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Route 66 State Park - Missouri

An old alignment of Route 66 is preserved at Missouri's Route 66 State Park.

Since its decommissioning, preserving the history and culture of Route 66 has been a mission for many businesses and communities along its former route.  In Missouri, an entire state park is dedicated to the Mother Road.

Route 66 State Park is located on both sides of the Meramec River, where relics of the highway both physically and culturally remain.

The former Bridgehead Inn Roadhouse is now home to the Route 66 State Park Visitor's Center.

The park's visitors center sits on the east side of the Meramec inside the former Bridgehead Inn.  The Bridgehead Inn Roadhouse first opened in 1936 and included a bar, restaurant, dance floor, and overnight lodging.  The establishment changed hands a few times in the 20th Century and was later known as Steiny's Inn and Galley West. 

The restored Keys Twin Bridge Cafe neon sign.

The visitor's center (closed when visited in February 2024) has plenty of Route 66 memorabilia from old gas station signs, photos, postcards, and more.  Outside the center is a restored neon sign from the former Keys Twin Bridges Cafe from Franklin County.  The Route 66 State Park Visitor's Center is open daily from March through October from 9 am to 4 pm.

The Meramec River Bridge is one of only four remaining Warren truss bridges standing in Missouri.

Connecting both sides of the park is the former Route 66 Meramec River Bridge.  The bridge, which opened in 1932, can no longer be accessed by pedestrians, bicyclists, or automobiles.  The Warren deck truss bridge's construction was due to a change in Route 66's alignment to cross the Meramec. (1) The 1009-foot-long bridge replaced an older truss bridge that crossed the river but was already outdated.

From the Times Beach side, the old Route 66 Meramec Bridge.  The decking was removed in 2010 to help preserve the structure and prohibit access.

As traffic along US 66 grew, in 1956, a new bridge was built south and parallel to the 1932 bridge.  The new span carried the St. Louis-bound lanes of 66.  As much of US 66 morphed into Interstate 44, the westbound lanes of 66 and 44 moved onto a new bridge built directly next to the 1956 bridge.  The 1932 Meramec River Bridge would carry local traffic across the river.

The bridge would see sporadic use until 2009, when it was closed to all, including pedestrians, due to the overall instability of the bridge.  A year later, the decking on the bridge was removed to reduce the strain and weight load on the truss structure.  At that time, the Missouri Department of Transportation announced plans to demolish the bridge if a viable option to restore the bride was in place by 2016.

Artist rendition of the restored Route 66 Meramec River Bridge (Missouri State Parks).

The goal was achieved through the work of area residents, preservation groups, and other like-minded interests. The group raised $1 million by the end of 2016 - allowing the bridge to remain. (2)  Ownership of the bridge would eventually transfer to the State Parks Division of the Missouri Department of Natural Resources.  In the early 2020s, Missouri State Parks and the Great Rivers Greenway agreed on a cost-sharing agreement for the $9 million restoration project.  It is anticipated that the bridge will re-open for pedestrian and bike use in 2026. (3)

On the west side of the Meramec is the bulk of Route 66 State Park. Located within the boundary of the former town of Times Beach, Route 66 State Park is a popular walking, biking, and fishing location.  Because of the closed bridge, visitors must travel onto Interstate 44 over the river to Eureka and double back to the park.

Route 66 State Park

The tale of Times Beach is a tragic one. It began as a summer resort/vacation community in the mid-1920s. The St. Louis Times, as part of a subscription drive, purchased land that they divided and sold into 6,000 20 x 100-yard lots. A six-month subscription and $67.50 would own you a plot of land within the new development. The $67.50 could also be paid for $10 down and $2.50/month thereafter. (4)

The drive was initially successful as the location became a popular St. Louis getaway destination.  However, as the Great Depression and World War 2 changed travel and vacation habits, the community transitioned into a permanent town of about 2000 working-class residents.

Some of Times Beach's former street grid remain as park roads.

During the 1970s, community leaders contracted Russell Bliss to use an oil treatment to lower blowing dust coming from the town's dirt roads.  However, this treatment contained dioxin - a highly toxic chemical by-product.  In 1982, Times Beach was hit with a double tragedy. First, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) began investigating and testing the soils within Times Beach. Then, a December flood devastated much of the town - forcing evacuations.

Later that December, the EPA shared their findings from the soil testing and found dioxin levels as high as 0.3 parts per million.  The agency then recommended that the town not be re-inhabited.  Over the next two years, the former residents of Times Beach would relocate - and in 1985, the town's charter was revoked.

A family stroll with the dog is a popular activity at Route 66 State Park.

In the 1990s, the former Times Beach would be the site of a massive incineration project of all dioxin-contaminated materials in Missouri.  The clean-up would end in 1997.  Two years later, the former town of Times Beach would become part of the 419-acre Route 66 State Park. Further concerns about any leftover dioxin contamination were eliminated in 2012 when, after a new series of soil samples, the EPA determined there was no longer any significant risk to visitors and park employees. (x)

Old Route 66 fades into Interstate 44 at the edge of Route 66 State Park.  Direct access onto I-44 West has been closed for sometime.

Today, there is not much of the former Times Beach left. A few old town streets are now park roads or hiking trails.  The former US 66 is a main road within the park - but its former direct connection back onto I-44 West has long been blocked off.

All photos taken by blog author February 2024 - unless otherwise noted.

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