About Rolla Missouri
Facts, Trivia and useful information
Elevation: 1,122 ft (342 m). Population 19,559 (2010).
Time zone: Central (CST): UTC minus 6 hours. Summer (DST) CDT (UTC-5).
The city of Rolla is the county seat of Phelps County, it is located on Route 66, in central Missouri next to the Ozarks Region. (Map of Rolla).
A "Now and Then" views along the Main Street in Rolla, old "City 66":
View of Pine Street in a vintage postcard, Route 66 in Rolla, Missouri
The same place today, some changes but the main buildings are still there:
View of Pine Street today, old Route 66 in Rolla, Missouri
History of Rolla
People have lived in this area since the end of the last Ice Age some 10,000 years ago. Around 2,700 years ago, the Osage Indians were forced out of their homeland east of the Mississippi (Illinois and Ohio) by the Iroquois; they moved into Missouri and lived in the Ozarks.
Route U.S. 66 Shield on the highway in Rolla MO Jimmy Emerson
The French reached the area from Canada in the late 1600s and named the whole region after their sovereign, Louis XIV: "Louisiana". Trappers trekked the area which is now Missouri and explored it.
After the Seven Years' War (1763) France ceded Upper Louisiana to Spain but recovered it during the Napoleonic wars in 1800. Shortly after, a cash strapped Napoleon sold the territory to the U.S. government (1803). This part of Louisiana became the Missouri Territory in 1812 and it became a state of the Union in 1821.
White settlement encroached on the Osage, who were forced to cede their land in a serise of treaties of 1808, 1818 and 1825, which relocated them to reservation land in the Indian Territory, which later became the state of Oklahoma.
The first settlers in Rolla were farmers who arrived before statehood, ascending the rivers. John Weber built a home in what is now Rolla in 1844. The railroad survey began in 1845 and once it was done, Edmund W. Bishop arrived in 1853, to build the St. Louis-San Francisco Railway (Frisco Line), settling here too.
The county was created in 1857 and the county seat was to be founded in the central part of it, close to the railroad. Bishop offered 50 acres of his land and it was platted in 1859, becoming the county seat after an election in which it defeated neighboring Dillon (1861).
The Name: Rolla
The town's first name was "Phelps Center" and Weber liked "Hardscrabble", but it was George Coppedge, another settler from North Carolina who suggested the name of his hometown: "Raleigh", the capital city of N. Carolina, but as Raleigh was hard to spell, the citizens accepted Coppedge's suggestion but had it spelled phonetically: Rolla.
Another -more credible- version is that the name was that of a character in Richard Brinsley Sheridan's operatic drama Pizarro, originally called "The Spaniards in Peru; or, Rolla's Death. A Romantic Tragedy; in Five Acts" and, a very popular play in 1856: "Pizarro; a Spanish Rolla-king Peruvian drama. A burlesque, in one act" by Charles James whose main character was also the Peruvian hero Rolla.
The town was occupied by Union forces in 1861, who built two forts there, a key place on the Wire Road. It became the main road between St. Louis and Springfield and during the early 1910s, it was improved, becoming in 1920, a gravel surfaced state highway (MO-14). Route 66 was aligned along it in 1926, and eventually it too was bypassed: by the four-lane highway in the late 1950s.
Where to Lodge in Rolla, Missouri
Accommodation and hotels in town..
> > Book your hotel in Rolla
More Lodging near Rolla along Route 66
Motels and Hotels close to Rolla
Hotels, Westwards in Missouri
- 28 miles St. Robert
- 29 miles Waynesville
- 63 miles Lebanon
- 93 miles Marshfield
- 106 miles Strafford
- 115 miles Springfield
- 176 miles Carthage
- 194 miles Joplin
Heading West... Hotels & Motels in Kansas...
- 209 miles Baxter Springs
Further West... Hotels & Motels on Route 66 in Oklahoma...
Heading East in Missouri, more accommodation
- 10 miles Saint James
- 22 miles Cuba
- 39 miles Sullivan
- 57 miles Saint Clair
- 67 miles Villa Ridge
- 73 miles Pacific
- 80 miles Eureka
- 108 miles St. Louis
Hotels further East, in Illinois
>> Check out the RV campgrounds in Rolla
Weather in Rolla
Rolla has well marked seasons, which are the combination of humid continental and humid subtropical climates.
The winter (Jan), the average high is around 39°F (4°C) and the aveage low is a freezing 20°F (-7°C). The summer (Jul) average high is 89°F (32°C) with an average low of 68°F (20°C). Rainfall averages 44.5 in. (1.130 mm) yearly which ranges from 2.21 in (56 mm) in Jan. to 4.81 in (122.2 mm) in May. Snowfall is around 18.9 in. (48 cm), which falls from Dec. to Mar.
Rolla is located in Missouri's "Tornado Alley" and Phelps County is hit by some 8 tornado strikes every year.
Tornado Risk: read more about Tornado Risk along Route66.
Getting to Rolla
You can reach Rolla along historic Route 66 and Interstate I-44 that links it with Springfield, Tulsa and Oklahoma City in the west and with Cuba, Eureka and St. Louis in the east. US 160, 60 and 65 run to the west, through Springfield, US 63 runs through the city.
Map of Route 66 through Rolla Missouri
Display Rolla Route 66 Map
Click Map will appear below
Below is the color key for Route 66’s alignment in Rolla:
(for the other parts of Missouri, check the color key in the corresponding city's web page)
Pale Blue is the original 1926 to 1940s Route 66 "City 66" in Rolla (in Black the segments that no longer exist, razed by later alignments).
Blue: the 1940s-50s "Main 66" that bypassed the downtown district.
Route 66's alignment in Missouri: the Historic Route 66 through Rolla
Route 66 across Missouri
Historic U.S. highway 66, "Route 66" has been designated as an All-American Road and National Scenic Byway in the state of Missouri.
Click on the following link for a Full description of Route 66 across the state of Missouri.
Route 66 Sights in Rolla
Landmarks and Places to See
Rolla and its Route 66 attractions
Rolla has its share of Route 66 attractions: Totem Pole Antiques and
Mule Tobacco Barn with the classic Hillbilly Sign. Two motels:
Sunset Inn, old Norman Dee Motel and Old Coach House Inn plus
the historic Edwin Long Hotel.
Two historic landmarks from the 1800s: Dillon House (1857) and Historic County Jail (1860). Ant three Route 66 classics: Buehler Park, "stubby" Stonehenge and Martin's Spring.
Historic context, the classic Route 66 in Rolla
The 1941 book, "Missouri, a guide to the "Show Me" state" published by the WPA tells us that 1 mile west of town, just beyond the railroad tracks to the left was a trail that led (0.6 mi.) to a "small iron mine... owned by the Missouri School of Mines and Metallurgy...". Further ahead (3.2 mi from town) was "Martin's Spring... enclosed within a squat stone house, with a daily flow of approximately 840,000 gallons.".
Jack DeVere Rittenhouse mentions it in his 1946 "A Guide Book to Highway 66" as the point where you leave the "plains" and enter the Ozarks. He added: "ROLLA... Major hotels: Edwin Long and Sinclair Pennant; courts: Colonial Village; Phelp's, Schuman's tourist City, El Caney, Trav-L-Odge, Winter's; Vance Motor Co. garage; all facilities..." he mentioned it was the site of the Missouri School of Mines and that there were two route alignments in the city: City 66 and "Main US 66 around the business district", he also mentioned Martin's Springs.
Sights in town
Begin north of Rolla at I-44's Exit 189, and visit the Mule Tobacco Barn:
Mule Tobacco Barn
11160 Dillon Outer Rd, 4.2 mi. east of downtown Rolla
This dead-end section of old Route 66, Map with Directions.
Frank Ebling opened it in 1946 in Pacific MO, but when Route 66 was replaced by I-44, bypassing his store he moved west to Rolla (1957).
Mule trading Post, Route 66 in Rolla, Missouri
Route 66 Kitsch - Americana
The Hillbilly sign you see in front of the store was originally part of the Sterling Hillbilly Store in Hooker, Missouri.
Into Town through Northwye
Here Route 66 is partly under the roadbed of I-44 (All about Old Route 66 alignment in Rolla), so you can go to the north side of the freeway and head west along MO-39 (Old Route 66) towards "Northwye", located at the strategic fork between US 63 and old US 66, until the 1950s, when it was bypassed by the new four-lane US 66 highway. At one time there was a drive in theater here (now it is Al West Nissan, an auto dealer), the screen was on the eastern tip of the property, next to the freeway. Head west, cross I-44 and then then slants SW until Pine St. where the City 66 went south through the business district and Main US 66 kept west and circled around the downtown along Bishop Ave. Both met again on the southern side of Rolla.
Downtown Rolla Sights, Landmarks and Attractions
It is a 7.8 mi round trip from here including Martin's Spring, see Map with Directions.
Drive south along N. Pine Street ("City 66") and at 12th St. you must take a right and then a left to head south along N. Rolla St.; park and walk along 8th St. to Pine St. to visit a Historical Hotel:
Edwin Long Hotel
Listed in the National Register of Historic Places
718 Pine St.
The hotel closed in 1971 and it has housed the Phelps Count Bank since 1963 (formerly the National Bank of Rolla), but it was originally the Edwin Long Hotel which opened in 1931 when Route 66 was just paved and it was named after Sen. Edwin Long, a local community leader.
The signs on its roof once read "HOTEL". Built by M. Gillioz, it still is the largest building in downtown Rolla, with 4 floors and facing Pine and 8th streets it has a Renaissance Revival style. Below is a "Now and Then" set of images of the hotel:
Keep southbound, cross the railroad and take a right on W 3rd St. to visit the Log Courthouse:
W 3rd St. between N. Rolla and N. Main St.
To your right, on the north side of 3rd St. This one story log building with stone chimney was built in 1857 and was the county's first courthouse. Street View. Now, walk walking one block west, to Park St. and visit the Old Jail
Phelps County Jail
Listed in the National Register of Historic Places
On Park St. and W 2nd. St.
The old stone Phelps County Jail was built in 1860, this is its Street View.
Now head west to visit the Museum, you will pass the point where City and Main US 66 come together at the southwestern side of the downtown district.
Ed Clark Museum of Missouri Geology
111 Fairgrounds Rd., take a right from Kingshighway. Map showing location.
Open weekdeays 8 AM to 5 PM, free admission. All you ever wanted to know about Missuri's geology: rocks and dino fossils. Full details at their website.
Head back to Kingshighway, at the junction with Fairgrounds Rd., to your right is Buehler Park:
With very old trees, deeded to the city in 1958 it is named after Dr. Henry Andrew Buehler, Chief Geologist of the Missouri Geological Survey.
Across the road from the park are two Route 66 motels:
Sunset Inn, old Norman Dee Motel
To your left, on the south side of the highway. The postcard tells us that it was owned and run by Joe and Ruth Pawlak, and that it was "New, Attractive,opposite park, easy off-on interstate, Air conditioned color TV, phones, family units, cafe adjacent...". The comparison of its postcard and its present appearance show us that the pool has gone but the building has kept its general layout intact:
Next to it is the Coach House Inn:
Old Coach House Inn now Days Inn
The postcard (from the 80's perhaps) tells us that it had "54 modern units... quiet, Color cable T.V. Direct dial phones...". It is still operating,
You can Book a Room in the Days Inn
Head west, pass the roundabout and to your left is a Route 66 Classic:
Totem Pole Antiques
1413 Martin Springs Dr.
First it was in Newburg (Totem Pole Cabins -now demolished), in 1933, opened by H. Cochrane who sold it to Ralph Jones c.1950. Then the old Route 66 was widened to a four-lane road cutting off some land and in 1967 it became I-44, cutting off even more land. This led Jones to relocate in Rolla (15990 County Road 8140), now an auction house, which is on the "loop" of old Route 66 north of I-44, east of Doolittle. He had to move when Route 66 became a freeway cutting him off from the traffic. He moved to his present location in 1977.
Totem Pole Antiques Store Route 66 in Rolla, Missouri
Head west along Martin Springs Dr. to visit the Springs and a former Route 66 gas station and store:
West of Rolla, Map showing location.
Martin Spring Store
Is the hipped roof, wood frame two-story building to the left of the old spring-house (Foursquare style) built c. 1920s. This was a dairy farm known as Bloom farm. The store owned by Bill and Emma Martin (the place is named after him) sold gasoline and had some cabins, now a private residence.
Squat stone-faced building with small windows and hipped roof. c.1920s, you can see the water flowing out of it, towards the Little Beaver Creek. See its Street View.
Head back now to drive the old "Main US 66" East and stop at Rolla's Stonehenge:
Americana and Route 66 landmark
On the curve of Bishop Ave. North of University Dr., to your right, Map showing location.
Missouri S&T Stonehenge, at the University of Missouri, Rolla.
Built in 1984 on the former University of Missouri at Rolla Rock Mechanics and Explosives Research Center, it is a half scale model of the famous megalith on Salsibury Plain in southern England which has some of the features of the original Stonehenge. The rocks were cut using water at a pressure of 15,000 lbs/sq.in. It has five trilithons (consisting of two upright stones and a third acting as a lintal across them) are 13 1/4 feet high. It has a solar calendar or Analemma which marks the days on a stone.
This is the end of the tour in Rolla.
Tours & Itineraries
Old Route 66 in Rolla
The first trail in the area was opened by deer and buffalo, and later used by Indians. It followed the divide in the Ozarks. After the late 1600s, white explorers and trappers followed it; they named it the "Great Osage Trail" (after the Osage Indians). The road used to build and service the military telegraph line built in the 1860s followed it and was known as the "Wire Road"; it became the main road between Springfield and St. Louis.
During the early 1910s, cars became more frequent in the Ozarks but the roads were full of potholes or muddy traps during the rainy periods. The Inter-Ozarks Highway Association lobbied successfully for a decent state highwy and that is how MO-14 was built between Springfield and St. Louis, and given a gravel surface. Route 66 was aligned along it in 1926.
From Rolla west into Doolittle
The original road is now Martin Springs Drive, just ahead, after the Springs the road curves towards a very narrow bridge on a curve: the Beaver Creek Bridge built in 1926, and then heads into Doolittle.
Route 66 in Rolla itself
The original alignment in town went along Pine Street, with traffic flowing in both directions. This congested the downtown area so soon the westbound traffic was moved to N. Rolla St.
During the 1940s a bypass was built, around the business district (Bishop Ave.) and later both routes were bypassed in the 1950s by the four lane Route 66 that is now under the roadbed of I-44, west and north of Rolla.
Deadly Route 66
There was a "Dead Man's Curve" between Rolla and St. James, and the narrow the Beaver Creek bridge west of Rolla, both were very dangerous, causing frequent automobile wrecks.
The original 1926 to 1940s road (City 66) is shown in Pale Blue in the Map above, The 1940s-50s Main 66 is shown in Blue.
1950s: Four Lane Freeway
In 1951 a new four-lane highway was built around Rolla, and is now under the roadbed of I-44. To the east of Rolla it cut the old 1926 roadbed in some parts, shown in Black in the map above.
1966 New roadbed
Beginning in 1967 the old US-66 ⁄ I-44 Freeway was improved again.
Eventually the whole of US 66 in this area was upgraded into a four lane highway and after 1958 it coexisted with the new interstate I-44 (a state petition in 1962 to name the highway I-66 was denied by the AASHTO). Finally in 1972 the whole of Route 66 had been replaced by the freeway and in 1974 it was decided that the whole of US 66 from Chicago to Joplin would be eliminated. However this was delayed until I-55 in Illinois was completely brought up to Interstate standards. The signs were removed in 1977 but the last segment of the old Route 66 was bypassed in 1981.
> > See the previous segment St. James to Rolla (east)
> > See the next segment Doolittle to Newburg (west)
Jack DeVere Rittenhouse, (1946). A Guide Book to Highway 66.
Maura Johnson and John F. Bradbury, Route 66 Association of Missouri. 1993, Architectural ⁄ Historical Inventory Survey. Route 66 in Missouri
Banner image: Dead Man's Curve, Laguna New Mexico by Perla Eichenblat.