Route 66. America’s Main Street
Brief History of Route 66
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Unknowingly the basic path that Route 66 would take was cultivated in the very early 1800s when American pioneers were beckoned westward into unsettled areas. In pursuit of adventure, land ownership and the riches of gold and silver, the pioneers went west of the Mississippi eventually penetrating all the way to the Pacific Ocean. Traveling by horseback and wagon train they forged trails that became corridors for others to follow.
Along the way to new territories, boomtowns sprouted and soon the wild west period was in full-throttle. Railroads eventually were built alongside the dusty trails enabling greater migration and development of commerce routes. Still, travel via horse and wagon was slow and grueling along unimproved dirt trails.
Invented in 1908, the Ford “horseless carriage” would change the face of travel. Gradually, the primitive trails were graded and graveled relatively smoothly as the evolution of the automobile “untethered American travel”.
Championed by Oklahoma businessman Cyrus Avery, talks began in 1923 to create a standardized national highway system of paved two-lane roads. Thus, Route 66 came to be in 1926 connecting Chicago to Los Angeles through small-town midwestern and western America. Although some stretches were not completely paved until 1938, Route 66 unleashed both pleasure and relocation travel.
The path of Route 66 actually followed many of the trails originally forged by exploring pioneers in those early 1800 years. Intentionally Route 66 was not a straight highway but zigzagged across the Midwest, the Plains and the Southwest on its way to Santa Monica on the Pacific Coast. Routes were designed to connect small towns in a pattern that focused on relatively flat terrain through areas of favorable weather.
Route 66 spawned rapid growth westward giving rise of small towns into major U.S. cities including Oklahoma City and Albuquerque. The brisk growth of tourism spawned motels, curio shops, filling stations and bazaar roadside attractions. Route 66 changed the travel landscape and cemented its reputation as a microcosm of the cultures of America linked by the automobile.
Somewhat sadly with the modern evolution of multi-lane Interstate Freeway systems, Route 66 (officially U.S. 66) was decommissioned in 1985 giving way to “straight-shot” freeways permitting greater speed and shortened distances between larger towns and cities leaving quaint small towns off the beaten path.
Substantially, the freeways followed the basic path of Route 66 and there still remains short stretches of old Route 66 that stray from the Interstate highways. Along those historical stretches, travelers can still experience the nostalgia, historical landmarks and some roadside attractions.
So…Route 66 is not totally gone. Its winding and cracked road is alive and well in many places including the longest stretch of Route 66 which flows through Northern Arizona.