Slow down and savor Route WW’s history

One workday morning about 7:15, I drove to the east edge of Columbia to pick up my grandson Cole so he could visit Chub and me for the day. I met a stream of cars; people were hurrying toward Ful-ton on curvy, hilly Route WW.

Cole was just learning to count so we counted the cars as we drove in the opposite direction. In six miles we met 72 vehicles hurrying to Columbia! I’m tempted, at times like that, to yell, "Hey, slow down and savor Route WW’s interesting past." I vowed that day to tell our four "grandboys" about events and places along that interesting road that we still sometimes call "Fulton Gravel."

The boys would have enjoyed visiting the big coal mine where huge machines moved surface rocks and earth to expose a deep vein of soft coal that burned well and left ash instead of clinkers. Huge machines loaded trucks that delivered the coal throughout Mid-Missouri. The scars of that mining operation are visible by turning left onto Eutsy Lane and driving north less than half a mile. I call those abandoned strip pits "Grand Canyon" because of the deep ravines and sparse growth.

Where Route WW joins Rolling Hills Road, there was a narrow level spot long enough for two or three Gypsy camping wagons. They passed the word among friends and relatives that the small spot was near Carlisle School, which had outdoor toilets and a well with a pump.

Gypsy wagons wouldn’t have enough space now because the road is lots wider. Many of these nomads were horse traders who could skillfully minimize an animal’s faults. Horses for trading walked along, tied to the back of the covered wagons, which usually had things hanging outside — kettles, buckets and tools.

Many Gypsies were thieves. Neighbors locked their smokehouses and chicken sheds. Storekeepers in town were wise to their tricks but they suffered losses when several Gypsy women entered at the same time and "worked" the store. They wore full skirts and oversized jackets and had cunning ways of making merchandise disappear. Gypsy women could conceal lots of merchandise in loose-fitting garments.

I remember smelling their food cooking on wood fires and seeing oil lanterns hanging on the wagons at night. Occasionally, a fiddler played in the evenings as women moved back and forth doing chores.

Suddenly, their camping sites were bare. The Gypsy travel and camping lifestyle appealed to me as a child; I think it may have even left its mark!

Only those of us older than 80 would recall seeing two toll houses on what is now Route WW. Chains stretched across the road requiring a payment of 3 cents, 6 cents or 10 cents to proceed. One "tollhouse" was on East Broadway at Happy Hollow, where unkempt kids sometimes hurled dirty talk and rotten potatoes at strangers. Today, people in a hurry to drive east on Broadway line up at Happy Hollow and wait their turns through several changes of the traffic lights.

The second tollhouse was at "Harg" where Olivet Church Road meets Route WW. The 1874 building, now Redeemer Presbyterian Church, and cemetery are the only remnants of the busy village. The tollhouse was at the southwest corner of Olivet Cemetery, and William McHarg’s store was on the northeast corner of the intersecting roads.

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