Throughout the history of automobiles, gas stations have come and gone. Some have long been forgotten and the spaces they once occupied now house modern-day office buildings, stores, and houses. Others have withstood the onslaughts of time and society and have become monuments to bygone eras. Many of these gas stations were not known outside of their hometowns. Others fueled the cars that traveled down Route 66 during its heyday, or the cars that traveled down America’s earliest interstates during the 1950s and 60s.
Below are some of those gas stations that have been retired, but have made their place in the annals of highway history. Or have become historical relics or curiosities in their particular locale. Some are now sitting by the roadsides derelict and rotting away. Some were probably torn down or simply collapsed on their own many years ago. And some of the others listed below have been preserved and turned into buildings such as museums and roadside tourist attractions.
1.) The Roundtop Filling Station, Sherwood, AR. Some abandoned gas stations have been left to wither away until they are either demolished by the property owners or they just cave in naturally. Other towns and cities – or at least certain citizens and historical societies – have made an all-out effort to preserve a historical gas station for future generations to come.
Sherwood, Arkansas’s historic Roundtop Filling Station has fallen into the latter category. Dating back to 1936, the Roundtop Gas Station was a very unique octagonal-shaped gas station designed by Arkansas architect Frank Carmean, Sr. It served the community and the many motorists who passed through it until its closure in 1980.
Since then, the station has been listed on the National Register of Historic Places and has undergone a restoration thanks in large part to this status. It has also been acquired by the city of Sherwood and in 2015 or 2016, the city finished restoring it (and repairing damage from a 2014 fire) and turned it into a local police substation.
2.) Former Magnolia and Mobil Gas Station, Gonzales, TX. There are one of two former Magnolia Gas Station locations in Gonzales, TX. As of 2011, one was home to a furniture store. The other was still (apparently) vacant, but has been preserved as a piece of the past in the middle of Gonzales in its Mobil incarnation.
This station is a shining example of a mid-20th century service station that has been well-preserved, complete with gas pumps with light-up scripting at the top of the pumps and the Mobil Pegasus mascot still standing on the roof.
3.) Bodie Garage/Gas Station, Bodie State Park, CA. Before its transformation into a ghost town was completed in 1950, the little garage and gas station built beside Bodie, California’s general store served its residents faithfully during the afterglow of the mining town’s boom in the early 20th century and its gradual bust and abandonment. Is it possible that the town’s last resident might have filled their gas tank with gas from these pumps before they left town for good on that day in 1950?
Today the gas pumps and the little Shell sign still stand as they have for nearly a century. Even the glass cylinders in the old Visi-Bowl pumps are still apparently intact!
4.) Phillips 66 Filling Station, John’s Island, SC. While it apparently wasn’t a well-known station outside of John’s Island and may or may not be standing today, this old filling station is South Carolina is interesting for one reason: It’s a very early Phillips 66 station located along the Eastern seaboard of the USA.
Judging by the early Phillips 66 logo on the station’s sign as well as the Coca-Cola and Nehi signs hanging on the walls, this station was apparently built sometime during the 1930s-1950s and was in service during that time. This was long before Phillips 66 started expanding outside their primary market in the midwest and western US during the 1960s.
Could it have been built by Phillips 66 to “probe” the South Carolina and/or East Coast market? Or possibly to service tourists coming to the island? Who knows.
5.) Former Conoco gas station in Commerce, OK. This charming little gas station where Bonnie and Clyde are widely believed to have gassed up their car while on the run is now a museum and gift shop in downtown Commerce, Oklahoma. It is also one of the many milestones along Route 66 and one of the most famous examples of a “cottage” type gas station.
Built sometime around 1929-1930, Allen’s Conoco Fillin’ Station was built into a hole in the wall in the final building along Commerce’s section of Route 66. In 1938, it became a Phillips 66 gas station.
For decades, many locals and motorists traveling along the Mother Road stopped here to fill up their gas tanks or to get a little bit of auto service.
The gas station closed sometime during the 1990s, but it still remains one of Commerce’s most popular tourist attractions!
6.) Phillips 66 Station, McLean, TX. One of Texas’s largest gas station chains, Phillips 66, began its presence in the state rather humbly. It debuted with a tiny little building in a small town located along Route 66.
The Phillips 66 station in McLean, TX opened its doors in 1928. It was one of a number of “doll house” gas stations that opened up along Route 66 soon after the US Congress authorized the creation of the highway in 1927. Not only was it the first Phillips 66 station in Texas, but it was the first Phillips station outside of Oklahoma period.
For the next few decades, the gas station would serve motorists driving along Route 66. Also during this time, the station changed hands a number of times until it finally became a casualty of the Interstate system during the 1960s-1970s and went out of business.
Today the station is a roadside tourist attraction maintained by the Texas Route 66 Association. It is the most photographed building along the old Route 66 and probably the most famous example of “Doll House” gas stations from that period.
7.) Roy’s Motel and Cafe, Amboy, CA. This is yet another Route 66 icon, and certainly one of the most famous along the Mother Road’s California stretch.
When it first opened in 1938, Roy’s Motel and Cafe was originally just a gas and service station for the motorists driving down Route 66. But as business kept growing and the town of Amboy’s population exploded after World War II, it was expanded to include a cafe, auto repair garage, and tourist cabins. In 1959, the complex was given an “Googie” makeover reflecting the futuristic architecture that was in vogue during that time. The enormous neon sign and guest reception with an inclined roof were added during this time.
Roy’s Motel and Cafe also became popular among celebrities, as the wall of autographed celebrity photos hanging on the wall of the cafe testified. Many continued to stay here for many more years to come.
In the 1970s, however, the Interstate bypassed Amboy and its fortunes declined very rapidly. As a result, Roy’s was one of only several viable businesses left in Amboy.
From 1995 onwards, the entire town of Amboy changed hands on several occasions. Roy’s itself became a popular filming location and scenes from numerous movies, TV shows, and music videos have been filmed here.
Currently the town is under the ownership of California preservation patron and Juan Pollo restaurant chain owner Albert Okura, who is trying his best to restore both Roy’s and Amboy to their former glory so future generation can experience what Amboy was like in its heyday and Route 66 fans can take a little trip back through time!
8.) Rainbow (Joe’s) Conoco, Shelby, MT. This gas station, which dates back to 1936, is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. It bears the 1930s English cottage design and consistently stayed open well into the 2000s.
As of 2016, this location is closed and apparently has been for a few years.
9.) Road Runner’s Retreat, Amboy, CA. Down the road from Roy’s Motel and Cafe in Amboy, CA is another historical Route 66 gas station (and relatively minor Route 66 icon): Road Runner’s Retreat.
Little is known about who originally opened this restaurant and gas station, but from the 1940s until 1970s, Road Runner’s Retreat was hopping. Many a trucker and tourist stopped here for a plate of food and to gas up their big rigs or cars. Not to mention soak up the dry desert atmosphere with the glowing neon Road Runner’s Retreat sign penetrating the desolateness.
Like almost all the other businesses in Amboy, Road Runner’s Retreat shut down during the 1970s. And unlike Roy’s Motel and Cafe, which managed to stay open and remain in the public eye from the ’70s onward, time hasn’t been as kind to Road Runner’s Retreat. In addition to natural deterioration and rot, part of the complex was blown away in a windstorm during the late 1990s.
Despite lurking in the shadow of Roy’s after its closure, Road Runner’s Retreat has managed to seep into pop culture. It has made appeareances in a number of Route 66 books and websites. And it was depicted in its former glory by famed Route 66 artist Jerry McClanahan. And of course, what’s left of the restaurant has been visited by an untold number of Route 66 enthusiasts making road trips through Amboy!
10.) Daniel Station. Daniel, WY. In the historical town of Daniel, Wyoming is (or was?) this abandoned gas station designed like one of the old 19th century trapper forts!
Gassing up at this gas station was probably a nifty little experience for those passing through the town of Daniel back in the day!
While these now-abandoned gas stations have faded out of public (and more often than not, living) memory and out of usefulness to the oil companies whose gas they served, they did their part to help fuel (pun intended) the growth of the motorcar in the USA, commercial trucking as a means of interstate commerce, and certainly gave a lot of people a lot of warm memories of stopping here for gas, eats, or a place to spend the night and rest back when these old, abandoned gas stations were still booming establishments and their neon signs lit up the highways at night.
http://route66art.blogspot.com/2014/11/allens-conoco-fillin-station-commerce-ok_30.html (Post from the Route 66 Art blog about the Conoco station in Commerce, OK.)
http://www.texasescapes.com/TexasGasStations/Route66-Phillips66-Service-Station-McLean-Texas.htm (Info on the McLean, TX Phillips 66 station at TexasEscapes.com.)
http://patricktillett.blogspot.com/2013/05/road-runner-retreat-route-66-ghost-towns.html (Blog post about Road Runner’s Retreat.)
http://www.americanwesttravel.com/california/bodie-state-historic-park/2/ (A little history and tour of Bodie State Historic Park.)
(Image credits. Intro image: PublicDomainImage/Pixabay.com. Daniel Station: User: Ok! Commerce, OK Conoco gas station: TheWhitePelican. Roy’s Motel and Cafe: Photographersnature. Roundtop Filling Station: Djharrity. Bodie State Park gas station: Kate Guyon. Rainbow Conoco pic: Xnatedawgx. All used via Wikimedia Commons per CC Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported licenses. Road Runner’s Retreat gas station: Radtech. McLean, TX Phillips 66 station pic:David Spigolon. Both used via Flickr/Wikimedia Commons per CC Attribution 2.0 Generic licenses.)
[This blog post was originally published on my old Night Owl Highways blog on June 9th, 2016 and revised/republished at NOI on July 29th, 2019.]