The story of Spencer, Missouri, is found in chapters written by ghosts.
There was the Lawrence County community’s start in the late 1800s, when it began with a post office, a flouring mill, a few churches and other signs of local life.
After it largely died away, another chapter began in the mid-1920s, when Sidney Casey moved to town. It’s said the Barry County man heard that a store was for sale – and that a brand-new road was set to be built right in front of it. The road was Route 66.
“Sidney Casey left last Tuesday morning for his new home in Lawrence County; near Paris Springs,” notes the Stone County News-Oracle in 1925. “We wish him all kinds of success.”
Spencer is located near the intersection of State Route 96 and Lawrence County N.
For about 35 years, businesses at Spencer – a barber shop, general store, cafe, and garage, gas station and feed store, built in one long block – served customers and community.
But by the 1960s, things had changed. Route 66 was rerouted away from Spencer, leaving the community just a few feet away but far from the traffic it had long seen pass its front door. Casey, too, died in 1963.
Yet the storefronts remained. It was owned by three generations of the Casey family before ultimately being sold to Francis and Mary Lynn Ryan of Kansas, who helped keep the building standing, but closed to the public.
And while time took a toll, the structure continued to stand and attract visitors – one of which was Ed Klein, a Route 66 enthusiast who was drawn to the ghost town’s complete vibe.
“Spencer is unique to this entire road. There's nothing like this,” says Klein. “There's like so many attractions, but this is a little town. This was always my favorite destination.”
A sign greets visitors to Spencer, which was designated as a Route 66 Roadside Attraction in 2023.
Little did he know at the time that he ultimately would become its owner in 2022. Today, he and significant other Stephanie Cramer are gradually restoring the Route 66 landmark for its next chapter: One that invites the public to feel old ghosts of days gone by, but also to make new memories to take with them into the future.
“We've probably had about 2,500 people around the weekends,” says Klein. “The busiest weekend we had was about 300 people.”
Ed Klein purchased Spencer in 2022.
Spencer is located just a stone’s throw from State Route 96, and is very close to other Route 66 landmarks like Gay Parita, a recreated Sinclair service station. Its tucked-away nature may have been why Spencer died, but it’s also perhaps why it was saved.
“I think the pros and cons of that is – the cons are he actually went out of business,” says Klein. “The pros are that it kind of helped save this place.”
Klein is inside the cafe portion of the building on a recent Saturday. Spencer is where he is most weekends, days that are filled with restoration projects – like the ceiling, which he’s currently installing – new electrical wiring, wall improvements, efforts that are aided by his experience in construction.
The spaces are also gradually being filled with displays and period furnishings, some of which have been procured or donated from local sources. There are two pieces which are believed to be from Spencer’s previous chapter: A large green scale in the general store, and another painted metallic gold in the cafe.
A peek inside Spencer Station, where restoration work is currently ongoing.
Klein says there are multiple goals for what they’re now calling Spencer Station. Fundamentally, the goal is to take visitors back in time, namely to when the aforementioned Casey came to Lawrence County in the 1920s.
Klein says Casey moved to Spencer to operate the store with the thought of selling to road workers, and then trade with travelers who followed.
“So in ‘26, he built the general store to replace the (former) building, and the wooden building was up until about the ‘40s when it came down,” says Klein. “The gas station went up in ‘27. And then a diner and barbershop were built in ‘28. So it was three separate projects.”
Klein would ultimately like to have portions of the building set up like mini museums and also use part of the facility for events, and continue selling items from a gift shop, and maybe sell small finger foods like cupcakes and treats on the weekends. A house behind the business block will also be rehabbed for travelers to rent, he says.
But as the numbers show, Klein and Cramer are already welcoming visitors to stop.
“We have that rule: No matter what we’re doing, we always stop and just on the weekends,” says Klein of when they have visitors arrive. “We're not officially open; we're still under construction. But we always let folks in for two reasons. You know how it is on this road – it might be a once-in-a-lifetime trip for them. We don't want them to miss out on this if they want to come in.
“Also, we have the older folks who've been by and said they haven’t been here since the ‘50s and ‘60s. They’re my best friends because I’m always writing stuff down when they talk because I want to try and get the history of it.”
A gold scale is one of two items believed to remain from Spencer’s previous chapter.
The details are important to Klein, who has spent years of his life in Route 66 work. Originally from Chicago, he became enamored with the Mother Road while researching road trip ideas years ago.
“I said, ‘I want to get involved in this,’” he recalls.
He tells of volunteering on different projects at first, which led to other work at places and starting Route 66 World, a Facebook group with more than 22,000 members.
Interest in Route 66
Yet those things weren’t specifically how Klein and Cramer ended up in the Ozarks and as owners of Spencer. They moved to Springfield in 2022 due to its location – which was central to several family needs at the time.
“Then two weeks later, we found out this was for sale,” says Klein.
The transaction officially went through in June of 2022, and ever since, Klein and Cramer have used much time at the site and learning about its history. While the past surrounds them, it’s also evident by a piece of wood dated 1928. It was found at the site, Klein says, and now sits on a former post office desk that sits in a corner of the barbershop.
A piece of wood dated March 1928 is on display for visitors to see.
It connects past and present, and reminds of the people who came before, and will come in the future.
“It's funny — when they're doing bridgework on Highway 96, this was the Autobahn out here,” Klein says of the famed, busy German highway. “I can't tell you how many cars were going by. And I'm telling you, there were so many people slamming on their brakes because they’d never seen this place. They’d pull over and come in, and say ‘We’ve lived here for so many years and never knew this was here.’”
Want to visit?
Spencer Station is generally open to visitors on weekends, but check its Facebook page to make sure before taking a trip out to visit. Click here to visit its website, and here to connect on Facebook.