Route 66

There’s no plaque or notice proudly marking the spot, but the story of Times Beach (pop. 0) deserves mention. Founded in the 1920s as a weekend getaway a dozen miles west of St. Louis along the Meramec River, the town grew into a working-class commuter suburb of some 2,000 people, thanks to Route 66. But there were no paved streets except for the not-yet-famous highway that passed through the center of town. Times Beach remained a quiet hamlet until 1982, when the federal government discovered that the industrial oil sprayed on streets to keep down dust had in fact been contaminated with toxic dioxin. The toxic waste, combined with a Meramec River flood that buried the town for over a week, made Times Beach uninhabitable.

In 1983 the government paid $33 million to buy Times Beach and tear it down, and 15 years later the cleanup was declared complete. Four hundred acres of what was once Times Beach have since been reopened as the Route 66 State Park (636/938-7198, daily, free), north of I-44 exits 265 and 266, with hiking trails, river access, and a nice little museum on Times Beach and Route 66, housed in a 1930s roadhouse.