Historic Route 66 Bridges of Pulaski County, Missouri

Pulaski County is a not-so-hidden gem on the crown of Route 66 bridges. Three bridges are distinct ties to the promise and heyday of Route 66. The 1923 Devils Elbow Bridge over the Big Piney River predates Route 66. When it was constructed the roadbed was signed as Missouri Highway 14. The 1942 Devils Elbow Arch Bridge also crosses the Big Piney River, 2,800 feet downstream from her older sibling. Rounding out the trio of historic Route 66 bridges in Pulaski County is the 1923 Roubidoux Bridge in Waynesville. It was also built as an improvement to (then) Missouri Highway 14.

1923 Devils Elbow Steel Bridge

It’s curved approach makes this bridge unique. The fate of the 1923 Devils Elbow Bridge was questioned for years. Missouri Department of Transportation relinquished control of the bridge to Pulaski County after it was bypassed by a newer bridge. Drawing mainly local traffic and Route 66 enthusiasts, the bridge continued to deteriorate until a solid plan to rehabilitate the bridge was finalized.

The 1923 Devils Elbow bridge closed to all traffic October 2013 and re-opened May 2014. Today, the bridge is like new. Strong, sturdy, and safe and ready to carry travelers from around the globe across the river. The refurbished bridge has reenergized the village of Devils Elbow.

Devils Elbow Route 66 bridge over the Big Piney River in Pulaski County, Missouri

1942 Devils Elbow Arch Bridge

The 1942 Devils Elbow Arch Bridge was designed by the Missouri State Highway Commission. Composed of three open spandrel arches and five arched girder approach spans, it was constructed by Maxwell Construction Company.

A rare image of the 1942 Devils Elbow Arch Bridge during construction. MODOT photo.

Maxwell Construction Company constructed almost a dozen, if not more, bridges in Kansas, Arkansas, and Missouri between 1912 and 1942. They were also the company that constructed the Pikes Peak through truss bridge between Waynesville and Crocker on Highway 17 in 1932. After completing the 1942 Devils Elbow Arch Bridge the company was paid $47,707.00.

Federal financial sources played an important role in the construction of this bridge. Money was made available through the Strategic Highway Fund and the Emergency Relief Fund, both byproducts of World War II. The open spandrel design was used frequently by the Missouri State Highway Department between 1920 and the early 1940s.

According to HAER Inventory- Missouri Historic Bridge Inventory, regarding open spandrel bridges, this bridge has “one of the longest spans of those identified by the statewide bridge inventory.” The report also states that that due to the late construction date that the bridge has “no noteworthy technological significance.”

However, in a National Register of Historic Places Multiple Property Documentation Form prepared by Ruth Keenoy and Terri Foley they state that “concrete open spandrel arch bridges signify one of the great engineering accomplishments of early twentieth century bridge construction” and further states that “the Big Piney River Bridge is an excellent example”. The 1942 Devils Elbow Arch Bridge is unchanged from its original construction.

1942 Devils Elbow Arch Bridge over the Big Piney River on the 4 lane alignment of Route 66 in Pulaski County, Missouri. Photo by David Harbaugh.

1923 Roubidoux Bridge

The 1923 Roubidoux Bridge was also designed by the Missouri State Highway Commission in 1922 to carry traffic across the Roubidoux on Missouri State Highway 14. Missouri Highway 14 was later designated as Highway 66.

Vintage postcard of Roubidoux Bridge in Waynesville on Missouri State Highway 14, later Route 66. Image courtesy of Steve Rider and 66postcards.com.

Builder Koss Construction Company of Des Moines, Iowa was paid $44,035.00 for their work after completion. Koss Construction Company constructed almost a dozen, if not more, bridges in Missouri, Iowa, Alabama, Minnesota, and Michigan. At least two of their bridges, Galena Y Bridge in Stone County, Missouri and Mendota Bridge over the Minnesota River in Dakota County, Minnesota have been added to the National Register of Historic Places.

This bridge is a closed, or filled concrete spandrel bridge, a variation of the concrete bridge design that was often used by Missouri State Highway Department in the 1920s, 1930s, and 1940s. This bridge, along with the Meramec River Bridge in Crawford County were the only two remaining examples of this bridge type in a five span formation when the Historic American Engineering Record completed its Missouri Historic Bridge Inventory. The Meramec River Bridge on Highway 19 was lost in 2000, leaving this bridge in downtown Waynesville as the lone survivor.

The 1923 Roubidoux Bridge was widened in 1939 when the bridge was 16 years old and has had no further alterations in the following 80 years.

The 1923 Roubidoux Route 66 bridge provides a scenic backdrop for trout anglers. The bridge still carries vehicular and pedestrian traffic.

More Than Just Bridges

The historic bridges on Route 66 in Pulaski County are more than just bridges. These bridges are links, connecting Chicago to Los Angeles and also connecting travelers from around the world to tangible Americana in the largest open air-museum in the United States.

This article first appeared in 2014. Thank You to Jim Ross, author of “Route 66 Crossings: Historic Bridges of the Mother Road”; Terry Primas of the Old Stagecoach Stop, and http://www.bridgehunter.com for their contributions.

Historic Driving Tours

Where is Pulaski County’s ghost section of Route 66? Why is Hooker Cut an engineering marvel? What patriotic holiday is also the “birthday” of the iconic Devils Elbow Bridge? Who is George M. Reed? Why is a roadside park named after him? Pulaski County Tourism Bureau answers these questions in their free Historic Driving Tours brochure.

1926 Touring Model T crossing the Devils Elbow steel bridge on Route 66 in Pulaski County, Missouri.
The Fishback’s from Wisconsin crossing the Devils Elbow Route 66 steel bridge in their 1926 Touring Model T.

More Than A Map

The history of Route 66 comes to life as you explore Pulaski County’s 33 miles of historic highway with your brochure in hand. Taking inspiration from Jack D. Rittenhouse’s 1946 A Guide Book to Highway 66 and adapted from Terry Primas’ Route 66 in Pulaski County, Missouri (a local history) the brochure has become a keepsake for Route 66 adventurers.

For Adventurers

While exploring the Mother Road in Pulaski County you will be awestruck by the allure of the Ozarks. Stroll across the sturdy Devils Elbow bridge. Take in the timeless bluffs that tower above the Big Piney River. Visit the City of Saint Robert museum to gain an understanding of how Fort Leonard Wood affected the alignment of Route 66 in Pulaski County. Order take-out from a Mom & Pop joint and picnic at the roadside park. Scout Waynesville’s historic sites on foot. For an authentic Ozarks adventure, dive into Roubidoux Spring. The spring is one of the few Ozark Mountains natural springs that allows swimming.

More to Explore

The Historic Driving Tours brochure includes a Frisco Railroad itinerary. This self-guided tour will help you discover Pulaski County’s railroad boomtowns. Climb the notorious Dixon Hill. This ascent tortured railroad engineers for decades. Photograph the abandoned Fox Crossing schoolhouse. Scout the trackside community of Swedeborg. Dine and shop in Dixon, Crocker, and Richland.

The guide also includes a driving tour highlighting historic points of interest on Fort Leonard Wood. Access to the installation is not guaranteed to the general public. However, for visitors attending their soldier-in-training’s military graduation, this tour will deepen your understanding of the installation’s impact on the Pulaski County region.

Yours for the Asking

Ask for your Historic Driving Tours brochure when you order your official Pulaski County Visitors Guide . Many area hotels, shops, and restaurants have them on hand. The free guide is also stocked in the outdoor kiosk at the Pulaski County Visitors Center in Saint Robert, Missouri.

Historic Downtown Waynesville Walking Tour

Which building on Waynesville’s public square was owned by Royalty? Where was Waynesville’s Opera House? Why is Waynesville “The Birthplace of the Byway”? Pulaski County Tourism Bureau answers these questions in their free Historic Downtown Waynesville Walking Tour brochure.

World War II era soldiers on the Square in downtown Waynesville, Missouri.
Soldiers on the Square in Waynesville in 1941. Image courtesy of Jan and Terry Primas.

Waynesville’s history comes to life as you explore downtown with your brochure in hand. Based on the research of noted Pulaski County historians, this self-guided tour describes twenty-six points of interest in downtown Waynesville, Missouri. The brochure is your blueprint for an afternoon of investigating the charming community.

During your tour you will discover century-old buildings and remnants of village life before Route 66 came to town. Stand in the footsteps where pioneers and early settlers forded the Roubidoux River. You will gain an understanding of the tragedy of the Trail of Tears. You will also witness how the arrival of neighboring Fort Leonard Wood forever changed the look of Waynesville.

For Adventurers

Adventurers from all walks of life recommend the tour. Route 66 enthusiast explore the city to come to know it better- to make it more than just a name on a map.

The tour is a fun learning activity. Consequently, it can be used in homeschool lesson plans.

However, the tour is not just for visitors, travelers, and tourists. Locals enjoy learning the unique stories about the buildings and locations they see in their everyday travels.

More to Explore

Bring your camera along on your tour. Many of Waynesville’s historic buildings are photogenic and inspiring! As a result, Plein air painters and artists have captured Waynesville’s cityscape in their art.  

Bring your appetite! Downtown Waynesville is home to international flavors and pub grub that will make your taste buds sing! Indulge in Missouri wines, Ozarks craft beer, and gourmet coffee.

Ask for your Historic Downtown Waynesville Walking Tour when you order your official Pulaski County Visitors Guide . Many downtown merchants have them on hand. The free guide is also stocked in the outdoor kiosk at the Pulaski County Visitors Center in Saint Robert, Missouri.

Visit the Old Stagecoach Stop- Virtually!

The Old Stagecoach Stop on the Square in Waynesville, Missouri is closed due to coronavirus and stay-at-home orders. You can still visit this beloved Pulaski County landmark online though!

Pulaski County Tourism Bureau caught up with the Foundation’s president, Jeannie Porter, and past-President Jan Primas, on how the organization is still meeting their mission- and how you can teach your kids Pulaski County history during the pandemic.

Exterior of the Old Stagecoach Stop in Waynesville, Missouri.
Exterior of the Old Stagecoach Stop in Waynesville, Missouri.

Pulaski County Tourism Burau: It is easy to see that the coronavirus crisis has brought travel to a standstill. How has that affected your organization?

Old Stagecoach Stop Foundation: Sadly, we were not able to open the Museum on April 4th as scheduled. Nor were we able to complete our cleaning and preparations for opening. We always look forward to the many traveling visitors and military families who are looking for things to do while here for graduations. 

PCTB: The Old Stagecoach Stop Museum usually opens the first Saturday in April. What was it like for the docents when they learned they would not be able to throw open the doors and welcome visitors on schedule?

OSS: We were disappointed but knew that delaying our opening was the right thing to do. At least one county in Missouri had put a “Stay at home order” in place when we made our decision. Docents at the OSS are all volunteers, many are Seniors, we have no paid staff and our visitors come from all around the US and overseas. Considering all those factors, it seemed a sound decision. We all look forward to our tourist season which runs from April thru September. We were beginning to fill out our calendar for the 6-month period and dates were filling up. We will need to do some adjusting to the calendar when we are able to set our opening date, after allowing time to do our spring cleaning. 

PCTB: Your organization has transformed the Old Stagecoach Stop building from an unloved crumbling mess to a beloved Waynesville treasure. How is the building being cared for during Missouri’s Stay-At-Home order? What are some of the associated challenges?

The Old Stagecoach Stop as it appeared in 1977. Image by James Reist.
The Old Stagecoach Stop as it appeared in 1977. Image by James Reist.

OSS: Stay-at-Home order or not, our old building takes lots of loving care year-round. Luckily, we have talented board members that can help with the maintenance of the building. The Old Stagecoach Stop is 165 years old. It seems there is always something to be done. The front exterior of the building was painted this fall, and the chimneys had some sealant applied. This summer/fall we plan to have the rest of the building painted. A new water heater was also installed this spring. Building maintenance is a never-ending process.

PCTB: Does the OSS maintain any other buildings on the property? How do they fit into the Old Stagecoach Stop’s story?

Yes. In 2003 the Foundation purchased the lot behind the Old Stagecoach Stop. It had been a part of W. W. McDonald’s property in the 1850’s. The yard extends back to highway 17. A.S. and Lulu McNeese built the two-room brick building during WW II to provide rental rooms. When acquired, the McNeese Building, as it is now named, was used for storage. Plans were to eventually make it part of our tour after some restoration. We soon discovered that not to be feasible. In the past year we have been working to make it the monthly meeting place for our Board of Directors meetings. Some repairs and painting the interior and a new roof have made that possible.

The McNeese building on the Old Stagecoach Stop property in Waynesville, Missouri. Image by Laura Huffman, August 2019.
The McNeese building on the Old Stagecoach Stop property in Waynesville, Missouri.

PCTB: When the OSS can open again will you continue to offer free admission?

OSS: Absolutely. We have never charged our Saturday visitors an admission fee, though we do accept donations and we sell souvenirs. We do however charge for tours scheduled at times other than our scheduled hours. We try our best to accommodate tour requests from groups, bus tours, and families. We charge $2 per person for those tours.

PCTB: Do you have any projects that volunteers can help you with virtually right now? Historical research, grant opportunities, transcription work, brochure design, etc.? If so, what are your needs and how can someone sign up to pitch in?

OSS: Currently, due to COVID 19, there is nothing. Once we reopen, there will be opportunities. If interested you could stop by on a Saturday or contact our President, Jeanie Porter at (573) 336-3561.

PCTB:  For parents who wish to add more Pulaski County, Missouri history to homeschool lesson plans what parts of your website would you recommend they use? Any other sections of your website that would be especially interesting and helpful?

OSS: There are three sections of the website that could be used to develop lessons. They are: Route 66 Auto Tour, Old Settlers Gazette Archives, and the Podcasts. All lend themselves to the lessons of history and one could develop some interesting lessons around them. Even the Vintage Image Gallery could be used for some creative writing activities.

Historic marker outside the Old Stagecoach Stop in Waynesville, Missouri. Image by Laura Huffman.
Historic marker outside the Old Stagecoach Stop in Waynesville, Missouri.

PCTB: How happy would it make your heart to see pictures of the OSS from past visits prior to the COVID-19 crisis? How can they get them to you?

OSS: We would be delighted to accept photos visitors have taken during a visit. Contact our webmaster by email at tprimas@mac.com.  He can let you know the best way to send them.

PCTB: How can people stay in touch with the Old Stagecoach Stop during this time? How can we find out when you are ready for visitors again?

OSS: Visit our website (www.oldstagecoachstop.org)  or our Facebook https://www.facebook.com/oldstagecoachstop) page.

History & Heroes- Hector John Polla

Hector John Polla was born in Lexington, Missouri in 1916. He graduated from Higginsville High School and Wentworth Military Academy Junior College before heading to the United States Military Academy at West Point in 1937. Upon his graduation from West Point in 1941, Lt. Polla was deployed to the Philippines and stationed on the Bataan Peninsula.

He was there when the Japanese attacked on December 8, 1941. His courage and gallantry during the defense of the Bataan resulted in his being awarded the Silver Star Medal. He survived the Bataan Death March and spent nearly three years in Japanese prisoner of war camps. Survivors of the war camps praise him for the leadership, fortitude, and skill he demonstrated during the hard years of captivity. Lt. Polla died tragically in January 1945 after the Japanese ship on which he and other prisoners were being transported was bombed by American forces.

1LT Hector J. Polla (1916-1945)

In addition to the Silver Star Medal, Polla’s military medals and other citations include the Purple Heart Medal, two Bronze Star Medals, the Prisoner of War Medal, the Asiatic-Pacific Campaign Medal with one bronze service star, the American Defense Service Medal, the Combat Infantryman Badge 1st Award, and the Philippines Defense Ribbon.

1LT Hector John Polla is the namesake of Polla Road. Polla Road connects Fort Leonard Wood’s west gate with the town of Waynesville.

History & Heroes is an occasional series of interesting facts regarding namesakes and historical figures in Pulaski County, Missouri.

Historical sketch of 1LT Hector John Polla provided by Fort Leonard Wood.