Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Route 66 State Park and Times Beach

This has been on my list of "shoulds" for YEARS. If you follow CC&G on Facebook, you may have seen this bridge from another angle yesterday.  As you can see, the bridge, which once carried Route 66 over the Meramec River, is no longer usable, which means you have to use two separate highway exits off I-44 to visit the park and visitor's center. I haven't had much luck finding out the status of this project, but I know that the deck was removed to keep the bridge from collapsing while private preservation groups try to raise funds to restore it.

The building above is now the Visitor's Center, and was once Steiny's Restaurant and the Bridge Head Inn. If you are a Route 66 aficionado, or lived in this area "back in the day", you will enjoy the displays commemorating those establishments.

The Visitor's Center, as it turns out, is an awesome Route 66 museum and gift shop! Lots of iconic Route 66 memoribilia and signage is preserved here.

There is a whole display of Phillips 66 memorabilia and how it came to be named Phillips 66. I had no idea that Phillips 66 had Highway Hostesses - basically roadside assistance ladies who were dressed kind of like nurses.

If you are from St Louis, you will get a little thrill at the Coral Courts displays. Hard to believe it has been almost 20 years since our favorite no-tell motel was torn down. The Wayside and Chippewa Motels on the other side of the street are still standing, though!

Of course, my favorite section of this little museum is about caves as tourist attractions!

I was so excited to find this picture of a dance in Meramec Caverns! Someone asked me about cave party pictures years ago, and I think this one is later than the era she was looking for, but I was excited nonetheless!

I always thought it was Lester Dill, owner of Meramec Caverns, who invented the bumper sticker, but it turns out it was Lyman Riley, the operator of Onondaga. But why split hairs? Missouri knows how to do Route 66, and the Show Me State owns the Show Cave!

This museum also has a section devoted to Times Beach. If you are my age, you probably just remember Times Beach as a ghost town, and if you're younger than me, you may not have heard of it at all. Times Beach was actually a resort community that was built in the 1920s by the St Louis Times Newspaper. Resort communities were all along the Meramec then, and the Times offered it's subscribers 20'x100' lots for just $67.50, as long as they subscribed to the paper for 6 months.

Families would stay at "The Beach" all summer long, with the husbands going to work in the city during the week and returning on the weekends. Route 66 made Times Beach conveniently accessible. Later, as a result of the Depression and the post WWII housing shortage, it turned into a year-round community because the small beach houses were affordable.

The end of Times Beach is a long story, but the nutshell version is that a guy named Russell Bliss was paid to oil the dirt roads to keep the dust levels down in the 1970s, and he was ALSO paid by a company called IPC to dispose of toxic waste. Bliss claims he didn't know the toxic waste was toxic, and it was sprayed all over Times Beach, resulting in a dangerous level of dioxin in the soil. Times Beach was bought out by the EPA in 1983 and evacuated by 1985. In the 1990s, an incinerator was built and the contaminated soil from Times Beach and several other dioxin-contaminated towns was burned, and then the EPA turned the site over to the State of Missouri. If you are interested in greater detail about Times Beach's dioxin disaster, check out this St Louis Magazine article.

There is so much more to the Route 66 State Park and Visitor's Center! I hope you will pay them a visit next time you are cruisin'... I-44.

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