by DJ Wilson
Route 66 was no ordinary highway. Opened in 1926, the old route crossed through the American Midwest, Great Plains, and Southwest, passing through eight states and three different time zones. The nostalgic highway began in Illinois and cut through Missouri, Kansas, Oklahoma, Texas, New Mexico, Arizona, and ended in California. From its humble beginning as an unpaved dirt and gravel road with no signs, the once dusty and dangerous route from Chicago to Los Angeles enticed travelers and grew into America’s most beloved highway. Covering 2,448 miles, Route 66 received its double digit number due to its pleasant sound and ease in remembrance despite controversy over using a round number. Steeped in history and nostalgia, the highway developed into an American icon which celebrated the golden age of the road.
Route 66 served as a major corridor for those who migrated west, particularly during the Dust Bowl of the 1930s. The highway was completely paved by 1938 and underwent many improvements and changes throughout the years. As the highway grew in popularity, businesses located along the route prospered. Mom and Pop businesses thrived, as motorists flocked the restaurants, motels, and service stations along the way. It also became a popular truck route. The beloved Route 66 received many adorning nicknames, such as “The Main Street of America”, “The Mother Road”, and “The Will Rogers Highway”. It was sometimes referred to as “The Great Diagonal Way”, since parts of the highway ran northeast to southwest. Recognized in a popular tune first recorded by the Nat King Cole Trio in 1946, and written by Bobby Troup, “(Get Your Kicks) on Route 66” reflects excitement and freedom on the highway as it details the many cities along the path of Route 66. Composition of the song was inspired by Troup’s personal journey from Pennsylvania to Los Angeles, California. The song continues to be highly popular and has been recorded throughout history by great artists like Chuck Berry, Perry Como, and The Rolling Stones. Though not actually filmed on Route 66, the television show of the same name became popular in the early 60’s featuring two friends traveling across America in a Corvette convertible. Today, many youngsters are familiar with Route 66 as it was featured in Disney’s Pixar Movie entitled Cars.
The Interstate Highway Act, signed by President Dwight Eisenhower in 1956, led to the creation of newer highways to improve national defense. The goal was to provide the army with decent roadways in the event of a ground attacks from a foreign country. Newer highways began to serve motorists, thus leading to the demise of smaller, less direct routes like Route 66. Eventually, by 1985, The Mother Road was sadly decommissioned. Though the highway is no longer in service, parts of the historic route can be retraced and are still drivable. Many original businesses along route 66, like the art deco U-Drop Inn, are listed in the National Register of Historic places. Located in Shamrock, Texas, the Inn served as both a restaurant and gas station. The architecture is a bit unusual and was designed by J.C. Berry who was inspired by a nail stuck in dirt. Today, it has been historically renovated and adapted into a museum, visitors’ center, and gift shop. It also hosts the city’s chamber of commerce. Another historic representation of the time is Delgadillo’s Snow Cap Drive-In. It’s an eatery and popular roadside attraction. Located in Seligman, Arizona, it is best described as a flamboyant exercise in architecture. To gain attention for his restaurant, Juan Delgadillo sliced off the roof of a 1936 Chevrolet and added horns, paint, and even a Christmas tree to the vehicle. Displaying a sense of humor, a neon sign was placed in the restaurant window which reads “Sorry, we’re open”. The Round Barn in Arcadia, Oklahoma is yet another very popular destination often recognized in many photographs due to its unique shape. The barn is located on a hill and stands two stories tall, with its circular design selected purportedly to withstand Oklahoma Tornadoes. For some time, the barn fell into disrepair. Fortunately, it was donated to the Arcadia Historical and Preservation Society who restored it under the guidance of a retired building contractor named Luther Robinson. He was assisted by a volunteer group largely made up of seniors who believed the Round Barn worthy of saving. Today, the barn can be rented for parties and remains one of many memorable structures along Historic Route 66.
If you’re searching for adventure or you’re looking for a piece of American History, take a trip back in time along The Main Street of America. Explore the beloved Route 66. While modern day maps no longer indicate the route, specially designed maps are available to help closely retrace parts of the original path of the historic highway through all eight states. Explore the notable landmarks full of charm and character, serving as reminders of the past economic prosperities of America’s small towns in the heyday of Route 66. Capture the excitement and freedom on the path traveled during the golden age of the road. Travel parts of the scenic route, winding through old towns, across steel bridges, alongside rivers, hills and valleys, and sweeping past historic landmarks. Let the sights along The Mother Road embrace your mind, heart and soul. Historic Route 66 is no ordinary highway, it is a true icon. Perhaps Bobby Troup, the Great American Songwriter, said it best. “If you ever plan to motor west/ Travel my way, take the highway that is best/ Get your kicks on Route Sixty-six.”
A starting point for your search for more information could be: www.historic66.com