Filling Station Dreams: Missouri to spruce up vintage Route 66 gas stations

Vintage abandoned filling station beside Route 66 in Missouri. Copyright Jen Baker/Liberty Images Photography, all rights reserved.

“Sunset Provision”
An old abandoned Route 66 filling station rests beside a stream in Missouri. I can’t help but wonder if that fireplace was functional!

Whenever I see an attractive abandoned old filling station—and believe me, there’s a sizable herd of them scattered across the country!—ideas for restoring it to life as a business again unfailingly pour through my mind. A used bookstore? Coffee shop or bakery—or a tea store featuring local artists and authors beside the tea? A welcome center like the one in Webb City and another in Baxter Springs, Kansas? A sweet vintage apparel and homegoods shop, or maybe a garden supply store? A little deli that serves lunch in a few booths by the windows and out front beneath the canopy—or maybe a sushi restaurant!  While the old filling stations are often smallish, to my mind, that’s a bonus, and the possibilities for the stations’ revivals as successful businesses are nearly endless.

Though I come from a long line of entrepreneurs, in sharing my photographs of abandoned filling stations with others, I’ve learned I’m far from the only one who sees great promise in the often charming little buildings, like the one above from Missouri. Many have offered their own suggestions or shared dreams of their own, all of which involve saving the existing building by sprucing it up—and why not? Old gas stations are often charming—almost cottage-y, like the one above—or adorned with nods to Moderne or Art Deco styling; out West, they have a definite southwestern architectural flair, often in Mission Revival or Pueblo.

Abandoned old filling station, its canopy collapsed. Route 66, New Mexico. Copyright Jen Baker/Liberty Images; all rights reserved.

“The Lean-To”
Though its canopy has collapsed, this abandoned filling station on 66 in New Mexico looks like it will remain standing for many years to come.

Even in their neglected state, these filling stations attract admirers; if their weatherbeaten exteriors alone are enough to do this, how much more so if travellers can stop in for a coffee, a few fresh cookies, a good sandwich, or a magazine or newspaper?

That said, one thing that keeps many folks from making the leap to buying such a station and turning into a thriving small business is the fear of what might be lying beneath in the underground storage tank—and horrifically expensive cleanup should it leak or be leaking. Such huge costs could put a business down before the doors even open.

Well, Missourians with an eye and a hope set upon such a station can cheer: the state is going to work on cleaning up vintage abandoned filling stations along the Mother Road to encourage
such improvements while also saving the historic stations from disappearing into the brush, as many have already: 

The State of Missouri is tracking abandoned gas stations all along Route 66.  Researchers made a map of what they’ve found so far in the Ozarks.

…Missouri wants to identify some of those old sites for possible cleanups and pave the way for redevelopment. The City of Springfield is thinking about the issue, too, letting dreamers like Powell know they’re not alone.

“That’s really the key: feeling that what they do is going to be built on, and not an island,” said Vern Morgan, principal planner for the City of Springfield.

Missouri has budgeted just under $100,000 for the project, which should cover two station clean-ups. Despite some nosing around online, I couldn’t find more information about this and whether or not it is a long-term project—say, cleaning up a couple of stations a year—or a “let’s try this then wait and see what happens” sort of thing—much less whether or not it is something people can donate towards.

It seems to me that cleaning up the tanks and thus making the buildings themselves safer for entrepreneurs to buy and re-open as viable small businesses is a great way to grow local economies—and let’s face it, considering the potential environmental implications of leaking tanks, this might have to be done regardless; might as well do so where buildings remain so people have the opportunity to make a job for themselves and perhaps others.

Be sure to head over to the page to watch a good video about the plans. What do you think? And when you see an abandoned filling station…do you imagine snapping it up and starting some kind of business there?

A rusted, well-used, rather beat up old green Sinclair gear lubricant can, the famous green dinosaur plainly visible, rests atop a shelf. Copyright Jen Baker/Liberty Images; all rights reserved.


3 thoughts on “Filling Station Dreams: Missouri to spruce up vintage Route 66 gas stations

  1. We don’t see too many old abandoned filling stations on roads that are well traveled here. I did make a trip back to my dads home town a while back and there’s plenty of old abandoned shops on mainstreet. Unfortunately, it’d be a poor investment because the town is slowly dieing. We have an area right in Edmonton called Whyte Avenue, mostly historical buildings now housing coffee shops and unique stores. It’s great to walk door to door -vs- going to a mall and being indoors. I love old buildings too. Great photo’s Jen

  2. (Love the photos). I still see a few filling stations here on rt. 66 in southern California, they tend to show up along the east part of the drive from L.A. to San Bernardino–a route that was saved by its neglect as the urban sprawl was to the north for several decades, so no one bothered to tear down those old places.

    • Thank you, Jen! Sometimes neglect can be helpfully benign, as in this case…The places most likely to be adversely affected by sprawl are left along just long enough for people to begin taking an interest in restoring them for some sort of re-use. You’ll have to share some pictures!

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