Retracing the route of extinct U.S. 66 has become a curious species of tourism. Extensive sections of the old highway still exist at varying distances from I-44. Aficionados of roadside Americana come from all over the planet to motor along these renamed relic sections of the famous “Mother Road.”
Every structure that ever existed along that venerable highway, no matter how insignificant or wrecked it might be, has a history these travelers are familiar with. Books and websites have reconstructed the chronology of even vanished crossroad communities and extinct businesses. There is interest in the most minute details of the utilizations of long-vanished enterprises.
Several online sources mention the splendid ruined limestone building at Plano along 266, about ten miles west of Springfield, Missouri. Many state it was a mortuary and casket factory. Such a morbid past would be appropriate as the place has been officially designated a ghost town by Greene County. Valerie Mosley, a reporter for the Springfield News-Leader, drove out in December of 2013 and recorded her impressions of the haunting ruins:
“Through the large arched windows and doorways, you can see the small forest growing inside. Tree branches reach out wildly through the open roof.
I had seen the rock walls a few times before, but only recently when I stopped to photograph it did I see the Greene County Historic Site marker that reads “Plano, a Ghost Town.”
Inside the structure, paths zigzag through the middle. Beer and soda bottles litter the ground. Vines climb the cracked stone walls. In the back, a tree grows at an odd angle through a window.
Standing in the woods within walls was eerie and made me wonder what this place used to be.”
The walls didn’t speak to her so she contacted the person who had researched its past for the historic sites procedure:
“There’s a lot of misinformation about Plano,” said Jackie Warfel, who prepared the historic site nomination.
A quick Internet search turns up many sites — mostly Route 66 travel blogs — that claim the limestone structure was a mortuary and casket factory.
“It was not,” Warfel said.
According to Warfel’s history, John Jackson and his family built the two-story 50-foot-by-60-foot building in 1902 of local limestone “with the help of neighbors as needed.”
The building became a hub of community activity. Two rooms on the lower level were a general store where farm families could sell their produce, eggs and baked goods.
The store was managed by Jackson’s son, Alfred, and daughters Mollie and Quintilla Jackson, who had taken a course on business administration in Springfield.
Upstairs, along with living quarters, was a large room used for club meetings, dances, court proceedings and even church services.
The Jacksons bought a wooden structure across the street, on the northeast corner, from Steve Carter. In this building, which is no longer standing, they operated a “mortuary and undertakers parlor where caskets could be purchased and a horse-drawn hearse was furnished.”
Warfel also noted in her research, “there was no embalming at that time and the families bought the caskets and lay the deceased family member out at their homes before burial.”
No doubt in time this small correction about the Jackson’s casket sideline will filter into popular lore. Such historic minutia is scripture to Route 66 pilgrims just as Christian fundamentalists embrace Biblical literalism.
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