Route 66? Why not just take the Interstate??

June 30, 2011

The History of a Route 66 Icon: The Wagon Wheel Motel on Route 66

June 30, 2011
The History of a Route 66 Icon: The Wagon Wheel Motel on Route 66

The History of a Route 66 Icon: The Wagon Wheel Motel on Route 66

The Wagon Wheel Motel in Cuba, Missouri is the oldest continuously operating motel on Route 66. The Ozark stone cottages with their Tudor style architecture have attracted thousands of travelers since the 1930s. The building in front served as the Wagon Wheel Café with a small building next door for a gas station. The famous neon Wagon Wheel sign was added in 1947.

Travelers came to eat, buy gas, and some stayed at the modern tourist cabins with the advertised steam heat. Now, Riva Echols, sister of Wagon Wheel Motel owner Connie Echols, has written the history of this Missouri Landmark in her book The History of a Route 66 Icon: The Wagon Wheel Motel on Route 66.

Connie Echols purchased the old motel in 2009, and with hands-on work and a financial commitment, restored the motel as a premier Route 66 lodging that holds its place on the National Register of Historic Landmarks.

Riva became intrigued with the motel’s history and began interviewing, checking old records, and compiling the history of the motel that will soon reach its 75th birthday. With 102 pages of text and photos, both historical and current, Echols, follows the history of Route 66 development and the evolution of the motel through the decades.

The book begins with the development of Route 66 and travelers’ options in the early days of Route 66 travel. The Wagon Wheel’s first owners Robert and Margaret Martin put their hopes and resources into the Wagon Wheel Cafe, tourist cabins, and a small gas station building.

Leo Friesenhan, stonemason and designer of the Wagon Wheel, has a colorful life that is detailed in the history. The old buildings have had many changes, but time has proven they were built to last, and the book covers the architectural details of the buildings.

Conversations with waitresses and others associated with the motel provide some flavor and humor in the chronicle of the Wagon Wheel, as do the characters and personalities of the Wagon Wheel owners.

The second owners John and Winifred Mathis took over in the 1940s and added the neon sign that still beckons travelers to the Wagon Wheel. The Mathises also changed the name and made other changes to modernize what had become a popular stop along the road for both lodging and café food.

Sadie Mae Pratt and her husband Bill added vitality to the running of the Wagon Wheel Café during their years of the café’s history.

Pauline Roberts and her first husband Wayne took over the motel in the 1960s.  Later, when Wayne passed away, Pauline ran the motel by herself with the help of her faithful assistant Roy Mudd until she remarried to Harold Armstrong.  It was always said that the motel “was Pauline’s,” and she was instrumental in the motel getting Landmark status.

After Pauline and Roy Mudd passed, and Harold became ill, the Wagon Wheel went downhill until 2009 when Connie Echols purchased it.

Riva Echols chronicles the changes that her sister Connie has undertaken as the Wagon Wheel Motel steps into another decade with restoration and a new generation of travelers. Many before and after photos fill the pages of the last part of the book.

If you want to appreciate the Wagon Wheel’s place in Route 66 history, read Riva Echol’s book. Purchase The History of a Route 66 Icon: The Wagon Wheel Motel on Route 66 on or Signed copies are available at Connie’s Shoppe at The Wagon Wheel Motel.