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. Continue reading

Church in a ghost town

Old red stone church in Cuervo, NM, USA. Route 66. Copyright Jen Baker/Liberty Images; all rights reserved.

Standing beside Old Route 66 in New Mexico is this simple but pleasant-looking old Catholic church, built in 1915. It is one of two churches in the fascinating little ghost town of Cuervo, one that grew up with the railroads and all but died when I-40 literally split the town in half during the mid-50s.

Little seems to be known about Cuervo’s history. It likely sprang up as a cattle center for operations like the Bond & Weist ranch thanks to the arrival of the Southern Pacific railroad in 1901; by 1902, Cuervo had a Post Office which was destroyed by a fire last March. When Route 66 joined the railroad in bringing traffic to town, Cuervo saw its population jump to a peak of about 300 (though in a moment you’ll see why I find this a bit hard to believe), and was able to support this Catholic church as well as a Baptist one. Even so, Cuervo wasn’t like its sister Route 66 towns of Tucumcari or Santa Rosa; Jack Rittenhouse noted in his A Guide Book to Highway 66, Cuervo offered but “few gas stations; groceries; no café, garage, or other tourist accommodations.” He noted that there were only about a dozen homes in Cuervo—perhaps area ranchers, in addition to travellers, helped fill the pews of the town’s two houses of worship while adding to that triple-digit population count.

Today, there are roughly a dozen residents of Cuervo; when I visited (and managed to get a sunburn in 15 minutes, a record even for my fair skin; this resulted in a very abbreviated shoot, alas) to photograph the town, a couple of them were sitting on their porch in the “living” side of town. Continue reading