Brookfield, Mo. — A remnant of slower times slipped quietly into history this fall as a piece of Americana went by the way of the drive-in theater and poodle skirts. Recently, the Brownlee Roadside Park just east of Brookfield closed.
The small park on top of the hill was a part of many high school courtships and made many a long road trip more bearable by offering a respite for weary travelers stopping to stretch their legs or enjoy a picnic lunch. It was just one of many scattered across the country reminiscent of the Route 66 culture. Now it, like so many bits of history from that simpler time, has closed. Many of these historical quick stops across the U.S. have closed, and Missouri in particular has fallen victim to budget cuts that force the Department of Transportation to choose between pavement and upkeep on a seldom used park.
During the first part of the 20th Century, road building in this country progressed at a rapid pace. Spurred first by the widespread popularity of the bicycle and then by the increased usage of the automobile, road building became part of a passionate march toward progress. As better roads allowed motorists to travel increased distances, it became apparent they would need places to stop along the way. Stopping sites emerged in rural areas where commercial establishments were not available. Often they appeared in areas of scenic interest or merely in places where there was room for a car to pull off the roadway. These earliest waysides materialized out of necessity. When motorists needed or wanted to stop, they pulled off and parked along the roadside.
Herbert F. Larson started the idea of the roadside park. History records the idea goes back to 1918 in the early days of auto touring. Larson was then a history-minded highway engineer just out of the University of Michigan School of Engineering. The inspiration for the roadside park idea came from a disappointed Sunday outing (a country picnic) at a nearby Wisconsin lake. In 1919, northern Wisconsin lake resorts were growing rapidly. On a particular Sunday of that year, Larson tried to have a cookout with a group of people in Wisconsin. Everywhere they went, the property caretaker asked them to not have their picnic on the property and escorted them off the grounds. Larson’s roadside park rest stop idea quickly spread all over the United States in most of the states by the 1920s.
Brownlee Roadside Park, just east of Brookfield, was originally acquired in September of 1954, from the Schaefer, Gelski, and Schreiner families. The park was purchased from the Schaefer, Gelski, and Schreiner families for highway purposes and later turned into a monument park in the name of Brownlee.