Legendary Since 1897
As early as 1816 the Big Piney river was used to transport timber and railroad ties to Saint Louis. Tough and rowdy lumberman rafted ties down the stream. They dubbed bends and landmarks along the rivers with colorful and descriptive nicknames.
The Big Piney hugs three sides of the community of Devils Elbow creating a bend, or an elbow, that was a devil to navigate tie rafts around.
The area had already been discovered by sportsmen in Saint Louis when the St. Louis Globe Democrat reported in 1897 that James Yeatman Player’s “campfire illuminated the rugged grandeur of Devils Elbow on the Piney for five nights.”
Odes to the area appeared regularly in the Saint Louis newspapers. Countless numbers of sportsmen and their families made the journey by train and wagon. They came to Devils Elbow to hunt, fish, splash in the water, and breathe the pure Ozarks air. Hiawatha Lodge and other cabin resorts sprang to life to serve the outdoorsmen’s needs.
“So, put away life’s busy cares,St. Louis Globe Democrat October 1901
And seize your rod and gun;
Come join us in the merry chase,
Where Ozark rivers run.”
An All-American Bridge
Missouri State Highway 14, later Route 66, brought new visitors in automobiles to discover the idyllic beauty of Devils Elbow.
The iconic steel bridge was constructed as a Highway 14 improvement in 1923. The bridge was dedicated July 4th, 1924. Later, a letter from a fisherman to one of the St. Louis newspapers referred to a school of fish that could be seen looking out from the bridge towards the bluffs.
Devils Elbow’s dramatic Hiawatha Bluffs tower above the Big Piney river below. They have inspired artists, photographers, and writers to shower them with affection and sweet words for generations. Perhaps the tie-rafters named the Sugar Bowl and the Tea Table.
The bridge was refurbished in 2013 and re-opened to traffic May 2014.
A New Way of Life
During the early days of Devils Elbow commerce revolved around serving the needs of the tie-rafters and sportsmen. Route 66 brought tourists in automobiles who needed gasoline, tire repair, food, and lodging.
By 1937 Devils Elbow had been subdivided into 100-foot square lots. Branded as Devils Elbow Park, the development was marketed as a mountain retreat in a “delightful setting, with fine climate and clean air.”
The construction of nearby Fort Leonard Wood brought a new way of life to Devils Elbow as construction workers and soldiers settled into the village.
Route 66 Bucket List
Today Devils Elbow is on many Route 66 bucket lists of must-see locations along the Mother Road. Travelers and tourists stop to admire and photograph the famous bridge and Elbow Inn. Many still see a school of fish in the same location noted back in the 1920s.
“That is Devils Elbow. That is the epitome of Ozarks beauty right there. The bluffs, the shimmering of the sun across the stream. The trees overhanging, the canopy, you just can’t beat this. This is the Ozarks.”Roamin’ Rich Dinkela
Two outfitters, BSC Outdoors and Devils Elbow River Safari, offer float trips that begin or end almost in the shadow of the steel bridge. Paddling this section of the Big Piney river is an absolute authentic Ozarks experience that will create memories that last a lifetime. Stories are still swapped around campfires at DERS’ campground.
In 2017 portions of the community were listed as a historic district on the National Register of Historic Places. Shortly after Devils Elbow was ravaged by a spring flood. Many wrote the community off, but the resilient residents rebounded, rebuilt, and continue to welcome visitors to their gorgeous section of the Ozarks.
Devils Elbow isn’t solely a summertime destination. During Spring and Autumn Mother Nature accessorizes the hamlet with dramatic pops of color on its majestic Ozarks landscape. During Winter the community decorates the steel bridge for Christmas. Many families have started a new holiday tradition of driving across the bridge while it is decked out in thousands of lights.
In 2019 Devils Elbow was awarded the title of Best Route 66 Location by Missouri Life magazine.
Pulaski County Tourism Bureau offers a free brochure that includes turn-by-turn directions of Pulaski County’s 33 miles of Route 66, including Devils Elbow. It includes vintage photographs and historic tidbits and is a fantastic keepsake. Request yours today when your order your complimentary Visitors Guide!