FOUR STATES — Route 66 is one of the most important highways in history.
It runs from Chicago, through Kansas, Missouri and more, before heading to the Southwest and eventually ending in Santa Monica, California.
In the Four State area (where Kansas, Missouri, Arkansas and Oklahoma meet) Route 66 extends from southwest Missouri, into beautiful southeast Kansas, then dips into northeast Oklahoma.
Let’s start in Carthage, Missouri — home of the earliest full-scale Civil War battle on July 5th back in 1861, preceding Bull Run by 11 days.
The “maple leaf city” is also home to the Boots Court Motel, an icon on the route.
And the beautiful Carthage courthouse on the square is iconic, built in the 1890s and known as the second-most photographed building in the state of Missouri. The square features art galleries, eateries, and even a bowling alley.
From Carthage, take a 15 minute drive down Route 66 to Joplin. You’ll find history on every corner of town.
We found ourselves at the oldest home in Joplin, built in the late 1800’s. The Julius Fischer home is nestled among a few dozen historic homes in the Murphysburg district.
Grab some dinner at Wilders or head across town to the History and Mineral Museum. Without mining, Joplin and the surrounding area wouldn’t be what it is today.
We left Joplin and headed west to Galena, Kansas.
Our first stop, is Cars on the Route where you will find “Tow Tater.” The boom truck that inspired the character “Tow Mater” in the Disney-Pixar movie “Cars.” Galena prides itself on that connection.
Next, take a stop in Riverton where we came upon an infamous tourist stop.
“The store’s been here since 1925. That’s 96 years,” said Scott Nelson, owner of the Old Riverton Store. “One of the main things about the store is it’s a survivor. It survived all these years, and it’s still in operation, still doing what we did 96 years ago and not many people can say that.”
The mother road then takes us to Baxter Springs — a city full of history.
The Rainbow Bridge was completed in 1923 and is the only remaining example of a fixed Marsh Rainbow Arch bridge left on Kansas Route 66.
It sits just off Route 66 now over Brush Creek, but it holds a piece of the original Mother Road, and it’s a photographer’s favorite.
And while you’re in Baxter Springs, stop at the old gas station that’s now the local visitor center.
And then there’s Fort Blair, another piece of Civil War history right on Route 66.
“It’s right on up there on the hill,” Dean Walker, a Route 66 expert, said. “They’re going to have a Civil War re-enactment first weekend in October.”
Northeast Oklahoma is a quick drive further south. Enter Miami, pronounced “Miama” not like its counterpart in Florida, and you’ll find the gateway to Route 66.
The route is packed with history from the Coleman Theater to early 1900’s buildings.
“Take Old 66, go and have a ball, that’s all you’ve got to do,” Walker said.
Route 66 continues for around 1,500 miles after it leaves the Four State region, but the towns on our piece of the mother road hold the highway close to their hearts.