Kansas has the shortest span of Historic Route 66. Just 13 miles of the road winds its way through the state, punctuated by three small towns. Despite the brevity of the stretch, there’s still plenty of history and places to stop and visit along the way. If you’ve been following the itinerary from Chicago, and just left Joplin, this is a perfect way to spend the second half of your day.
The first town you’ll come to is Galena. It’s an old mining town and named for the abundant lead found in the area in the late 1800s. Stop at Cars on the Route (formerly 4 Women on the Route), the former Kan-O-Tex Service Station.
You may notice some familiar characters sitting outside, especially if someone in your family is a fan of Disney Pixar’s Cars movies. Tow Mater may call the Southwestern United States home in the movies, but the inspiration for his character came from Kansas. “Tow Tater”, a 1951 International boom truck, sits outside the service station, along with his friends Red and Sarge. And yes, that’s part of the reason this business changed its name. A change in ownership was the other factor.
You can also grab a bite in the garage and there are souvenirs for sale. Across Route 66, is a restored home with a disputed history. Some say it was a bordello, or brothel, whose Madame was also a serial killer. Historians disagree, but it makes for a great tale for residents to tell.
As you pass through, you’ll notice faded signs on the side of buildings: advertisements for businesses that used to call the town home. The Galena Mining and Historical Museum pays homage to local history. It’s your last stop on the way out of town. There’s military equipment out back and mineral samples inside. There are also oil paintings on display that once hung in the Smithsonian.
The second of the three towns on this short 13-mile journey is Riverton. You’ll want to stop at the Eisler Brothers Old Riverton Store. The neighborhood grocery store opened in 1925 and you can still buy groceries and produce there today. You can also find gifts and lots of Route 66 memorabilia. Its deli is the perfect place to grab a sandwich for your trip.
Just outside of Riverton, is the Brush Creek Bridge. It was built in 1923 and is the only Marsh Rainbow Arch bridge that remains on Historic Route 66 in Kansas. Local traffic has been rerouted, but you can still walk across it.
The third and final town in Kansas has two possible stops. The Baxter Springs Heritage Center and Museum and the Independent Oil and Gas Station. The museum has 20,000 square feet of displays about the town’s history and might take you an hour to go through.
But, you’ll definitely want to pull over at the former gas station. It was built in 1930 and now serves as the Kansas Route 66 Visitor Center. It’s picture worthy to say the least.