Ghosts of the past haunt Route 66 landmark
Update: The Midway has been demolished and is now a vacant lot.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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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