By Vicki A. Brady
It is time to take a walk down memory lane and revisit Route 66. Ask any youngster and they will tell you it is where Lighting McQueen, Doc Hudson, and Mater lived in the computer-animated film, Cars. But our more seasoned citizens remember it as the artery built in 1929 that connected Chicago, Illinois with Santa Monica, California, breathing life into all points in between.
Will Rogers Memorial Highway
As wagon trails disappeared and automobiles improved, western expansion needed a stable trail. In 1925, Congress enacted legislation that would provide for national highway construction. On April 30, 1926, the 2,448 mile-long road was given a name, Route 66, and on November 11th of that same year, US 66 was officially established. Route 66 was more than just another road, it was the thoroughfare that families used to escape the Dust Bowl of the 1930’s, begin new lives and businesses, and futures. For many, it changed their stars!
Initially a dirt road, by 1938 Route 66 was the first highway to be completely paved. Prior to its completion, weary travelers would pitch a tent alongside the road. But as traffic grew, entrepreneurs built motor hotels along the way, later shortened to mo-tels to save space on advertising and signage.
During WWII the highway near Ft. Leonard Wood was upgraded to a four-lane road to move military equipment. After the war, Route 66, also known as the “Mother Road” and “Main Street of America,” was the best route for vacationers to travel hosting a series of restaurants, motels, gift shops, and sight-seeing excursions. In 1952, Route 66 was “dedicated to Will Rogers, Humorist, World Traveler, Good Neighbor” as the “first road he traveled in a career that led him straight to the hearts of his countrymen.”
Towns thrived along the route until the late 1950’s and the passage of the Federal-Aid Highway Act of 1956.
A Better Mousetrap
As a five-star general and the Supreme Commander of the Allied Expeditionary Forces in Europe during WWII, President Dwight D. Eisenhower saw the essential need for an elaborate expressway system in America, to protect and secure national interests. Heavily influenced the Autobahn in Europe, Eisenhower’s priority was to build a network of roads that would facilitate civilian needs primarily and, secondarily, provide for military troop and equipment movement in the event of a national disaster or attack. Missouri claims to be the first state to secure a contract under the new legislation with the upgrade of Route 66 to Interstate 44.
As the Interstate system grew, with their exits, entrances, and even mousetraps, sections of Route 66 were integrated into the highways, while other parts became frontage roads, paralleling the super structures. Many Route 66 communities that were bypassed by the new Interstate slowly dwindled and died. Finally, by 1985, Route 66 was decertified and officially ceased to exist.
Down But Not Out
Citizens along Route 66 decided that the famous road was too important to forget so they took matters into their own hands. In1990, the State of Missouri declared US 66, within its borders, a “State Historic Route” and erected the first “Historic Route 66” marker in Springfield. In 1999, the National Route 66 Preservation Bill provided $10 million dollars in matching fund grants for preserving and restoring historic features along the route. In 2018, the National Park Service Route 66 Cost-Share Grant Program offered cost-share grant assistance to support the preservation of Historic Route 66 sites. While application for that grant is closed for this year, the next grant cycle is expected to open in January 2019.
Into the Future
According to economic studies, the combination of travelers, preservation projects, and businesses along Historic Route 66 puts over $350 million back into our economy by way of jobs, income, and tax revenues and The Kaleidoscope Weekly can be found along the way. Distributing through Cuba, St. James, Rolla, Doolittle, St. Robert, and Waynesville, The Kaleidoscope Weekly will be featuring Historic Route 66 businesses, fun facts, events, and promotions each week. The Kaleidoscope Weekly will be partnering with local businesses as well as national tour groups to spotlight Historic Route 66 from Cuba through Waynesville. We want to bridge the gap between the memory of what Route 66 was and the reality of what it is today.
Each year, more and more visitors travel Historic Route 66 by car, bus, motorcycle, RV, and we are excited about how we can make our community, a visit they will never forget. You can be part of this great adventure by sharing The Kaleidoscope Weekly, advertising your business, sending us your memories, referring businesses, sponsoring, or donations. Contact us at 573-263-1427 or through firstname.lastname@example.org. The Kaleidoscope Weekly is also online at www.k-weekly.com.