Ghosts of the past haunt Route 66 landmark

 

Update: The Midway has been demolished and is now a vacant lot.

Early Midway Cafe & Garage Cuba Missouri

The Midway started as a small cafe and gas station

In the 1930s Allyne Earls leased the Midway a small cafe in Cuba, Missouri from the owner William Mullen. When Route 66 came through Cuba, it brought prosperity, and the Midway was positioned to take advantage of good times as the motoring public traveled from Chicago to California and points in between. Earls decided to buy the Midway Cafe from Mullens and capitalize on the new business.

WWII in the 40s brought even more business to the door of the Midway. Earls built on to the Midway in the 40s with a second floor and 24 rooms and 4 bathrooms. She kept the cafe open during the building and often customers had plaster and dust falling on them. According to the Route 66 Cookbook: Comfort from The Mother Road by Marian Clark & Michael Wallis, Earls said “When I decided to add the second floor for sleeping rooms, things were really a mess.”  She goes on to say, “We swung beams over folks’ heads and moved tables from one side to the next to accommodate folks, but I never closed.”  For months customers had to enter through the front windows.

Soldiers from Fort Wood and their wives filled the new rooms. Traveling salesmen often made the Midway a stop on their routes across the country. The Midway also became a bus stop, and Earls staff expanded to where she had 36 people working for her. The restaurant was open 7 days a week, 24 hours a day, and Mrs. Earls owned it for over 38 years. When she sold the cafe in 1972, she had no key to give the new owners because she had never locked the doors.

One great story from those years from the Clark and Wallis book deals with some passed out soldiers at the counter.  A liquor inspector came in and demanded that the soldiers be moved out of the restaurant. Friends carried the soldiers to the lawn of the Mullens house next door. When Mrs. Mullens saw what was happening, she took the soldiers blankets and pillows. She said that she had sons in the service and hoped that someone would do the same for them.

Two of the Midways famous characters were cooks Gertie Forbes and Bea Forster. They both started as waitresses and later cooked at the Midway. They were part of the lore of the Midway and just a couple of the scores of employees that labored to serve the public. At one time, the Midway served as many as 600 meals a day.

Midway Restaurant 1948 Cuba Missouri

The Midway was well positioned for the prosperous years of Route 66.

Midway Cafe Cuba Missouri

This photo shows the Midway Cab and the large ice cream cone on the porch. Mrs. Earls often drove her own cab.

The Midway was also a gathering place for the locals of Cuba. It was a place for first jobs, special events, hanging out after school or school events, family dinners, meetings, and other occassions. Breakups and makeups took place at the Midway. Kids danced to tunes on the jukebox. Teens went there after ball games. Generations of Cubans counted the Midway as an important part of their growing up.

Mrs. Earls sold the Midway in 1972 to Dan Harris, and he sold it to Junior Beers. In 1976, Blues hockey star Noel Picard and his wife Viviane bought the Midway. The Picards and their two children Dan and Annie all worked to make the Midway a success. The St. Louis Blues team would come out for wild-game dinners at Noel Picard’s Midway. St. Louis football players such as Jim Hart, Dan Dearduff, and Jackie Smith would stop by the Midway. Locals gravitated to the  family run restaurant , and the Midway was still a popular gathering spot although the upstairs rooms were no longer in use.  The annual New Year’s parties were famous.

Noel Picard's Midway Cuba Missouri

The Picard years at Midway brought many people for dinner and drinks. Joe Sonderman photo collection.

After, the Picards sold the Midway, the restaurant business died out and the building was used for small businesses, and it began its decline. Years of neglect has brought the Midway low. Recently the building was sold, and truckloads of debris were removed from the empty building.

 Empty Midway Cuba

Lately, the Midway has stood empty, the windows dark.

This week the local fire department began using the building for simulations of firefighting by trailing hoses through the building and scaling ladders to the second story windows. It is said that the new owners will tear the building down.  A trip through the building shows sad scenes of abandonment. A building that bustled with energy, growth, and good times is now a hollow shell. The photos show it best.

Interior Midway Cuba Missouri 2011

 

The restaurant and bar area once rang with laughter and good times. Now there is just rubble.

 

 

Second floor landing Midway 2011

2nd floor MIdway Building 2011

Interior 2nd floor Midway Cuba 2011At one time these rooms on the second floor were bright with new plaster and Mrs. Earls’ hope for prosperity.

2nd floor bathroom Midway

Midway Cuba

Midway Wood floors Cuba

Light switch Midway Cuba Mo

The vintage lights are switched off at the Midway Building and only memories remain of its the lives and energies that have passed through it

Midway Sesquicentennial coin Cuba, Missouri

This image of the Midway was cast as a collectible Sesquicentennial coin in 2007.

The Midway’s greatest legacy is the memories of generations of Cuba citizens and travelers who spent time within its walls. We invite you to use the comment section to add your stories to this entry. Your remarks will continue the history and life of the Midway.

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18 responses to “Ghosts of the past haunt Route 66 landmark”

  1. Tonya says:

    I am a travel writer and photographer (NewsOK/Oklahoman)
    I will be staying at the Wagon Wheel Motel and just found this article and I would love to blog about it. I would like contact information on how to get access to shoot some photos and tell the story. We are leaving Cuba Sunday evening and heading to Sadelia, MO to stay at the “haunted” Bothwell Hotel. Would love to include Cuba in our travels.

  2. jane says:

    Tonya, I sent the info that you wanted. I hope you get the info you need. We have an interesting area along Route 66. Check out our “20 things to do…” post.

  3. […] Cuba Mural City blog contains plenty of history, too, as well as a bunch of vintage photographs and recent images of the […]

  4. […] more photos of the Midway Restaurant now and then read this blog entry “Ghosts of the past haunt Route 66 landmark.” For a followup on this Part I History visit “Some Midway Matchups withstand the tests of […]

  5. Bruce Campbell says:

    What a shame to lose this great Cuba icon with so much history. Like countless others I have a lot of great stories and memories from both floors of the Midway. We’ve never seen Cuba without her.

  6. Bonnie Sue (Weber) Scantlan says:

    Between my Junior and Senior year at Cuba High school I worked as a waitress at Midway Restaurant and stayed in one of the rooms upstairs above the restaurant.

  7. jane says:

    I bet you have some great stories, Bonnie.

  8. Bruce S. says:

    My first memories of Cuba, Mo was in the Army traveling by bus,in 1972. We were being transported between Ft. Knox to Ft Wood. Their were 2 full buses of soldiers in our group, and we stopped at the Midway for dinner. 20 years later I returned to the Cuba area, and have lived nearby ever since.

  9. Kathy Minke says:

    I worked at Midway in 1962 thru 1964 as a waitress. My Mom Edna Downing also work there for many years. As alot of high school kids I spent alot of time there hanging out with friends and dancing to the judbox. Sad to see it go. I was home this June and broke my heart to see it this way. My oldest brother Robert Downing drove cab for the Earl’s as well as my Uncle Al .

  10. jane says:

    I bet that you never thought about being part of Cuba’s history when you worked there.

  11. Sharla Mullen Koller says:

    My Grandmother, Laveta Mullen worked there for years, as did other members of our family. Aunt Beverly Mullen, Aunt Donna Mullen and Uncle Rodney Mullen. Also many cousins. I remember going to see Grandma there as a young girl!

  12. Lisa says:

    My grandmother, Laveta Mullen, worked at The Midway for years with Allyne, as a cook. My Mullen family (cousins of my grandfather) sold it to Allyne. So, my Mullen family has been there from beginning to end of Midway. It’s a shame to know it is now gone. Every time we went down to Cuba when I was a kid, at some time or another, some one of us ended up in there. I’ve even walked from grandma and grandpa Mullen’s old stone house to Midway with my aunt Donna. If Midway could talk…oh, the stories she would tell. haha That is one iconic landmark that truly should have been preserved not only as part of Cuba’s history, but as part of the history of Route 66.

  13. jane says:

    It sounds as if you have some great family memories centered on the Midway. It was a sad ending to the old building, but no one had stepped up to save it during the many years that it was empty or practically empty, so I guess its time had come.

  14. Kevin Spurlin says:

    My Grandmother, Laveta Mullen was a cook at the Midway when I was a kid. Late at night I would watch the Continental Trailways buses come and go from Grandma’s house next door.

  15. jane says:

    So many warm memories and stories are coming out. Thanks for sharing them. It must have been wonderful when people worked, lived, and walked in a small town and knew each other so well.

  16. Wayne Mullen says:

    Ghosts of the past is correct.
    Those ghosts came back as the walls came tumbling down.
    Agreed there were other places to go on a Saturday night, The Playgrounds north on 19 and The Villa south on 19, Dean’s Aircastle down the road on 66 and even the Green Lantern down Sullivan way on 66 but for young adults in Cuba, the summer of 1946, Midway was the place to be on Saturday night.
    Do not ever recall Mrs. Earls having a dance band but rest assured the jukebox had all the latest, most popular hits along with the old favorite standards of the war years and before.
    Young couples danced to the songs of Eddie Howard, Frankie Carle, Perry Como, The Ink Spots, along with Glenn Miller, Tommy Dorsey, Sammy Kaye, Artie Shaw and maybe even a few Bob Wills.
    The evening began with the dance floor ready, drink coolers stocked with the colas and plenty of ice cubes for set-ups, beer coolers to the rim with Stag, Falstaff, Blatz, Stag, Schiltz, Bud and GB. Anyone “Remember GB, means Good Beer” most men would order a Brothers when they wanted that beer.
    Sometime after midnight the crowd began to go home, cigarette smoke faded away and the swampers moved in. Ashtrays emptied, brown paper sacks with empty half pints trashed, tables and booths cleaned, chairs
    bottoms on tables, sweeping and mopping begun, restrooms cleaned, napkins dispensers refilled, coolers restocked, getting ready for Sunday morn.
    Around 4AM, almost all cleaned and ready for business and maybe if you were really lucky you would get a slice of Maude Schultz’ great pies. If any leftovers were still around.
    Cousin Joe and I were swampers that summer of 1946.
    Memories of those days came back as those walls came down.
    Ghosts of the past.

  17. jane says:

    We are loving these memories, Mr. Wayne.

  18. Michelle Pfaff says:

    I was young, but I remember going to eat at the Midway, I thought it was cool because we got to eat there for free! Earl and Allyne Earls were my great-aunt and uncle. It’s sad to hear that it was torn down, I would have loved to have had a piece of it for a memento, I am enjoying reading the stories about it.

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