Route 66 Museum – The Abandoned History of America’s Most Famous Road

Since starting the World Abandoned blog, we’ve had the pleasure of talking to people from all over the world and today’s post is in the spirit of that. Route 66 has always intrigued us and most recently, Pixar’s Cars movie has brought it back to the attention of people. We recently received an email from Dayna Robinson who works at the Route 66 Museum in Clinton, Oklahoma and she sent on this fascinating information about the museum.

HISTORY OF THE MUSEUM:
The Oklahoma Route 66 Museum is operated by the Oklahoma Historical Society (OHS), a state agency. The museum originally opened to the public in 1968 as the Museum of the Western Trails, operated by the Oklahoma Industrial Trust and Recreation Department (which later became the Oklahoma Department of Tourism and Recreation). In 1991 the museum was transferred to the OHS.

In 1993 plans began for a redevelopment of the museum in order to focus on transportation and Route 66. The project was funded with federal, state and private funds, with the citizens of Clinton (population approx. 10,000) raising over $200,000.

The museum officially opened on September 23, 1995 as the Oklahoma Route 66 Museum with a grand opening celebration in Clinton, including car shows, free live entertainment, a rock’n’roll dance and many other activities.

Oklahoma has about 400 miles of Route 66. Our state has more miles of original “alignment” left than any other route 66 state. We also have much of the original cement paving laid down in 1932-1933 in western Oklahoma. “Alignment” means path or routing. Over time, the pathway of 66 changed, especially as paving was introduced. Changes were introduced to eliminate sharp turns, bypass some smaller communities, avoid railroad crossings, and to re-route people through major metropolitan areas in order to avoid traffic congestion. Of the original 2400 miles that made up Route 66, about 80% is still drivable. We are fortunate that in Oklahoma, virtually all of ours remains intact.

In Oklahoma, you can travel almost all of old Route 66 without getting on the interstate. There are some spots where you must either jog across, go under, or briefly merge onto and then exit again almost immediately. Some sections parallel the interstate system while other sections wander totally away into the countryside.

Current state maps do not show the routing of Route 66, as it was decertified in 1985. Oklahoma was the first state to attempt marking the Route with brown and white Historic Route 66 signs. However, many of them have been either stolen by misguided collectors and vandals, blown down, struck by cars, or sun faded – you simply cannot rely on them for directions as there are not enough and they are expensive to replace. Some spots in western Oklahoma have 66 shields painted on the road surface. But again, they are sporadic in placement and cannot be relied upon for all turns. Therefore, you MUST use a specially prepared Route 66 map of some kind if you want to travel it though the entire state, such as the Oklahoma Route 66 Associations Trip Guide. This advice also applies to the other Route 66 states. (Note: Illinois has a good sign marking system in place – they were also the last state to install their signs.) The easiest sections to drive in Oklahoma are those still marked as State Highway 66. These areas are:

· Between Catoosa (east of Tulsa) to just west of Vinita
· Between I-35/2nd Street exit (Edmond) and Sapulpa (west of Tulsa)
· East side of El Reno through west Oklahoma City on 39th Street. At the junction of I-44 and 39th, it is no longer called 66.

All other sections of 66 are called either by county names, city street names, or other U.S. or State Highway numbers.

Route 66’s history and Oklahoma
Route 66 was born right here in Oklahoma. Cyrus Avery, a Tulsa businessman and Oklahoma’s first highway commissioner, spearheaded the national committee that created the US Highway System in 1926. He championed a Chicago to Los Angeles route that dropped south through Oklahoma, then turned west through Texas, New Mexico, Arizona and California. Avery also picked the now famous double sixes as the new road’s official number.
After World War II, Oklahoma was the home of the National Highway 66 Association, the group responsible for the promotion of Route 66 on a nationwide basis. Also after World War II, President Dwight D. Eisenhower began the creation of our present Interstate Highway System. This spelled the beginning of the end of Route 66 as an official US highway. In 1953, the Turner Turnpike (I-44) opened between Tulsa and Oklahoma City. This was the first major bypass of the Route along its entire length. The Will Rogers Turnpike between Tulsa and the Missouri border opened shortly thereafter. The handwriting was on the wall.

By the mid 1970s, the interstate bypasses of US 66 in Oklahoma were complete. A lawsuit by residents in Arizona delayed the completion of I-40 nationally until 1985. Once that dispute was settled in the government’s favor, 66 was decertified as a US Highway and all across the Route, the US 66 signs came down. In Oklahoma, portions were renamed State Highway 66 while other sections were turned back over to county or city authorities.
In 1989, the Oklahoma legislature recognized the need for an agency to handle the preservation and promotion of Route 66 in Oklahoma. Formed from a meeting of concerned people from Tourism, Historical Society, Transportation, and Commerce, the Oklahoma Route 66 Association was born. Oklahoma was the first state-sponsored Route 66 museum in the nation. A section of original 1933 paving from western Oklahoma has even been donated to the Smithsonian for their “America on the Move” exhibit!
Many Oklahomans are woven into the nation story of Route 66.

· Cyrus Avery, the “Father of 66,” lived in Tulsa.
· The “Bunion Derby,” a 1928 transcontinental footrace that was run from LA to Chicago along 66 then headed east to New York City, was won by an Oklahoman named Andy Payne, who lived in Foyil, a Route 66 community in eastern Oklahoma.
· Along with such nicknames as the Main Street of America, Route 66 was also known as the Will Rogers Highway, after Oklahoma’s own Will Rogers – a much beloved and world famous celebrity known for his folksy humor and keen observational wit. You can visit Will’s Memorial in Claremore.
· Phillips 66 gasoline, for years with its headquarters in Bartlesville, Oklahoma, owes its 66 name and logo design to the Highway.
· Any mention of the Dust Bowl will conjure images of towering black clouds of dust rolling over the Oklahoma prairie. Coupled with bad economic times, thousands of people from Oklahoma, Arkansas and Texas headed west on 66 seeking work in California. The novel and the movie “The Grapes of Wrath” chronicle those bleak, desperate yet courageous times.

Oklahoma Route 66 and Tourism
Since Route 66 cuts a diagonal path through the heart of Oklahoma, traveling the Route provides the perfect opportunity to “wander off the path” and visit many communities not located directly on the Route.
On the Route itself, the traveler will find wonderful small towns filled with friendly folks, big cities with their wild mix of art deco and modern architectural styles, antique stores and gift shops of all kinds, cool old buildings (from restored to ruins) that provide the perfect photo opportunity, a smorgasbord of restaurants sure to ruin anyone’s diet, a diversity of museums that will satisfy anyone’s historical palette, city parks, lakes, sculptures and more.
Traveling 66 in Oklahoma, offers a truly unforgettable experience.
Information provided by the Oklahoma Route 66 Association, P.O. Box 21392, Oklahoma City, OK, 73156. 405.258.0008; www.oklahomaroute66.com

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