Gas is 12¢ on Route 66 at Spencer, Mo.; See what the 30’s and 40’s looked like on the Mother Road

Between Carthage and Springfield just off Hwy 96 in Lawrence County, Mo.
old stores
Spencer, Missouri.

LAWRENCE COUNTY, Mo. – Just off Hwy 96 east of Carthage, Mo. located on the Historic Route 66 Scenic Byway is Spencer, Mo. Featuring the restored facade of the old Spencer gas station, Spencer Store, Spencer Cafe and Barbershop.  Barely west of Johnson Creek where the bridge still is in use (30 ton limit).

I was covering another story in Lawrence County on I-44 and I thought I’d drop by and take a closer look.  As I was there four classic cars rolled up and the folks got out to take a look at the storefronts. They are from Louisville, Kentucky, and traveling the old route for fun.

The story behind Spencer was one man’s dream.  Sidney Casey heard that the first major east to west highway (US Route 66) would be constructed through the center of the United States.  He had the vision to know tha tsome day when the road came through, it would be an excellent location to operate the many business’s that he eventually had, such as, service station/garage, cafe, grocery store, barber shop, post office and feed store (all but the cafe and barber shop were operated by the Casey family). He wanted this dream so bad that he walked 100 miles on foot to buy the property in July 1925.  He contacted the owner of this property, Frand Johnson, and paid him $400.00 for the entire asking price, for the store building and two acres of land.  And eventually after many years his dream had been fulfilled.

This land was important because across the road there was a labor camp.  They had several hundred men that were sued to construct the highway.  They used the water from Johnson Creek and mixed their concrete by hand in sleds and used teams of horses to pull the sleds to the roadway and hand troweled the concrete.  As of today, the highway in front of Spencer is the only one of four stretches of Route 66 that has the original concrete road and has never been overlaid or widened.

In it’s heyday, Spencer was an important stop along Route 66.  There were tourist cabins up the hill at Camp Lookout, that you could rent nightly and a wooden dance floor that was a popular attraction to the many travelers passing through on Route 66.

The slab rock dwellings are native stone, meaning what kind of rock was available to the immediate area.  Flat slices of rock embedded in cement.  The style is called Ozark giraffe, was commonly used along Route 66.  The structures in Spencer tell much of the history of Route 66 and what it looked like in the 30’s and 40’s.

Historic gas station.

Images of Spencer, Mo. store fronts, unknown date. (L-R) Young boy at gas pumps and women at the cafe. Image taken of photo posted on location at Spencer, Mo., Lawrence County along Historic Route 66 Scenic Byway.

How did Spencer get revived for a beautiful photo op along the route?  Francis and Mary Lynn Ryan purchased Spencer in 2007 from a grandson of the Casey family.

The Ryan’s have done a lot of research to restore the buildings to how they looked originally.  “This is not just a service station or feed store or cafe, it is a town.  Restoring it has been a huge undertaking but has received great recognition in Missouri. So much could be done with this particular strip of Route 66, but their interests at this time is to preserve the structures of the town of Spencer.  Their plans are not to make any of the stores functional, but to restore them to look like they did back in the 30’s and 40’s.

Lots of work and money has gone into the restoration but the Ryan’s have enjoyed every part of it.  In the short time they have owned Spencer, the Ryan’s have been overwhelmed with the tourists that stop and just want to know about the history of Spencer. Author Unknown, taken from the cafe window at Spencer


Spencer really came to not-exist when new roads were built that bypassed this section low in the valley of Johnson Creek.  Hwy 96 to the north and I-44 about 5 miles to the south.

“Spencer is a small unincorporated crossroads in eastern Lawrence County, Missouri, United States. It lies along former U.S. Route 66 approximately six miles west of Halltown. A post office called Spencer was established in 1868, and remained in operation until 1907. The community was named after a local merchant.”

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