Route 66

Thousands of tourists travel historic Route 66 through Joplin each year.

 

Are you one of them?

 

I wasn’t.

 

Sure, over the years I’d utilized Route 66 at some point nearly every single day as I’d take my kids to activities and run errands, occasionally noticing the historic road’s signage when stopped at a red light (which, by the way, seemed to be posted on multiple roads and therefore perplexed me – more about that in a minute).

 

But I’d never really explored Joplin’s portion of the Mother Road through the unadulterated eyes of a tourist, who travels the highway in order to experience an important part of America’s history.

 

Me? I’d been using Route 66 as an efficient way to get across town to Target. I finally realized that it was time to rectify that, so I decided to travel Route 66 through Joplin like a tourist.

 

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Three Alignments

 

Remember how I mentioned that I saw Route 66 signage on multiple streets and how that confused me? I did some research and learned that Route 66 was realigned twice after the original construction of the road (click here for more about the history of Route 66 in Joplin).

 

Here’s a brief summary of the three alignments, coming from Webb City’s Broadway Street and heading west toward Joplin (you can see a map of this by clicking here):

 

1926: Broadway (Webb City) to Madison/North Range Line to Zora to Florida to Utica to Euclid to St. Louis to Broadway (Joplin) to Main to 7th. This is the portion of the Route that I only recently discovered, and it winds through the Royal Heights neighborhood to Broadway Street (which used to be Main Street when Joplin was known as Joplin City a loooooong time ago).

 

1937: Broadway (Webb City) to 171 to North Main Street to 7th.

 

1958: Broadway (Webb City) to Madison/North Range Line to 7th.

 

Attractions Along – and Slightly Off – the Route

 

There are some attractions located a block or two off the Route that I think are important to point out.

 

Joe Becker Stadium (1301 East 3rd Street)

Built in 1913, Joe Becker Stadium is two blocks south of Broadway (Route 66), and was once home to baseball great Mickey Mantle when he played for the Joplin Miners in 1950.

 

George A. Spiva Center for the Arts (222 W. Third Street)

With national and regional exhibits, art classes and workshops, and a gift shop with one-of-a-kind items, this center is abuzz with creativity and talent.

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And there’s a bonus: admission is free! Go see for yourself why Spiva Center for the Arts is the visual arts hub of the Four States.

 

Joplin City Hall (Newman Building, 602 South Main Street)

I think this is one of the prettiest buildings in Joplin, and I wonder what it must have been like to shop here over a century ago when it was a high-rise department store. Today, the building houses Joplin’s municipal offices, as well as its Convention and Visitors Bureau, which serves as a great resource for tourists (and residents) who are looking for things to do in the city and surrounding area.

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As a Mother Road traveler, be sure to stop in the lobby of the Newman Building to look at the incredible painting “Route 66, Joplin, Missouri” by world-renowned artist Thomas Hart Benton, which offers a snapshot of life in Joplin during the height of the Mother Road era.

 

Route 66 Mural Park (619 South Main Street)

Located across the street from City Hall, this park pays tribute to Joplin’s contribution to the Route 66 culture. With two murals plus an oversized 45 record imprint of “(Get Your Kicks on) Route 66,” this park provides an ideal backdrop for photos of Route 66 sojourners.

 

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Other murals painted on buildings downtown capture bits and pieces of the history and character of our city. If you’re up for it, take a walking tour to get to know Joplin through its public art.

 

 

Restaurants on the Route

 

Soul food, gyros, pasta, veggie dogs, and doughnut burgers – did you know that you can try all of these on the Route in downtown Joplin?

 

You can! Maybe not all of them on one day, though…

 

If you have a hankering for some made-from-scratch food that comforts your soul, visit MEs Place (1203 Broadway), owned by former Joplin Mayor Melodee Kean.

 

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If you’re craving Greek food, stop at M & M Bistro (407 South Main Street), which serves fresh, flavorful Mediterranean delights, like gyros and hummus.

 

For some great local pizza (the Buffalo Chicken is my favorite), try JBs Downtown. (112 South Main Street).

 

If wings are your thing, definitely try some of Missouri’s best at Hackett Hot Wings (520 South Main Street), where you can choose from 13 signature flavors.

 

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Both vegetarians and carnivores alike achieve sweet bliss after eating at Instant Karma (527 South Main). Here, you can order inventive dishes like the Bio Diesel (a veggie dog served with homemade bleu cheese coleslaw) or the Heavenly Donut (a hamburger served with a glazed doughnut as the bun). Round out your meal with one of the many craft beers on the menu.

 

Need some something sweet after your meal? Try a scoop of Bear Claw or Red Velvet Cake ice cream from Sweet Caroline’s(1027 South Main). Located three blocks off the Route in the historic Gryphon Building, this old-fashioned ice cream shop is worth the slight detour.

 

 

Last Stop Before Kansas!

Schifferdecker Park (7th and Schifferdecker)

Named after Joplin businessman and philanthropist Charles Schifferdecker, this park is the last stop on historic Route 66 before the Kansas state line. In addition to being a wonderful place to have a picnic or to let the kids run around on the playground, there are several other activities that you can do here that you just might not know about.

 

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For instance, you can float on a lazy river at the Joplin Aquatic Center, play 18 holes of golf at Schifferdecker Golf Course, catch a performance at Joplin Little Theatre (the longest continuously running community theatre west of the Mississippi), and see a necklace found in Bonnie and Clyde’s Joplin hideout at the Joplin Museum Complex (where you’ll also learn that Schifferdecker Park was once called Electric Park and had a huge roller coaster in it!).

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So, my Joplin friends, how many of these places have you been to? If you’ve visited them all, then I applaud you.

 

If not, here’s your challenge: For one day, be a tourist.

 

Start at North Range Line Road and trace historic Route 66 solely for the purpose of pleasure and discovery, rather than as a means of getting from point A to point B.

 

You might even play “(Get Your Kicks on) Route 66” to get you in an adventurous mood.

 

If you ever plan to motor west,

Travel my way, take the highway that is best.

Get your kicks on Route 66.

 

To read more about my adventures in the area, visit JoplinMOLife.com.

Paint a Picture

Discovering art and culture in Missouri

by Flash Parker

 

I came to Joplin expecting an outdoor playground on the plains—what I found was an arts and culture oasis. Joplin is home to an active live theatre scene, and serves as a community arts destination of the highest order. As a regional creative hub Joplin is both inspiring and exciting—who knew? For me, my visit was one surprise after another.

 

Change of plans

The open road brought me to Joplin—both figuratively and literally. I came to Missouri to experience historic Route 66 and to kick start a trip along The Mother Road. But almost immediately upon arrival, my plans changed. I popped into the Red Onion Café to refuel, and overheard a pair of visitors discussing Joplin’s art scene. Interest piqued, I finished my delicious bleu moo sandwich (an artistic achievement in its own right), and headed off to visit Joplin City Hall, home to several of the city’s beloved murals.

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Route 66, Joplin, Missouri, completed in 2010 by artist Anthony Benton Gude, captures what is essentially the spirit of an entire era in one bold masterpiece. The mural is nostalgic and whimsical at once, and an incredible counterpoint to Joplin at the Turn of the Century, 1896–1906, the remarkable visual fable crafted by Thomas Hart Benton, Gude’s grandfather. These pieces are but two of Joplin’s more than 25 murals (12 of which are in the downtown core), each serving as a colorful ode to time, place and a sense of community.

 

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Public displays of reflection

Buoyed by this pretty town’s sense of artistry, I continued searching for masterworks—and found them in quite a few varied forms. At 8th and Main I found artist Garin Baker’s remarkable “Celebrating the Performing Arts,” an ode to Joplin’s arts scene, and a tip of the hat to how that scene has changed over the years. From ballerinas to early 20thCentury street panoramas to a majestic turn-of-the-century theatre, Baker’s work is a celebration of the artists’ world.

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At the northwest corner of 15th and Main Streets I found muralist Dave Loewenstein’s Butterfly Effect, an uplifting story of the notorious tornado that ravaged Joplin in 2011. Public art projects like this were a coping mechanism and healing tool for the people of the city, instituted as a way to bring local communities closer together to create something beautiful out of random chaos.

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I stopped next at the beautiful George A. Spiva Center for the Arts (don’t miss the mesmerizing Geometrically-Inspired Mural #1 adorning the façade at the corner of 3rdStreet and Wall Avenue), where an exhibit showcasing entries in the annual PhotoSpiva photography competition caught my eye. Founded in 1977, PhotoSpiva is the longest-running photography event of its kind in the country, and a showcase for truly sensational regional and national photographers. I also caught an exhibition called Uncommon Threads: A Dozen Shades of Gray, where quilted panels tell the story of aging. I made a mental note to challenge my grandmother to quilt me something creative next Christmas.

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In nearby Schifferdecker Park, I found the Joplin Museum Complex, where I shook hands with dino bots on the front lawn, and wrapped my visit by exploring the Everett J. Ritchie Tri-State Mineral Museum, the crown jewel of the museum complex. The Mineral Museum includes a world-class collection of zinc and lead ore, as well as other spectacular mineral specimens mined from the Tri-State District, as well as illustrations and exhibits showcasing geochemical and mining techniques dating from the 1870s.

 

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In the neighborhood

Inspired by Joplin’s dynamism, I wandered down Sergeant Avenue, into the Murphysburg Historic District, where 19th– and 20th-century architectural treasures have been lovingly restored. Stunning examples of Queen Anne, Dutch Colonial, Prairie Style and Colonial-Revival homes stand proud along the tree-lined boulevards, while wrought-iron fences, spiraling staircases, grandiose grotesques and marble water features call to mind a time when horses clopped over cobbled streets, families gathered to perform Sunday afternoon vignettes and the home was the center of the universe. So caught up in my trip into the past, I pondered if any of the home owners would allow me to book a ticket for the evening’s Heartland Opera Theatre performance via the electric telegraph.

 

HOT stuff

I heard of Heartland Opera—or HOT, as it is colloquially known—at the Spiva Center for the Arts, and decided to take a flyer for a night at the theatre. Coincidentally, “HOT Scandals” was on the docket, a cabaret-style show that’s naughty in all the right ways. Heartland’s productions are earnest, honest and above all else, local—it is truly thrilling to watch skilled talent take on the complex works of masters like Gilbert and Sullivan, Lucy Simon and Stephen Sondheim. I came away amused and impressed.

Another noted theatre in Joplin is the Joplin Little Theatre. Housed in a cozy stone citadel it is an artistic treasure in its own right. Built in 1939, the Little Theatre is the oldest continuously operating theatre west of the Mississippi. I saw more of Joplin’s artistic side in a few hours than I could have possibly imagined, and by day’s end I had scribbled a list of at least a dozen other attractions in my notebook, confident that Joplin was no longer simply part of the journey, but a destination in and of itself.

 

 


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Driven by art

 

The next morning, before setting back out onto the open road, I visited the Route 66 Mural Park, and remembered why I had been drawn to Joplin in the first place. The collaborative mural is actually two pieces of art—an upper piece commemorating Joplin’s place on this most historic of thoroughfares, and a lower piece composed of a US map and flashy ’64 Corvette. Just one more artful reminder of why I’ll someday soon be cruisin’ back to Joplin.

 

Discover the best of Joplin’s arts and culture.