Wildwood, MO

The historical Big Chief Roadhouse is a garden to table restaurant that's over 90 years old

CJ Coombs

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The Big Chief Restaurant.Photo by Liezl Moss; Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported.

The journey from Chicago to California along U.S. Route 66 was so convenient. When more people started driving that one highway to get to the west coast and vice versa, then building hotels and restaurants was next to accommodate travelers as well as profitable businesses.

One such hotel and restaurant located in Wildwood, Missouri was the Big Chief Highway Hotel and Big Chief Dakota Grill. Today, the restaurant operates as the Big Chief Roadhouse. It's one of the last restaurants on Route 66. What we know of as a motel today used to be called a tourist court or tourist camp.

Tourist camps and courts were a common form of lodging for travelers in the United States from the 1930s to the 1960s. The terms 'tourist camp' and 'tourist court' were used to describe both an individual cabin or room rented for the night and the business as a whole. (Source.)

William Clay Pierce and Walter H. Petring

In 1924, William Clay Pierce of Pierce-Pennant Oil Company decided he wanted to have Pierce-Pennant gas stations linked with motor hotels and restaurants. His plan was to have them spaced along Route 66 between Chicago and Los Angeles as well as along Route 50 to Jefferson City. Pierce may have been credited with the concept of developing Big Chief. In 1929, this tourist accommodation opened with 62 units with a rental cost of $1.50 a night. That would be $26 in today's dollars. Bargain.

The Highway Hotel Corporation of St. Louis headed by Walter H. Petring constructed The Big Chief complex. In April 1929, The St. Louis-Post Dispatch reported the opening of The Big Chief and the Highway Hotel Corporation "patented the unusual virtually unheard of on the roadside at the time."

They included walls and ceilings of cast concrete slabs, rugs on the floor, 'trim double decked beds,' sliding curtains to ensure privacy, a shower and writing tables. 'Flowered chintz curtains on the windows' added a homey touch. The complex cost abour $200,000 to build and was 682 feet long and 150 feet wide. The paint was 'deep cream, trimmed with green.' (Source.)

On April 19, 1929, in the Washington, Missouri publication of Washington Citizen, there was an article that credited Petring of the Highway Hotel Corporation in St. Louis as the person in charge of planning tourist camps along Route 66 that were spaced apart by a day's drive.

In July 1928, the Pierce-Pennant Motor Hotel opened in Springfield, Missouri.

This first motor hotel complex included a bus terminal, restaurant, soda fountain, restrooms, gas station, automobile shop and car washing facilities. Other Pierce-Pennant hotels and taverns opened thereafter in Rolla & Columbia, Missouri and in Miami & Tulsa, Oklahoma. (Source.)

The Big Chief restaurant was very accommodating also. It served lunch and dinner. Also on the property was a gas station.

After the repeal of prohibition in 1933, a tap room was added to the restaurant so it could serve alcohol. In the previous year, however, U.S. Route 66 was re-routed and business began to decline. The facility at that time provided housing for the employees of a business making military explosives during World War II.

In 1949, the restaurant closed. The owners, Marco and Rose Aceto, used the site for different business opportunities. The cabins were demolished. In the 1990s, the property was purchased by G. Todd Deville and in 1995, the restaurant was reopened as the Big Chief Dakota Grill. Out of the whole complex, the restaurant was the only building remaining.

It is known as the Big Chief Roadhouse today. This restaurant is located at 17352 Manchester Road, Wildwood, Missouri with different owners who came to realize a dream of restoring this piece of history.

Owner Stephanie Mulholland and owner/chef John Fox have stayed true to the roadhouse’s roots, creating an environment in which hospitality and made-from-scratch cooking rule. (Source.)

In 2003, the restaurant was added to the list of the National Register of Historic Places.

Thank you for reading.

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Multi-genre writer and indie author; 30 years of legal secretarial experience; BA in Eng Journalism & Creative Writing. Thinker, giver, and lover of life. Born into Air Force service life, life has taken me to Louisiana, Idaho, Kauai, Nebraska, South Dakota, and Missouri. I love family, art, truth, non-fiction, reading, history, and travel.

Kansas City, MO
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