One of the best ways to experience Route 66, America’s quintessential road trip, is in central Missouri. Stretching in Missouri from St. Louis to Joplin, this historic highway loosely follows today’s Interstate 44. Along the way, restored buildings, charming main streets and commissioned artwork capture the itinerant spirit that helped establish our nation’s highway system and love for the open road.
Officially called Missouri’s Route 66 Mural City by the state Legislature, tiny Cuba boasts 12 larger-than-life paintings.
“Canadian artist, Michelle Loughery, who had worked on a similar project, inspired the plan,” said Jill Barnett, Viva Cuba Mural Project chair. “Today, we have step-on guides and walking tours that take groups around to each mural and tell the story of that particular picture.”
Cuba’s first mural honors A.J. Barnett, president of People’s Bank for 39 years and its first cashier. It also depicts the original bank building and the town’s first car: a Model T.
Loughery, alongside her daughter and local artist Shelly Steiger, painted the initial work in 2001 on Old Route 66, also known as Washington Street.
“Eight days after Michelle came, Cuba had this wonderful mural,” said Barnett. “We had people circling the block to take a second look.”
Ideas for the other murals came from locals. When Cuba was founded, they anticipated the railroad coming through the agriculture-based community. At that time, Cuba produced and shipped more apples than any other place in the state. One wraparound mural depicts the progression of the apple harvest from the orchard to shipping in barrels by train.
Another illustrates Harry Truman’s stop in 1940 during his U.S. Senate campaign. Still another highlights Bette Davis’ 1948 visit, when the newspaper photographed her against her husband’s wishes.
One street recounts the area’s Civil War involvement on five murals that span several buildings. As part of a project, Eagle Scouts helped with research and fundraising for the murals.
Centrally located on Interstate 44 between St. Louis and Branson, Pulaski County offers a snapshot of the Mother Road with a tour by local historian Terry Primas, who wrote and produced a 65-minute DVD and authored a book about the 33-mile section in the county.
Pulaski County claims some of the best-preserved pavement from the route’s several alignments, including an original 1926 gravel section.
Primas uses a flipbook to show still images of the old route. Notable sites include Hooker’s Cut, the deepest road cut in Missouri, which pioneered road construction techniques.
As part of the tour, visitors receive postcards, which they can mail in Devil’s Elbow at Sheldon Market, one of the route’s historic grocery stores.
“The resort town of Devil’s Elbow is such a quaint place on the bend in the river,” said Primas. “In the 1930s, it was named one of the most picturesque places in Missouri, and it’s still a beautiful spot.”
Group members can grab a sandwich at the Elbow Inn and Barbeque Pit, originally known as the Munger Moss Sandwich Shop.
In Waynesville, the pre-Civil War Old Stagecoach Stop on the square, which started as two log cabins, is the county’s oldest building. The county’s last legal hanging occurred just across the street, where spots to watch were sold for 10 cents apiece.
“At the Old Stagecoach Stop, there will be various tie-ins to the Civil War scheduled throughout the year,” said Beth Wiles, executive director of the Pulaski County Tourism Bureau. “For a time, it even served as a Civil War hospital.”
Visitors can lie down on an old rope bed, see the room where travelers registered for stagecoaches and check out the antique kitchen. Archaeological digs of the surroundings have yielded displays of old coins, toys and other memorabilia.
Across the street, the Pulaski County Courthouse Museum became the county’s third courthouse in 1903 after the second building burned. Visitors can wander through rooms filled with historic farm equipment and a war room that commemorates the nation’s conflicts, and view a section of beam from the World Trade Center.
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