The road is an endless source of wonder. Follow the path of this early highway for an adventure that will take you through historic homes, a depot museum, a Main Street district, and an unusual museum dedicated to small electrical appliances. 

cover art from an early brochure
An early brochure offered information about accommodations along the route. Photo by Glory Fagan

Residents of Cameron, in the northwest part of Missouri, know that Chestnut Street runs parallel to Highway 69, but a century ago, Chestnut was part of a grand transportation endeavor known as the Jefferson Highway. A 2,300-mile linking of paved roads running through longitudinally aligned towns, the Jefferson Highway originated in the evergreens of the Canadian province of Manitoba and meandered southerly to the tropical palmettos at its terminus in the state of Louisiana. 

With its motto “From Pine to Palm,” and named for the man responsible for the Louisiana Purchase, the eponymous highway roughly paralleled what would have been the Purchase’s easternmost boundary. Smack dab in the middle of the country, the Jefferson Highway intersected with another famed historic autoroute: the Pikes Peak Ocean to Ocean Highway. 

A depot-turned-history museum now sits near the junction of the two roads in Cameron, a former rail town reputed to be at the crossroads of the nation. Stan Hendrix, a volunteer researcher with the Cameron Historical Society and Depot Museum and the area’s foremost authority on the route, speaks with pride about the town’s role in highway history. 

“There were almost no state or federal funds for building highways in 1915,” Stan says. “Railroads got all the money and consideration, so if a town or county wanted the highway to bring commerce, it had to fund

a painted sign on a cement bridge
Painted signs on bridges and other landmarks kept travelers on the right path. Photo by Glory Fagan

it themselves. This was a massive project for every town along the way. Everyone gave money and pitched in on dragging the roads and making sure the roads were safe to allow the traffic. Communities would work weekends. 

The churches gathered to provide meals for all the local men who donated their time and equipment to building this new idea called a highway.” According to Stan, over 90 percent of the original route is still in use today, albeit under different names. 

5 Places to Visit Along the Jefferson Highway 

Bethany

Visit the historic Edna Cuddy Memorial House & Gardens. This stately brick home is maintained by the Harrison County Historical Society, which offers tours on request. 

Peruse the house and grounds and learn more about the region and its residents. Call 660-425-2459 to schedule your tour. Facebook.com/HarrisonCoHistorical 

Cameron

Train enthusiasts won’t want to miss the Cameron Depot Museum in the restored Burlington Northern Depot. For a time, three different railroads came through Cameron, which amounted to 44 trains per day, and that heritage is celebrated in the museum. Hours at the museum vary seasonally. Consult the museum’s Facebook page for up-to-date visitor information. Facebook.com/CameronDepotMuseum 

Smithville

Explore Smithville’s charming Main Street District where you’ll find delightful eateries and shops galore. The calendar is filled with fun events along Main Street, particularly on weekends. Check out the schedule and plan your visit. SmithvilleMainStreetDistrict.com 

Lamar

Stop in at the Harry S. Truman Birthplace State Historic Site to see the humble home where the future president was born. The home is beautifully preserved and furnished with period-appropriate items. You’ll learn about pivotal moments in Truman’s life as you stroll through the house and grounds. MoStateParks.com/park/harry-s-truman-birthplace-state-historic-site 

Carthage

Prepare to be amazed by the sheer quantity of small appliances on display at The World’s Largest Small Electrical Appliance Museum. You may remember seeing many of these appliances at work decades ago, and you’ll be astonished that some of them ever got off the drawing board. The museum is located inside J.R. Western Store. WorldsLargestSmallElectricalApplianceMuseum.com

Feature image courtesy of Missouri State Parks.