Monday Escape: The semi-ghost town of Spencer, MO


Fresh & Holsum. Route 66, Missouri, USA. Copyright Jen Baker/Liberty Images; all rights reserved.

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,

Spencer, Missouri, Route 66 USA. Copyright Jen Baker/Liberty Images; all rights reserved.

Spencer, Missouri in 2010.

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

Johnson's Creek, Spencer, Missouri. Copyright Jen Baker/Liberty Images; all rights reserved.

View of Johnson’s Creek from the 1926 bridge heading into Spencer.

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!

Vintage rusted Pepsi cooler sitting outside of auto shop in Spencer, Missouri. Copyright Jen Baker/Liberty Images; all rights reserved.

“Hits The Spot”
This perfectly patina-d old Pepsi cooler sits outside the garage door of Spencer. I didn’t check to see if there were any cold sodas inside, though.

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2 thoughts on “Monday Escape: The semi-ghost town of Spencer, MO

  1. Interesting Jen. That name ‘Spencer’ has probably has roots back in jolly old England. I would guess the town must be on well water? The power company in this state must have a real hard time servicing all these ‘out of the way’ residents. I always think of these things since we lived in a small community for 25 years and it was by most standards ‘out of the way’ too.

  2. My great great grandmother kept a diary during the years 1897 – 1902. She lived on East Walnut Street in Springfield, MO, and tells of her and her family’s visits to Paris Springs that would last a week — seems to have been some sort of revival camp. Here is a short excerpt from her diary in 1897 telling of their trip to and arrival at Paris Springs:

    “Sun Sept 5. Paris Springs. Hot weather – rained yesterday. Walter drove us here – it took 5 hours. He returned home today. ”

    She wrote daily of the activities during the week, ant then of their trip back to Springfield.

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