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No rest ‘til Taylor Roadside Park keeps its place in history

Sometimes people ask me, “When are you going to run out of stories?” I always laugh and say, “Never. Because there is always another story waiting just around the next corner.”

Many times I am working on a story and someone asks me a question which makes me switch to a story that seems more urgent or at least more fun. That is exactly what happened this week.

Rick Wrisinger called the museum and asked about the sign from Taylor Roadside Park. He had heard they were going to do away with the park and wanted to see if we could get the sign. By the time our conversation was over, we both agreed we were going to save the park and the road sign.

I made a few phone calls and it looks like all the calls we made to voice our desire to save Taylor Park may have helped. I am happy to report that Taylor Park is still with us and looks like we might have it around for a few more years because it’s being maintained by the Cox Family, which has family ties to the park.

There is one table at the park and the road sign is still marking the spot we all know and love. When I talked to the Coxes, they said people keep dumping trash there, but they keep cleaning it up.

If the state does give up the park, we agreed that when it goes back to the family, we will make sure it stays a roadside park. I was part of an adopt-a-highway group at my former job and it is not easy keeping trash picked up on a highway, so I’m thankful that my Cox and Taylor cousins are taking care of it. I hope people appreciate the effort and the dumping stops.

I asked myself why this tiny little park means so much to us and I think it is because it’s a piece of our past that we are not ready to give up.

Many of us have childhood memories associated with this park or other ones like it. I remember when this stretch of Highway 13 was used for drag racing. More than once I saw cars racing down this road and Taylor Park was a good place to pull off to watch or get out of the way. It is also a good place to meet someone when you are coming or going north out of town.

Many times I have seen semi-trucks pulled over there so drivers can rest or stretch their legs. It’s such a pretty spot to sit down and watch the water on one side and the traffic on the other.

Growing up, my family was always going somewhere in a truck and camper or a motor home. I learned how to read a roadmap and I spent lots of time looking for the little picnic-table symbols on the maps that told you where the next roadside park was going to be. There is an art to reading road maps. Little did we know then that some day a GPS device would replace our Rand McNally as the most important item to have in your car. I have a Garman GPS, but I also keep a road map in my glove box, just in case I need it.

I found a 1958 Missouri map and it says, “Missouri, the crossroads of the Nation.” It has all the major roads that lead in and out of Missouri, but my favorite part is the list of roadside parks maintained by the Missouri State Highway Commission. It shows the route, name and location of all 104 Missouri roadside parks. They are arranged by highway numbers and number six on the list is Route 13 and good-old Taylor Park located five miles north of Richmond. After looking over this list, I realized how lucky Ray County was to have Taylor Roadside Park because there were not many around in 1958. The next closest ones were at Waverly, Sedalia and Moberly. I guess I will have to take a road trip and see if any of these parks are still around.

I did a little research on the history of roadside parks and was amazed to find that the idea started in 1919 when Herbert Larson spent a Sunday afternoon looking for a place in Wisconsin to have a picnic with some friends. Every place they pulled over to stop, the group was advised to take its party on down the road.

He made the statement, “In upper Michigan we could go where we chose with no one to bother us.” Herbert was a highway engineer from Michigan and he created the first roadside park in America in 1919 when he set up a picnic table at a location on U.S. 2 in Michigan.

I also found an article in American Road Builder magazine from 1957 that claims Allen Williams from Michigan started the roadside-table craze when he put his first table along Route 16, 3 miles south of Saranac, Mich. There is a marker there that says, “The Roadside Table”. It’s a nice story, but his roadside park was added in 1929, so it looks like Herbert Larson beat him by 10 years.

In the early days before we had roadside parks, people would stop at rural school locations or country church yards while driving down the highway. Many of these schools and churches had outhouses that you could use when you stopped to rest.

There’s no way we will ever run out of stories, because I just added “outhouses’ to my to-do list. I can’t wait to tell the one about the outhouse that sold for $800 or “101 uses for a Sears & Roebuck catalog”. We might have a hard time explaining that to the current generation because I bet most of them don’t even know what a “Sears & Roebuck” catalog looks like.

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