By Melissa Dunson
For 23 years, Carthage resident Mark Goodman has been getting his kicks on Route 66.
Goodman owns and operates the 66 Drive-In Theatre on historic Route 66, west of Carthage. It’s the last of six original drive-in movie theaters located on and named after the Mother Road that is still in weekly operation.
Goodman said he sometimes forgets how special his business is — but he quickly remembers when European tourists come through to visit the historic theater on arguably the most famous highway in America.
“It’s amazing,” he said of the theater built in 1949.
What makes the theater so special is the road. Route 66 was commissioned in 1926 as a way to connect the main streets of small communities from Chicago, Ill., to Los Angeles, Calif. It became important to farmers who suddenly could transport their goods to larger markets, as well as to the trucking industry.
As travel increased on Route 66, businesses offering food, fuel and lodging sprang up. Most of those businesses reflect an art deco feel of the 1940s and ’50s.
What many consider to be the first American highway began as a utilitarian venture, but it has ended up as folklore and fantasy for people from all over the world.
“It (Route 66) reminds us of an era that’s passed us by,” said Brad Belk, director of the Joplin Museum Complex. “It went through Main Street. You couldn’t help but digest the landscape and get a real feel for the region you were in. You got that personal touch on Route 66 that I think is missing from the interstate today.”
The road also has been synonymous with freedom ever since the weekly CBS television show “Route 66” ran from 1960 to 1964. The show chronicled the fictional travels of two men, Tod and Buzz, as they found adventure, trouble and love driving Route 66 in a Corvette convertible.
“Something about that TV show resonated with people,” Belk said. “Maybe it was the freedom of these two guys.”
That freedom still calls to people from all over the world. Jim Hall, director of the Baxter Springs (Kan.) Chamber of Commerce, said that in the past six weeks, visitors from 17 different countries have stopped at his office to ask about Route 66 history.
Hall said his office in the Kansas Route 66 Visitors Center gets more than 300 visitors a month, and half of them are from outside the U.S.
Whether one is traveling in Carthage, Joplin, Southeast Kansas or Northeast Oklahoma, there’s plenty of Route 66 history right around the corner.
Belk recommends starting the local Route 66 journey in Carthage by Kellogg Lake on Highway 96. The lake was created when Highway 66 was realigned in the early 1950s to the northeast of Carthage.
Route 66 continues down Central Avenue. At the corner of Central and Garrison avenues is the Boots Motel. The old motel is a good representation of the small lodging establishments all along Route 66 at its prime.
Route 66 continues by heading south on Garrison Avenue and then west on Oak Street. Belk said possible stops along the way for the interested Route 66 traveler include the Powers Museum at 1617 W. Oak St., and the city park and golf course just across the street.
Continuing on west leads the tourist to the 66 Drive-In Theatre. The original drive-in has room for about 350 cars and shows movies on the weekends from April through September.
Carterville, Webb City
The Route 66 journey continues with a short jaunt onto Highway 171 before one takes the Carterville exit and goes down Main Street in Carterville. A stop by SuperTAM on 66, 221 W. Main St. in Carterville, can enlighten travelers about both Route 66 and Superman, and ice cream is available.
SuperTAM owner Larry Tamminen said he started collecting Superman memorabilia more than 25 years ago. He also has a collection of signs celebrating Route 66 and its history. While perusing the artifacts, visitors can slurp down ice cream in flavors that include Superman and Kryptonite Delite.
Following Main Street in Carterville into the back end of Webb City, Belk suggests that Route 66 travelers stop by the Bradbury-Bishop Deli for a burger at the vintage diner at the corner of Main and Daugherty streets.
Farther down Main Street is the Route 66 Movie Theater, which shows modern films multiple times a week.
Route 66 travelers can stay on the route by heading west on MacArthur Drive, then south on Madison Street. A turn west on Zora Street brings travelers into the Joplin city limits and the neighborhood of Royal Heights.
A turn south on Florida Avenue, then west on Utica Street, brings the motorist to the intersection of Euclid Avenue. At that corner sits Dale’s Ole 66 Barber Shop. It was once a popular, cottage-style Phillips 66 filling and service station. It was built in the 1920s to serve travelers on the then new Route 66.
Route 66 continues on to Langston Hughes-Broadway to Joplin’s Main Street downtown. Turning south onto Main Street offers travelers a view of restored Route 66-era architecture including the Fox Theatre (now Central Christian Center) in the 400 block, the Christman building at Fifth Street and the Newman Building (now Joplin City Hall) at Sixth Street.
A turn west onto Seventh Street continues the trip down Route 66. Schifferdecker Park, which includes the Joplin Museum Complex, is at the corner of Seventh Street and Schifferdecker Avenue. The museum has Route 66 information and exhibits.
A little farther down Seventh Street is the Route 66 Carousel Park, which features amusement rides, miniature golf, batting cages, go-karts, bumper boats and an arcade.
Locally, the best taste of the old road comes just before one enters Galena. For a short distance, the path is part of the original Route 66 pavement, with rocky concrete and deep ridges.
That drive takes travelers to Four Women on the Route, 119 N. Main St. The cafe and museum is in the former site of the Banks Hotel in a historic Route 66 gas-station frame.
The old gas station is supposedly where John Lasseter, director of the Pixar movie “Cars,” saw the rusty old tow truck that eventually became the character Tow Mater in the movie. The tow truck sits just behind the cafe/gas station.
The next stop on Main Street is the Galena Mining and Historical Museum. Museum volunteer Bill Toney said the museum has some Route 66 memorabilia and trinkets, as well as elements from Galena’s Civil War and mining history.
Hall, with the Baxter Springs Chamber of Commerce, said travelers can stay on Route 66 after leaving the Galena museum by heading west again on Seventh Street. The trip will take them to Riverton and perhaps one of the most nostalgic local stops.
Belk calls the Eisler Brothers Old Riverton Store at 7109 S.E. Highway 66, “unchanged.” The store is part grocery, museum, cafe, greenhouse and gift store. It has been in continuous operation since before Route 66 was finished.
The store is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. According to the store’s Web site, www.eislerbros.com, it was formerly known as the Williams Store and the Lora Williams AG Food Market.
The building is much the way it was when it was built in 1925, including an original outhouse with a moon silhouette cut in the door behind the property.
“It feels like walking back in time,” Belk said of the store.
Baxter Springs, Kan.
Leaving Riverton, travelers will come to a roundabout, where Hall said they should take the Beasley Road exit. On the way to Baxter Springs, Hall said, travelers can see Rainbow Bridge, built in 1923, then turn right on Military Avenue to the Kansas Route 66 Visitors Center at 10th Street.
The center is in a restored Phillips 66 filling station from 1930, and has route information and souvenirs. Just down the road, Hall said, the Baxter Springs Heritage Center and Museum at 740 East Ave. also has some Route 66 memorabilia and all of the items from the former Picher, Okla., museum.
For a meal, Hall recommends that travelers try Cafe On the Route, 1101 N. Military Ave. It’s located in an old bank that was robbed by outlaw Jesse James.
Route 66 makes its way through downtown Miami, where visitors can see the Coleman Theatre, built in 1929. George L. Coleman, a mining millionaire, built the theater, which has never closed its doors.
In 1989, the theater was given to the city of Miami by the family of George Coleman, and it has undergone extensive restoration.