I caught this great old Holsum door advert in what is left of Spencer, Missouri on my first jaunt along Route 66. Spencer is a little west of Springfield, not far from Paris Springs; take old 66 to the Johnson Creek Bridge, and Spencer is right there off the curve of the Mother Road. Never a big place to begin with, the tiny agricultural settlement’s fortunes rose and fell with the success of the roads that went through it; founded in the late 1860s or early 1870s and at one point big enough to necessitate a church, it was nearly empty by 1912—until Route 66 came through.
A filling station and repairs garage (of course!), small market, and barbershop sprang up and no doubt did fine business…until Route 66 was bypassed by I-44. Spencer sank again into low economic straits,
and on a day we can’t pinpoint, the last person locked their door and walked away.
All that remained of Spencer was this stone building, the one that housed the shops and garage. Like many Mother Road towns bypassed by the interstate or even just left behind by a new alignment of 66, the little “townlet” decayed, and faced the possibility of disappearing entirely.
Luckily, buildings back then were built to last, and those of Spencer stuck around long enough to attract the eye of a Kansan couple. Buying it from the grandson of Sydney Casey, who’d owned the land since 1925 and built this stone structure for the 66-era shops, Francis and Marie Lynn Ryan have been working on restoring Spencer to at least some of its former glory since 2008—and certainly to attract the eye of Mother Road travellers!
The Ryans have outfitted the filling station especially from their personal collection; no doubt the cheery
blue and red Holsum bread door sign in the photo above is theirs as well. Once in a while, a friend of theirs parks an old police car in front of one of the empty shops; Spencer was never large enough for a police department, but it sounds like a nice touch. The couple plans to open a small gift shop at some point.
If you’re in the area, be sure to take the old alignment of 66 through here; Johnson’s Creek is a very pretty, peaceful place to stop and take a stroll along the bridge, and though it’s small, the town of Spencer itself is well worth visiting. Personally, I’m looking forward to returning—perhaps in fall, during which the colours along the creek ought to be beautiful.
By the way, just to show you the sort of people who once lived in Spencer, I wanted to share with you this little clip from a March 1868 Three Rivers Reporter:
A citizen of Spencer, Missouri, made his brother a present of a suit of old clothes the other day; the brother, who is in poor health and has close work to make both ends meet, appreciated the gift when he found int he pocket a mortgage on his house for several hundred dollars which has been paid off and discharged by the donor.
You can read more about & see a few more photos of Spencer, Missouri on Kathy Weiser’s Legends Of America. Have a great Monday!