Scott City I-55 Interchange Under Construction in 1960s

A trip to St. Louis or Memphis took all day

If you’re a Post-Boomer, you probably don’t know going to St. Louis or Memphis was an all-day affair before Interstate 55 was built. It was such a big deal that The Missourian routinely ran briefs that said, “Mr. and Mrs. John Jones, 1618 Somewhere St., journeyed to St. Louis for shopping and to see relatives.”

It wasn’t until the late 60s that the paper established the policy that a mere trip to those two cities didn’t warrant coverage unless actual news was committed.

I had forgotten how recently I-55 was constructed, until I saw the aerial photo above tacked on the end of the roll that had the Bald Knob Cross shots on it. That would have put it roughly in 1964. (Also on the roll are some shots of downtown Cape before the KFVS building was built. They’re coming in the next few days.)

It took me a little head-scratching to figure out where the photo was taken. My first guess was Route K near the mall, but there are no railroad tracks out there. Then, I remembered some overpasses over tracks in the Chaffee area, but there’s no Interstate there.

It was the Scott City Interchange

Finally, I pulled up Google Earth and started searching for railroad tracks near an interchange with a highway overpass nearby. I also figured that it was probably near the Cape Airport where Ernie Chiles and I would have taken off. Bingo. That was it. The giveaway turned out to be what I assume to be a train station just east of the ramp area.

Highway 61 is the overpass on the left

The overpass to the left of the interchange carried traffic north over the Diversion Channel to Cape and south to Benton. The road that parallels the railroad track is Main Street leading into Scott City.

The equipment used to build the Interstate was a little more modern than the steam roller my Dad used to pave Rt. 25 going into Advance in 1941.

Here’s a map showing the Scott City Interchange as it looks today

View Scott City Interchange in a larger map

21 Replies to “Scott City I-55 Interchange Under Construction in 1960s”

  1. It wasn’t just the length of such trips, it was the danger of those and other narrow, one lane roads of that time. Joy Hook. Her smiling face still leaps out at me at times. We learned that she had been killed over the summer of our junior year, I believe. A beautiful life cut short. There are still roads like this everywhere. We have one in western Washington…highway 2 that goes over Steven’s pass in the Cascades. Unbelievably beautiful, winding road, with a mountain river running by its side…and each year people die in accidents, and each year there is a renewed pledge to widen the road, and each year the cost of carving road into mountains proves prohibitive. Joy Hook, what a smile she had.

  2. My husband’s Grandparents farm & home was in the area between the airport & levee….his Grandfather deceased at the time but Grandmother Miller still lived in the homeplace & it was moved due to the construction of I-55…they moved it into Scott City across the tracks at the first crossing…Bill & I lived in the house briefly when we were first married…& when the house was torn down in later years it was disposed of in a gully on our farm & buried….my mother-in-law & all her siblings were raised in that house & rode horses into school & town….she will be 90 years old Feb. 9th & is the only surviving sibling of 5 & her mother Bertha Ash Miller’s father worked for the railroad installing tracks, she was born in a tent that was their home, following its construction across country.

  3. Rodger,

    The scary thing was that the speed limit on old 61 was 70, if I remember correctly.

    Sections of it had those angled lip curbs with cutouts to let the water drain out. It was very easy to let your tires roll up on them and launch you like a ski jump.

    I looked at riding part of the Mississippi River Trail on my bike one summer until I saw some of the signed MRT route north of Fruitland was on U.S. 61 where there’s no shoulder. If there’s oncoming traffic and a semi is behind you, I can’t blame the trucker for picking the soft target – you.

    Driving on those two-lane roads made me a strong advocate of the Lights On For Safety program.

  4. Rick, seeing Joy Hook’s name made me smile. She did have a warm, wonderful smile. Ken, you’re so right about those roads…Highway 61 at Old Appleton was one spot where it seemed someone died every year.

  5. Sondra,

    You’re right about that curve and bridge at Old Appleton. I ran across some pictures of some of the crashes there and the huge curve sign they finally erected.

    I’ll never forget one phone call I made because of that curve. I worked a fatal there one morning. They had recovered the body of the driver, but they were still searching Apple Creek to make sure there wasn’t another victim.

    After taking the pictures, I drove back to the office to write the story. I had everything finished except whether or not they had found additional victims. The trooper at the scene was unavailable and I was coming up on deadline, so I called the driver’s brother and asked, “Do you know if there was anyone else in the car with your brother?” never dreaming that the family hadn’t been notified because the SHP was good about that kind of thing.

    “What are you talking about?”

    “I’m sorry for bothering you. You might want to stay near the phone for the next hour or so.” Then, I called the highway patrol dispatcher and suggested they might want to notify next of kin.

    The second worse phone call I ever handled was also at The Missourian. I was working the AP wires when a man called. “Do you know the flight number of that plane that crashed?”

    “Sure, give me a minute while I find the story. Here it is, it was X Airline Flight XXX,” I said routinely.

    “My granddaughter was on the flight.” I heard the phone drop and go “bang, bang, bang,” as it swung on the end of the cord. Finally, someone hung up the phone.

    I’ll never forget the tone of the man’s voice. I never learned who he was and I didn’t try to find out.

  6. My uncle was killed on the old 61 on one of those curves near Shawneetown. He left a wife and 5 little children. My aunt and the little ones were at her parents in Crump, near where Lake Girardeau now is. It was spring and flooding so you couldn’t drive and we had to walk to their farmhouse through the woods late at night with a flash light to notify my aunt. I was probably about 13 at the time and this made a lasting impression on me. There was either no phone service out there at the time or they just didn’t have one. No Highway Patrol went even though my uncle had many close contacts in the patrol at the time. That drive on 61 also use to make me very sick to my stomach with all the curves and the speed that everyone drove….not sure there was a speed limit!

  7. I also had an uncle killed on Rt. 61, in the early 60’s. But my most moving memory, at about age eleven in the mid 50’s, was on a stretch by a bridge north of Ste. Genevieve. Our family was on one of those family trips to St. Louis, and we were second on the scene. Other folks from a car which had stopped were peering over the bridge railing. All that seemed amiss was a large dog, freshly killed and lying on the highway. The images have always remained vivid to me…I looked over and saw that a car had landed upright on dry ground near a small stream. A single passenger woman, who was dead, sat upright on the passenger side as though she was asleep. She had swearved to avoid that dog and went over. In my career with the park service I used that incident, sparingly, when visitors complained after I told them that dogs had to be on a leash. “Have you ever seen a person killed in an accident when they tried to dodge a dog? I have.” The leashes always went on without another word.

  8. I’ve been to the scene of hundreds of crashes. I recently discovered that I had covered three wrecks, including a fatality, on a single roll of film in North Carolina.

    Two crashes I worked for The Missourian have never left my mind for long. I was home for Christmas break in 1968 when there was a head-on near the Gale floodgate. I don’t remember how many were killed, but I do remember the ground was littered with oranges or grapefruit that had been thrown out of one of the cars. I always wondered if one of the families had been coming back from a Florida vacation with souvenir fruit just like my family had done on a trip.

    The road has been reworked and that exact spot doesn’t look the same except in my mind’s eye when I drive past it.

    The second was a clear-day, straight-stretch of road where two cars inexplicably each crossed the center line and hit dead head on.

    I got there while the victims were still in the cars. As I sat there listening to the ping, ping, ping of the cooling engines, I thought of two families somewhere that were going on with their normal day’s routines. Maybe they were doing the wash, feeding the kids, watching As The World Turns, whatever. In a few minutes, there was going to be a knock on the door that would change their lives forever.

    I can’t hear Bruce Springsteen singing Wreck on the Highway without thinking of that day. The last two stanzas never fail to cause my eyes to mist over.

    Last night I was out driving
    Coming home at the end of the working day
    I was riding alone through the drizzling rain
    On a deserted stretch of a county two-lane
    When I came upon a wreck on the highway

    There was blood and glass all over
    And there was nobody there but me
    As the rain tumbled down hard and cold
    I seen a young man lying by the side of the road
    He cried Mister, won’t you help me please

    An ambulance finally came and took him to Riverside
    I watched as they drove him away
    And I thought of a girlfriend or a young wife
    And a state trooper knocking in the middle of the night
    To say your baby died in a wreck on the highway

    Sometimes I sit up in the darkness
    And I watch my baby as she sleeps
    Then I climb in bed and I hold her tight
    I just lay there awake in the middle of the night
    Thinking ’bout the wreck on the highway

    1. I am sure many of you recall that Sally Kurka also died along that highway in 1959. I seem to recall
      her family was traveling to St. Louis for Thanksgiving. Her father was killed, her mother was
      injured and a young niece or nephew was killed – such a tragedy. Sally was loved by all. There
      is a large “in memoriam” photo of her in the 1960 Girardot.

      1. Sally and her family were in a wreck on Lindbergh in St Louis but I believe that was also called 67/61 at the time. Terrible tragedy.

  9. I suspect many of you recall that Sally Kurka also died along that highway in 1959. I seem to recall
    her family was traveling to St. Louis at Thanksgiving. Her father was killed, her mother
    injured and a young niece or nephew was killed – such a tragedy. Sally was loved by
    all who knew her. There is a large photo “in memoriam” of Sally in the 1960 Girardot.

  10. I remember highway 61 very well.
    Before the interstate was completed between Perryvile and Fruitland, I was a Deputy with Cape County and helped the HP work many accidents on hy 61. One such accident invovled a meat ruck that had hit the bridge and it’s load of hams were floating in Apple Creek. People were jumping in the water and getting hams .
    I worked some fatalities on hy 61, mostly in an area called Eulinburg Hill where there was an optical illusion that hid a dip in the road making Southbound traffic unseen. The area was striped but due to the illusion it appeared clear to both lanes of traffic.
    The copletetion I-55 has saved many lives and injuries., thank God!

  11. Dennis,

    I don’t remember the ham wreck, but I worked a beer truck crash on Ill 3 on the hill going outside Gale, near Thebes.

    The truck had lost its brakes and ended up in the ditch, dumping its whole load of beer. Witnesses said that the first cars the pulled up loaded up so much beer that their frames were almost scraping the road.

    While I was walking around shooting the mess, the cans would pop open spraying everything around with beer.

    That stretch has been widened and repaved, but I could see scraps of beer cans along the shoulder for a decade after the wreck.

    Dennis, the Interstate has saved a lot of lives, but it killed a lot of rural folks who didn’t understand the concept of divided highways. I worked a lot of crashes where drivers went the wrong way on that stretch between Cape and Jackson where 61 met I-55.

  12. Does anyone remember going to St Louis on Highway 61 and stopping at “The Old Man in the Rocking Chair”. They had everything imaginable under the sun in that store. My brother and I use to beg to stop…just one more time…when we went through Herculanium. Not sure if that’s how you spell the name of the town, but it’s still there but think the old store is gone.

    1. I was talking about that place when I was back home in the fall. It was almost always a stopping-off place on the way to or from St. Louis.

      Here’s a snippet of history from a website:

      Barnhart located just to the south of Imperial was named for C.L. Barnhart in the early 1900’s. At one time it was a tourist attraction. The Kohler City store with the old man in the rocking chair outside the building brought in tourists from all over to see such things as used false teeth and reading glasses for sale. When Interstate 55 went through, Barnhart became less prosperous.

  13. That must be a recent image (on Google Earth)of the Scott City exit because I scrolled down to Kelso and it shows a house I still own and a vacant lot next to it where my bar once stood. It was called the Kelso Country Club. I had some health issues at the time and had to sell it. I regret it to this day because I so enjoy my clientel. They were awesome people and I miss them every day. It burned after I sold it. Some of you might remember going down on band or karaoke night.

    1. When I turn on the time line on Google Earth, it shows that the photo in the Google Map on this page was taken June 16, 2009. (Unless they update it when new images become available.)

      The next earlier aerial was June 15, 2005.There are also shots from Mar. 5, 2003, and Mar. 22, 1996.

      It’s pretty amazing at how much better the later images are.

  14. I’ve always been an avid motorcycle rider and to this day Hiway 61 is a favorite between Cape Girardeau and St, Mary. The interchange at Scott City has always been a mystery to me as to why it is laid out as it is. Getting back on to 61 to Kelso and South is very awkward. Surely someone much smarter than I designed it that way for a very good reason.

    1. The interchange and intersections there were laid out based on the necessity of crossing the St Louis – Southwestern (Cottonbelt) tracks using bridges instead of grade-level crossings for safety reasons.

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