PULASKI COUNTY, Mo. – In 1833, a portion of Crawford County, Missouri helped create Pulaski County. The name honors Casimir Pulaski. For a county named after a Revolutionary War hero, OzarksFirst learned how important the military has been to the region since the very beginning.
In 1843, Waynesville became the county seat. What happened years later is what folks who live in the area still rave about. Laura Huffman has lived in the region since 1981.
“Don’t tell anybody, but I’m in love with this town,” Huffman said. “The history of this town really has kept me here. There’s just so many interesting things in this area. Our community is transient because of the military.”
Historian Terry Primas tells OzarksFirst that the military has strong ties in Pulaski County, dating back to 1862 in Waynesville during the Civil War.
“Federal Army built a Union fort on the hill overlooking the town to guard the St. Louis to Springfield Road,” Primas said. “That was the main supply line from the railway trailhead at Rolla.”
Four years after the war in 1869, Primas said the Frisco Railroad went through the region. This helped create towns Crocker, Dixon and Swedeborg.
“Tourism had been well established in Pulaski County shortly after the railroad came through.”
Fishing and hunting became popular, and in 1926, so did travel. That’s when Highway 14 turned into one of the most famous roads in the world: Route 66.
To this day, the Mother Road’s popularity lives on. Jax Welborn has seen tourists at her Route 66 Community Art Gallery in Waynesville for five years now.
“Some Czechoslovakians were just here two days ago,” Welborn said. “They’ll be here again next month. I’m also going to have tours from Japan, China and Australia. People from all over the world are flocking to Route 66, especially now that the national travel has opened back up again. They’ve been waiting for years to come here, and they’re excited. I love welcoming them to Waynesville.”
She says many visitors don’t speak English, but they all have something in common.
“They still stop and see those buildings and imagine what it was like when ‘that gas station’ was up and running in the 1950s or 1960s. They enjoy visiting with the people. The people of Route 66 along the whole 2,448 miles are connected. All the business owners and all of the people who love Route 66 are connected. The people of Route 66 are as much a part of 66 as the old buildings and the new businesses.”
Huffman has been fascinated with Route 66 her entire life.
“It’s a huge part of this community,” Huffman said.
So is Fort Leonard Wood, a U.S. Army post formed in 1940. Primas tells OzarksFirst when it was created, it forced 400 families to move.
“A lot of people think Fort Leonard Wood dropped out of the sky,” Primas said.
To Huffman, that’s not the case. Her father trained at the post. She says that experience turned her into a “military brat.”
“Fort Leonard Wood draws a lot of people into this community,” Huffman said. “With all the different families that have came through because of Fort Leonard Wood, there’s probably people on every continent on the planet that’s at least familiar with Waynesville because of Fort Leonard Wood, which is really, really cool. This community has a little bit of a global feel to it because we do have so much diversity here training at Fort Leonard Wood. Then, those soldiers move to other places and take a little piece of Waynesville with them.”