The itinerary was set. The gas tank was full. And the forecast predicted clear skies. Our mini-vacation couldn’t have gotten off to a better start.
The idea for this year’s annual girls’ getaway came after Mom, Grandma, and I were reminiscing about childhood vacations. We chatted about the golden age of the family road trip—crisscrossing the US, stopping for photos at every state’s welcome sign or at roadside attractions like Fanning, Missouri’s giant rocking chair. Not to mention we have a shared love of shopping, especially antiquing.
We could think of no better way to spend a few days together than riding with the windows down on the “Mother Road”—Route 66—and a stay in Lebanon, MO.
Connecting to the historic Route 66 in Springfield, IL, we had thoughts of our delightful, small-town destination going through our heads. The four-hour drive quickly turned into a day trip, filled with “slightly” out-of-key sing-a-longs in the car with the windows down.
On the road we spotted old Texaco gas stations now carefully preserved, as well as the giant Muffler Man statue. Grandma poked fun at Mom’s childhood phobia of these larger-than-life statues while Mom jokingly defended her six-year-old self. These are the moments I am reminded why I’m grateful for our trips year after year.
After one final pit stop for lunch, we knew it was Lebanon or bust.
By the time we arrived at our destination, the sun was setting on the quiet town of nearly 15,000. Streetlights were making their evening debut, and just as we pulled off the highway, the sign for Munger Moss Motel lit up like a beacon from the past.
This vintage auto court is a draw, not only for its classic appearance and its history but also for its excellent customer service. We were promptly greeted by Ramona; a warm and inviting woman. We soon learned that Romona has been the owner of the Munger Moss since 1971.
She showed us the treasures in their gift shop, regaled us with stories of the motel’s 70-year history, and explained her design choices for the nostalgically appointed rooms. Finally, she produced keys to our rooms, a welcome sight after several hours on the road.
A visit to Lebanon wouldn’t be complete without checking out its array of shops full of antiques and collectibles. A good night’s rest was all we needed to get us in antiquing-mode. We were up bright and early; ready to seek out some treasures and fill the extra space in our SUV with the gems we planned on bringing home.
Our main stop for the day was the Heartland Antique Mall. The first thing we noticed when we walked in was its size. The three of us were giddy as we looked out over its 40,000 square feet. We were not surprised to learn it is one of the largest antique malls in Missouri.
It took several hours for us to browse the aisles of vintage tools, 1980s lunchboxes, rustic home décor, and boutique fashions. Among our haul was an antique clock, a school book like one Grandma used as a girl and a beautifully made quilt. We were even lucky enough to meet the vendor who made the quilt. She and Grandma spoke for nearly an hour and she even gave us what turned out to be an amazing dinner suggestion, Dowd’s Catfish and BBQ.
Dowd’s had a pleasantly surprising menu, bringing the Southern Bayou style right to middle America with mouthwatering, award-winning catfish and delicious barbecue. Grandma swore the fresh-from-scratch sides and homemade sauces transported her down to the Mississippi Delta with each bite, reminding her of the summers she spent visiting family there as a girl.
As we were leaving the restaurant, we took note of the Shepherd Hills Factory Outlets nearby and spotting the famed Case Knives, we knew we’d have to make room for it on tomorrow’s agenda.
The store is the largest Case dealer in the world and has been owned and operated by Ida Reid for nearly a half century. Grandma was able to get a months-long head start on Christmas presents for Grandpa, some of the grandsons, and she even got a world famous walnut bowl for herself. She was very proud of that purchase, and couldn’t wait to put it on display.
After knife shopping, we were ready for our next antiquing adventure. Route 66 Antique Mall sounded like the perfect place for it with more than 50 dealers boasting furniture, glassware, pictures, and more. I picked up a lovely antique map and couldn’t wait to hang it at home. Mom bought some old suitcases to turn into bedside tables. Grandma nabbed a set of antique botanical prints.
Pulling out of the parking lot, we realized our time in Lebanon was running short and we still hadn’t bought any memorabilia to remember the Mother Road. Luckily, we soon learned about another can’t-miss spot, the long-standing Wrinks Market, where a “traveler is not just a customer, it’s soon to be a friend,” as founder Glenn “Wrinks” Wrinkle once wrote.
Upon arrival, the Market’s current owner, Wrinkle’s granddaughter Katie, quickly greeted us. To our delight, we found vintage Route 66 postcards, old fashioned candy and Route 66 Soda along with antiques. The postcards were a perfect addition to the collection of ones we’ve gathered from previous trips.
We worked up an appetite from all of our shopping; next stop, Lebanon’s hometown steakhouse, Madison Street Grill. The restaurant is located in historic downtown, and is known by locals for being the best place to get an expertly prepared steak. The friendly faces, upscale décor, and relaxed atmosphere make for an excellent dining experience.
For our last night, we stayed at one of Lebanon’s premier accommodations and another Route 66 classic, the Manor House Inn. The recently renovated, six-room bed & breakfast combines modern amenities with historic charm. We felt right at home playing card games and chatting well into the night.
Waking up in the morning to the aroma of caramel apple French toast, eggs and bacon was a delight. Grandma was already out the door to the Lebanon Farmer’s Market. She picked up fresh-baked rolls and muffins, fruits, vegetables, and other road trip snacks, but had gotten caught up talking to the local farmers about their products.
Soon, it was time to pack up the car and begin our northeastern journey. But first, one last stop, the Lebanon-Laclede County Route 66 Museum. The visit was a charming step back in time, from the diorama of “Dream Valley” and Nelson Hotel, set in the 1930s, to the 1938 Buick Phaethon Convertible on display. We even saw service station with a red crown gravity gas pump, which brought us back recent memories of the Texaco gas stations spotted on the drive into Lebanon, just days ago. Seeing grandma smile the whole time in the museum was a perfect way to cap off a great trip.