highway from a possible liability to an asset and is so beautifying the section of it that crosses his place that it will resemble a driveway through a beautiful park. As a result of this work, passing tourists will remember Lebanon as one of the beauty spots of Missouri.
“Going west, the highway first cuts through a tract of Nelson land lying between Jefferson and Madison avenues. Here, at the intersection of Highways No. 5 and No. 14, Col. Nelson is building a filling station, a very artistic building of cobblestones, with cobblestone pillars to mark the driveway entrances and land boundaries…”
The story continued with eight more paragraphs describing the various fruit, flowers and trees being planted on both sides of the highway.
The June 4 Republican gave this update:
“The section of Highway No. 14 passing through Lebanon is now in fine condition. When graveled, it will be better and when concreted it will give Lebanon a stretch of highway equal to any in Missouri.”
The July 29 Republican reported that Col. Nelson and D.D. Joslyn had “given, without compensation, the rights-of-way to provide for the widening of the roads at this point, making a broader curve on each side of both roads.”
The newspaper reported that on July 21, stop signs had gone up at the intersection: “Accidents at this point are becoming so numerous that the situation is alarming.”
It's 'Lebanon,' not 'Barnsdall'
In a separate story, the newspaper noted that “Col. A.T. Nelson has had a large sign, 10x20 feet, erected on the ground opposite his filling station announcing to passing tourists the fact that they are in Lebanon. The sign is in white and green, the chosen colors of the Nelson station.
“There have been no Lebanon signs along Highway 60” – the “66” designation wasn’t official yet – “and it seems that many tourists have passed through this high point on the map without knowing that fact. As Mr. Nelson sells Barnsdall gasoline, that name prominently is featured at the filling station, with the result that many tourists got the impression that ‘Barnsdall’ was the name of the town. In fact, one tourist, looking for Lebanon, passed through the town in ignorance of that fact, and, meeting a Lebanon man further on, inquired as to the location of the town. Upon being informed that he had already passed through he town, he said he thought that town was Barnsdall. Hence the Lebanon sign.”
Cross-country tourists already were stopping at Nelson’s campground, the Republican reported. One night alone, he was host to people from California, Arizona, Pennsylvania, New York and Illinois, among other states.
The increasing traffic was discussed by the Lebanon City Council at its Aug. 9, 1926, meeting.
“Though ‘stop’ signs were placed at the point where No. 5 crosses No. 60, practically no attention is paid to the signs. Five serious accidents have occurred at that point, and accidents are bound to continue as long as instructions and traffic rules are disregarded.”
Motorists of the era recognized the improvement that the new highway meant to travel. The Sept. 24 Republican quoted a story from the September issue of “The School and Community” by an educator who had recently visited Lebanon:
“Then we struck for Springfield at a forty-mile-an-hour clip, over roads as straight as the contour of the country would permit and as smooth as the moonlight that made the landscape a fairy land of fact. Ten times as fast we travelled as people did in the days when our rural districts were formed and our country school houses were built. Houses that once were an hour apart we passed every five or six minutes.”
Even so, boosters of the new highway wanted to make sure that the motoring public used it instead of other routes.
On Nov. 7, a delegation of 20 Lebanon businessmen, directed by Mayor E.B. Hatten, went to Springfield to escort William H. Furlong to Lebanon. Furlong, manager of the highway department of the San Antonio Chamber of Commerce, was working on a detailed log of the best route between San Antonio and St. Louis. Kansas City interests were lobbying for Furlong to recommend a route through that city.
“Lebanon, with all cities and towns along Highway 66, will benefit from the road log being made by Mr. Furlong, through the resultant travel…”
Furlong was favorably impressed with Lebanon and, according to the Nov. 19 Republican, telegraphed Mayor Hatten that tourists would be routed over Highway 66.
Furlong continued north to Chicago, where he spent a week talking to newspapers and radio listeners about the benefits of Route 66.
Communities not chosen for the new highway remained bitter about the 1922 decision. The Nov. 19 Republican told that tourists arriving at Rolla “have found a detour sign, routing them around by way of Licking and Cabool. The detour sign was not erected by authority of the Highway Department, nor through any recognized organization…
“The directing of tourist travel over 66 will accrue to the benefit of Lebanon, as well as all other business points along this route. No other point, outside of Lebanon, has made the effort that Lebanon has to secure this tourist travel for 66, but all will partake of the benefit of these efforts on our part.”
The next week’s Republican gave a report from Division Engineer H.P. Mobberly on the status of Route 66 in Division 8:
-- Carthage to Springfield, 57 miles concrete, excellent.
-- Springfield to Marshfield, 28 miles; gravel 15 miles, good; concrete 13 miles, good.
-- Marshfield to Lebanon, 28 miles; 10 miles concrete, excellent; 13 miles earth, good except after heavy rains; 5 miles gravel, fair.
-- Lebanon to Waynesville, 35 miles gravel, good.
-- Waynesville to Rolla, 35 miles gravel, good.
-- Rolla to Crawford County line, 18 miles gravelly soil, fair.
The State Highway Department forecast in the 1927-28 state manual that Route 66 would be an “all-weather road” by the end of 1927, but that the state would not be able to complete the surface in concrete until “about 1932.”
In fact, Route 66 in Laclede County didn’t see its first concrete until 1928. “According to State Senator Phil M. Donnelly, the first pavement that Laclede County will receive will extend from Lebanon to the Webster county line,” the Jan. 26, 1928, Rustic reported.
But Route 66 in Laclede County wasn’t fully paved until 1930. Author Susan Croce Kelly wrote in her 1988 “Route 66” book that to “commemorate completion of the slab in Missouri, the 66 Association sponsored a giant celebration in Rolla on Saint Patrick’s Day, 1931.” More than 7,000 attended.
End of one era, beginning of another
A quarter-century later, Lebanon was making plans for more highway progress, though now it meant construction of a new, four-lane, controlled access “Interstate” highway that, just as Route 14 had done a generation earlier, would move traffic farther away from downtown.
On Aug. 1, 1956, the Chamber of Commerce appointed a highway-promotion committee with Pete Hudson, co-owner of the Munger Moss Motel, as chairman. Later named to an executive committee were Mayor J.C. Benage, Elbert Montgomery, Joe Knight and E.G. Spears.
On Oct. 16, at a joint meeting of the chamber, Lions and Kiwanis, Benage announced tentative plans to erect four 14-by-40 signs and six 12-by-24 signs to promote Lebanon along what would become the new Interstate 44. In February 1957, the chamber announced a five-year contract with Lebanon Neon Sign Co. for the 10 signs.
The “Lebanon relocation project,” as The Daily Record called it, was contracted on Nov. 7, 1955, nearly eight months before Congress passed the Federal Aid Highway Act, creating today’s interstate system. Though it originally was to be a four-lane version of Route 66, bypassing congested Elm Street, the 4.6-mile Lebanon relocation actually became part of the new interstate system. In fact, the news release from the State Highway Commission announcing its completion said three miles of new highway opened on the same day directly east of the Lebanon relocation were “part of a 13.3 miles long project which was the first Interstate System project to be contracted in the nation…” The date the historic contract was let was Aug. 2, 1956.
Interstate highways were so new when the Lebanon relocation opened on Aug. 8, 1957, the news release described the new road as “Interstate Route 2.” Daily Record stories did not start referring to it as Interstate 44 until later in the year.
Other details from the news release announcing the project’s completion:
“The new highway to be opened to traffic begins about 2.6 miles southwest of Lebanon, near the west interchange into Lebanon. It extends northeasterly about 8.2 miles. The west 4.6 miles represents the Lebanon relocation project. The remainder is part of another 13.3 miles long project on which Koss Construction Company now is paving.
“Opening of the by-pass route will provide a modern divided, controlled access traffic facility through this area. These two features, dividing of traffic and control of access, today are considered the outstanding engineering features contributing to highway safety.”
Bushman Construction Co. of Kansas City built the Lebanon bypass for about $2,199,000. “The project included grading, bridging and the laying of two 24-foot wide divided portland cement concrete pavements with controlled access. The project also includes three interchanges, one each at U.S. Route 66 both east and west of Lebanon and one at Routes 5-32 at the south edge of Lebanon.”
Unlike the hoopla that greeted the construction of State Route 14 in the 1920s, the Lebanon relocation project was barely mentioned in The Daily Record during 1955 and 1956. A story the day before the opening appeared below a picture showing local officials discussing plans for a National Guard armory to be built in Lebanon.
A photograph of the bypass opening was at the top of Page 1 the next day, but it showed only one lonely car – described as “the first east-bound automobile” – emerging from beneath the Highway 5 bridge.
“That day got my husband so bad he just wanted to get out of town and go to Joplin,” Jessie Hudson, co-owner of the bypassed Munger Moss Motel, told Susan Croce Kelly in the 1988 book, “Route 66.”
“We didn’t know if we would go out of business or what. Thank God, they opened up the road, and we were rented out by nine that night.”
Half a century later, the Munger Moss continues in business, its billboards directing traffic to turn off I-44 at Exit 130 to its location on old Route 66.
Two more segments of I-44 remained to be opened in Laclede County, on opposite ends of the county, meaning that two more segments of Route 66 remained to be replaced.
On Nov. 4, the remaining 1.7 miles of new pavement between Lebanon and Hazelgreen, including a 665-foot-long bridge over the Gasconade River, saw its first traffic. This was the last section of the 13.3-mile project that was the first contract awarded under the Federal Aid Highway Act. Total cost of all 13.3 miles was $3,288,000.
The end to the original Route 66 in Laclede County came on Dec. 4, 1957. Here’s how it was announced the day before in The Daily Record:
“The remaining 7.2 miles of new pavement on Interstate Route 44 (now marked as U.S. Route 66) between Lebanon and Conway, in Laclede county, will be opened to traffic at 10 a.m. Wednesday of this week. Completion and opening of this section will complete dual pavement on Interstate Route 44 across Laclede county.
“The 6.2 miles long section to be opened Wednesday morning extends from a point about 7.2 miles west of Lebanon west to connect with the existing dual pavement east of Conway. It is part of a 11 ½ miles long section contracted in October, 1956, to extend from the west end of the Lebanon bypass west toward Conway. The remaining portion was opened earlier, the section now to be opened having been delayed awaiting completion of the bridge under the St. Louis and San Francisco Railroad at Phillipsburg.”
Koss Construction Co. of Des Moines, Iowa, was paid $3,004,808 for the 11.5 mile project. F.D. Lyons of Lebanon was resident engineer.
The same Dec. 3 issue of The Daily Record announced that the Lebanon Chamber of Commerce planned to erect three Scotch-lite (reflective) signs on the new highway west of the city to advertise Lebanon’s shopping center, Bennett Spring State Park and the Lake of the Ozarks.
Thirty-one years earlier, Col. A.T. Nelson had erected a sign announcing to passing tourists that they were in Lebanon, not in Barnsdall, the name of the gasoline he sold.
Perhaps nothing signaled the end of an era more than this sentence from that 1957 Chamber of Commerce story:
“President Ward Krudwig reported that he contacted the Lebanon Neon Company and they have agreed to dismantle and temporarily store the neon arrow sign, located at the Nelson hotel.”
Originally published Sept. 2, 2001, The Lebanon Daily Record; updated by writer 2017.