Route 66, the iconic “Mother Road,” winds its way from Chicago, Illinois to Santa Monica, California. If you don’t have the time to drive the entire route, why not take on this icon of American transportation history in bite-sized pieces? We’re going to help you do just that with a series called Get Your Pics on Route 66 in hopes that you’ll capture some great memories and images as you explore this little slice of Americana. Here’s the Kansas installment:
Route 66 covers a grand total of 13 miles in Kansas. Lucky for us, it’s an entertaining 13 miles! Take a look at what you can see and do along America’s Main Street in the Sunflower State.
Our first stop inside the Kansas state border is the small town of Galena. Cars on the Route is a snack and souvenir shop housed in the former Kan-O-Tex Service Station that once provided fuel to all those original Route 66 Kansas travelers. Sitting outside the building is a 1951 International tow truck that might look familiar—it’s Kansas’ version of “Tow Mater” from the movie “Cars.” Venture indoors for a lunch treat and chat with one of the four women who run this establishment to hear some great stories.
As you drive through the small downtown district of Galena, note the many old buildings that are undergoing various stages of renovation. In its heyday, this small community was the home to over 30,000 residents. It has since dwindled to 3,000, but the town seems to be experiencing a rejuvenation of sorts—and its history with Route 66 is definitely contributing to its growth.
Before you head out of town, be sure to stop by the historic Missouri-Kansas-Texas Railroad depot, now known as the Galena Mining and Historical Museum. There you’ll learn about the area’s rich mining history and enjoy seeing a bit of transportation history as well, with the collection of Model T and Model A automobiles in the garage. Just imagine those vehicles cruising down Route 66 in the early years of the highway!
Follow old Route 66 west to Riverton, Kansas and the Eisler Brothers Old Riverton Store. Opened in 1925, this food market has been continually operating since before The Route was established. It’s still a great place to pick up some supplies, grab a deli sandwich, and purchase some Mother Road souvenirs.
Continuing west out of Riverton will lead you to US 69 Alternate and Beasley Road, where you’ll find the only remaining “Rainbow Bridge” of three that were on Route 66. Known as the Marsh Arch Bridge or Brush Creek Bridge, it was designed by James Barney Marsh and constructed in 1923. After the decommissioning of The Route, graffiti artists used the structure as their pallet, but in recent years it has been restored to its former grandeur, and one-way traffic still passes over it. Now it’s your turn to drive over this piece of American history.
Once past the Rainbow Bridge the road curves to the south, where you will enter the community of Baxter Springs. Your first stop should be the restored Phillips 66 station at 940 Military Avenue. Built in the cottage style that is so reminiscent of the 1930s, this relic is not only a survivor of Route 66, but has now become the official Visitors Center for Baxter Springs.
The building at 1101 Military Avenue was home to the Crowell Bank. Jesse James and Cole Younger robbed the bank in 1876, and in its more recent reincarnation, the structure housed one of the most popular restaurants along the Mother Road—Café on the Route. The restaurant was even featured on Food Network’s popular “Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives” show, but was closed in 2015.
But if your hunger does not abate, just down the block lies a heavenly substitute for the lost restaurants along old Route 66. Give “Angels on the Route” a try, especially if you’re in the mood for Rueben sandwiches and homemade desserts! Located in a former dry goods store, the eatery offers made-to-order omelettes and other breakfast selections, along with a full soup and sandwich menu for lunch.
One last look around downtown will tell you that Baxter Springs was a magnet for bank robbers back in the day. Not only did the James Gang make off with some loot, but Bonnie & Clyde and Henry Star also frequented the area, making rather large withdrawals, as noted on several historic plaques along Main Street (Military Avenue). These days I think the town is hoping Route 66 enthusiasts take only great images and memories of a satisfying visit with them when they leave.
Follow Along More of Route 66
You have now conquered 13 miles of Kansas transportation history! But there’s more of Route 66 to see, so be sure to join us driving through each state by following the links below. In the meantime, why not find your own adventure along the Mother Road in a motorhome or travel trailer from Camping World?
You can drive the rest of Route 66 with our other “Get Your Pics on Route 66” articles. Read the entire series.