CELEBRATE THE OZARKS: How apples helped Lebanon be a part of America's main street

Published: Jun. 14, 2019 at 1:36 PM CDT
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The road that would eventually be designated Route 66 was originally proposed to be constructed further south of Lebanon in the Seymour-Fordland area at what is now Highway 60.

But that all changed because of a business man from New York.

”Arthur T. Nelson came into Lebanon and started an apple orchard,” explained Cathy Dame, the director of the Lebanon Library which houses the Route 66 museum. “He needed good roads so he could get his apples to market. He was a very influential person and was able to convince the powers that be in Jefferson City (including the governor who was from Lebanon) to put in a paved road through Lebanon and that road that helped him personally in his business opened the way for so many other things. When you look at Lebanon, the aluminum boat-making capital of the world, and you see all the industry we have in our community, that is a result of 66. It was a decision made nearly 100 years ago. It has made Lebanon what it is because of one man who had apples.”

Route 66 was actually built on orchard land Nelson donated in 1926 and he became even more influential in the coming years when he opened a gas station, hotel, and restaurant along the new road culminating in 1934 with the Nelson Dream Village.

“It was a series of English tudor-style cabins, the sandstone-rock structures that are diagnostic of Ozark architecture today,” said Mark Spangler, the director of the Route 66 museum. “The nice little cabins and the water fountain in the courtyard was such a special place that people actually honeymooned here and didn’t have to leave town. Unfortunately as the years went by that all came down. It was all destroyed. We hate that they’re gone now but that is so much the story of Route 66. That’s why it’s so important that what is left we make an effort to save all across the country.”

You can see Lebanon's efforts to save that heritage at the Route 66 museum located in the town's library. It's open from 8 a.m.-8 p.m. Monday-Thursday and 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Friday and Saturday.