Metro-East News

Historic Route 66’s Apple Valley Motel destroyed by fire

An historic inn along the shoulder of Route 66 in Mitchell is believed to be a total loss after a Sunday fire.

George Miller, assistant chief of the Mitchell Fire Department, said the structure, which is believed to have been built in 1949, is beyond repair.

“It definitely went fast,” Miller said. “It was fully involved between the time the call came into dispatch and when we arrived.”

Route 66 expert and enthusiast Joe Sonderman said it hurt to hear what happened to Apple Valley Motel.

“Everytime I hear about losing one of those old motels it feels like I’m losing a part of myself,” Sonderman said. “I’m sure a lot of people feel like that. The Route 66 people are part of a 2,000-mile linear community that we’re losing one cut at a time.”

Another Route 66 enthusiast, Cheryl Jett, agreed with Sonderman’s sentiment.

“Although this was a very modest structure, it was significant as part of the line-up of tourist housing along 66 in Mitchell, just before motorists moved on to Missouri,” Jett said of the Apple Valley Motel.

Sonderman said the Apple Valley Motel had fallen on tough times in recent years. But there is always hope for a comeback — until something like this happens.

“The last time I was there was a couple of years ago,” Sonderman said. “It was clean — but it was spartan. It had gone from a tourist motel to a long-term sort of place. And nine times out of 10, they go downhill from there.”

Sonderman said owners of historic motels find it difficult to make a living when they’re cut off from the interstate. So the old motels, eateries and neon signs that marked the path of Route 66 from Chicago to Los Angeles grow more fragile and rare with each passing year.

“One of the things that is so cool about that stretch is that, while it was completely isolated when the interstate was opened, there was enough local traffic to keep it going for a while.”

Mitchell was a favorite place for Route 66 tourists to visit for a long time to see what the “Mother Road” looked like in its original state.

Miller said the fire is believed to have started in the room closest to the motel office. In a building built before fire stops were required in construction, it quickly spread from there into the office and the manager’s quarters.

“The case has been referred to the State Fire Marshal because it started in a place where there is no reason for a fire to start,” Miller said. “There is no obvious cause.”

Eight of the motel’s 12 rooms were occupied at the time the blaze erupted. None of the tenants, most of whom were staying there on a weekly basis, was injured by the fire. However, the owner suffered minor burns to his feet after trying to retrieve personal items from his office.

Firefighters had to brave temperatures in the upper 90s to fight the blaze.

Miller said two alarms were sounded and a total of eight fire departments joined the fight.

It was at least the second time that the motel caught fire. Miller said there was a blaze there many years ago that was successfully extinguished. The shoebox-shaped building, about 20 feet deep and 150 feet long, was renovated and reopened.

But it doesn’t look like that’s going to happen this time.

Sonderman said a different motel was located on the Apple Valley location prior to 1949. It, too, was consumed by flames.

“It was definitely a throwback to another era,” Miller said of the Apple Valley Motel. “It’s a shame this happened.”

Mitchell still has one historic Route 66 motel left. The Greenway Motel is located next to the one that burned.

Jett and Sonderman said the Mitchell inns aren’t as well documented as other motels along Route 66. So there isn’t a whole lot of information about their history. But Jett said the Greenway Motel was built as a part of the Greenway Subdivision, one of the earliest housing developments in the Mitchell area.

Sonderman said the Greenway Motel is in rough shape, currently in use as a long-term residence. The nearest remaining Route 66 tourist motel to St. Louis is the Wagon Wheel in Cuba, Mo.

Mitchell’s greatest remaining throwback to the Mother Road is the Luna Cafe, an eatery that was opened in 1924 that is claimed to a site where infamous gangster Al Capone liked to hang out.

With it’s neon sign, featuring a cocktail glass with a cherry in it that advertises steaks, chicken and sea food, the restaurant is still a top spot for Route 66 fans.

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